KCCHRONICLE.COM/PREPS GAME OF THE WEEK
OSWEGO (0-0) AT BATAVIA (0-0)
7:30 p.m. today
The buzz in the stands
Take a guess. Defending Class 6A state champion Batavia opens its title defense against a perennial 7A/8A contender eyeing its 10th playoff berth in 11 seasons.
The Bulldogs return most of their offensive line and several defensive starters, fueling optimism about another deep run in 2014.
“I know they feel expectations are high in our community based on what happened last year, but I couldn’t be prouder of how they’ve prepared and how much focus they’ve had,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. “And I know the amount of time and energy they’ve put in.”
The marquee matchup
Oswego quarterback Steven Frank rebounded quickly after throwing a costly interception late in last season’s opener against Geneva.
Now a junior, Frank helped the Panthers to a Class 8A quarterfinal and is poised for his biggest breakout yet in his third season as starter.
“He’s a pretty humble kid, but he’s progressed quite well, so we’re looking for big things out of him,” Oswego coach Brian Cooney said. “And I know he’s got high expectations for himself.”
Batavia’s defense knows all too well about Frank’s Division I prospects, and the Bulldogs’ ability to rein him in and rally to the ball will prove pivotal.
Piron and defensive coordinator Matt Holm tout the Bulldogs’ speed on ‘D,’ which starts up front with ends Noah Frazier (6-foot, 220 pounds) and Josh Leonhard (6-2, 225). Fellow seniors Jake Hlava and Joey Gross provide backup at linebacker.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Coffey on this 68-player roster, but it is junior wide receiver/cornerback Canaan, not his youngest older brother, Micah.
The Bulldogs graduated quarterback Micah Coffey and several other difference-makers from their title team, but an experienced offensive front led by senior captains Patrick Gamble (center) and Mitch Krusz (right guard) offers stability.
Evan Acosta and Kyle Niemiec – who both enjoyed strong camps and will split time under center today – may not match Frank’s seasoning, but their collective athleticism could be crucial.
Best-case scenario for the Panthers
Also gifted with a wealth of returning experience on the offensive line, Oswego offsets Batavia’s speed and creates ample time for Frank, as well as room for the running backs.
“Our guys are pretty tired of beating up on each other and they’re looking for a game,” Cooney said, “and I’m sure the Bulldogs are at the same point.”
Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs
Camp revelation Zach Garrett joins speedy senior running back Blake Crowder in zooming through the line’s holes, while power options Hlava and Frazier keep an aggressive Panthers’ defensive front honest.
“They’re quick and explosive. They like to blitz, and when they do, they seem like they don’t make a lot of mistakes,” Piron said. “They’re very sound with how they cover for it. So they create a lot of stress for your offense.”
Kevin Druley’s prediction: Batavia 21, Oswego 20
In the frenzy of striking for an early score against the defending 6A champs, Oswego misses a point-after touchdown kick that ultimately proves the difference. OK, so maybe that’s being too precise, but with the talent the ’Dogs have back on defense, expecting Frank to be equally spot-on throughout the night just isn’t reasonable.
South Elgin (0-0) at St. Charles East (0-0), 7:30 p.m. today
Last season’s records: South Elgin 3-6, St. Charles East 6-4
The skinny: Making his varsity coaching debut, the Saints’ Bryce Farquhar expects to defend a more fluid Storm offense under second-year South Elgin counterpart Patrik Pistorio. South Elgin runs multiple formations from its spread attack, so keeping defensive stalwarts such as nose tackle Blake Fialka and linebackers Parker Vidmich and Tommy Fink in position is imperative. “South Elgin tends to do a lot of different things,” Farquhar said. “So we prepare ourselves for everything and make sure that we know our base and our responsibility.” Senior Kyle Cook and junior Aiden Wright figure to split time at quarterback when the Saints have the ball.
Extra point: The past three Saints coaches went 2-1 in their first games in orange and black. Mike Fields lost to Geneva, 13-6, in 2009 before Ted Monken (2004) and Rick Butcher (2000) earned separate victories against Evanston.
Elk Grove (0-0) at St. Charles North (0-0), 7:30 p.m. today
Last season’s records: Elk Grove 6-4, St. Charles North 5-4
The skinny: Right off the bat, the North Stars get a reminder of the importance of close games. The team finished 5-4 last season but missed the playoffs for the fourth successive fall. One of North’s two overtime losses came in its opener against Elk Grove, the former stomping grounds of second-year coach Rob Pomazak. Senior Nathan Didier and junior Kyle Novotney competed for the starting job at quaterback during camp.
Extra point: North has only had two coaches in its history, but both lost their debuts. The North Stars lost to Elk Grove, 23-22, last season to open the Pomazak era. In 2001, Fremd defeated program pioneer Mark Gould and the North Stars, 41-0.
Geneva (0-0) at West Aurora (0-0)
Last season’s records: Geneva 7-3, West Aurora 1-8
The skinny: A productive fall camp only reinforced what coach Rob Wicinski observed throughout the summer: the Vikings are deep and athletic. Those attributes can only help against an eager Blackhawks team bent on starting strong and fast on their literal home turf. Of course, the Vikings play home games on an artificial surface, too, but will look to establish Max Woodworth and Co. in the running game to help the game-breaking duo of quarterback Daniel Santacaterina and wide receiver Pace Temple. “It’s kind of a toss-up what’s going to happen to us here,” Wicinski said. “I’m just going to try to be consistent and be able to make some adjustments on the fly.”
Extra point: Geneva has opened on the road in three of its five seasons in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
Brooks (0-0) at Kaneland (0-0), 7:15 p.m. today
Last season’s records: Brooks 9-3, Kaneland 9-2
The skinny: The Knights will count on just three players filling substantial two-way roles, which matches coach Tom Fedderly’s camp goal. Senior running back/safety Isaac Swithers joins Jake Gomes and Danny Hammermeister, physical linebackers who also will start at left tackle and right guard, respectively. “I think that we are not surprised with what we’ve got here,” Fedderly said. “We’ve got a lot of depth. I think we’ve got a lot of kids that can play multiple positions. So we’ll see [today].” Dual-threat junior Jake Marczuk makes his first start at quarterback.
Extra point: The Knights host the first of six home games this season after a change of venue for the opener. They went 6-0 at Peterson Field in 2013, including the playoffs.
Marmion (0-0) at Plainfield Central (0-0), 7 p.m. today
Last season’s records: Marmion 8-3, Plainfield Central 0-9
The skinny: Although the Cadets pored over tape of last season’s season-opening, 25-7, win against the Wildcats at Fichtel Field, they aren’t expecting a sequel. “It’s not going to be that way this year. A lot of their players got a lot of playing time last year, so they’re going to be experienced,” Cadets coach Dan Thorpe said. “And we don’t know what we have.” Projected starters Jordan Glasgow and Sean Campbell, both running back/defensive back hybrids, are injured.
Extra point: Before 2013, Marmion hadn’t won a season opener since a 14-7 victory against visiting Batavia in 2010.
Burlington Central (0-0) at Hampshire (0-0), 7:15 p.m. today
Last season’s records: Burlington Central 4-5, Hampshire 6-4
The skinny: As Hampshire transitions from graduated primary running back Nick Kielbasa, a seasoned group of Central linebackers led by Cole Roach and Craig Kein welcomes his replacements.
Extra point: Fourth-year Rockets coach Rich Crabel is 2-1 against Hampshire in his career, all season openers.
St. Francis (0-0) at Menomenie (Wis.) (1-0), 4:30 p.m. today (at Madison Middleton)
The skinny: New coach Mike Fitzgerald, a former Marist assistant, strives to bring balance to an offense that traditionally was ground-heavy under predecessor Greg Purnell. Still, feature back Steven Fassnacht figures to get plenty of carries against Menomonie as the Spartans, 5-5 last season, aim to control the pace.
Extra point: Menomonie still hasn’t played a fellow foe from the Badger State. The Mustangs defeated Chaska (Minn.), 31-16, in last week’s opener.
Aurora Central Catholic (0-0) at Wauwatosa (Wis.) East (0-1), 7 p.m. today
The skinny: Senior quarterback Matt Rahn, a product of Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove, returns under center after sustaining a knee injury during the 2013 preseason. He’ll aim to lead what projects to be fifth-year coach Brian Casey’s most balanced offense yet.
Extra point: A win would put Casey over the .500 mark for his ACC career. He enters 2014 at 19-19 after a 6-4 finish last fall.
Senn (0-0) at Aurora Christian (0-0), 7 p.m. today
Last season’s records: Senn 4-5, Aurora Christian 9-4
The skinny: There’s a new Beebe at the helm – former defensive coordinator Dave takes over for brother Don, who shifts to offensive coordinator – but the same Eagles quarterback is throwing darts. ACS expects big things from senior Austin Bray. Classmate George Edlund, a St. Charles North transfer, flanks him at tailback.
Extra point: Aurora Christian has outscored its past four regular season opponents from Chicago, 218-0.
Walther Christian (0-0) at Wheaton Academy (0-0), 7 p.m. today
Last season’s records: Walther Christian 2-7, Wheaton Academy 4-5
The skinny: Let there be lights. There’s no doubt the community will be buzzing as the Warriors unveil their new artificial turf field and play the first on-campus home game in school history.
Extra point: Warriors coach Brad Thornton put an emphasis on strong starts during camp. Wheaton Academy lost last season’s opener, 44-0.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com