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updated: 9/20/2012 8:00 PM

MSL teams refocus for divisional runs

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By Ryan O’Gara
Daily Herald Correspondent

Favorites have emerged on both sides of the Mid-Suburban League, but it's anyone's guess as to how everything will play out as teams begin division play tonight.

Palatine (3-1) began this season as the West favorite and despite not being completely healthy, has impressed. But Schaumburg is the conference's lone unbeaten team at 4-0 and Conant can compete with anyone behind Tim Manczko.

Barrington (2-2) has come on strong the last two weeks and Fremd (2-2) has shown they're capable of making a run.

In the East, Rolling Meadows (3-1) has been tough to stop with their high-powered offense, led by Jack Milas. But Elk Grove (2-2) isn't ready to give up their East crown just yet and Prospect's (2-2) rushing attack, fueled by Devin O'Hara, is always a threat.

Looking ahead, a big day in the conference picture could be Oct. 5, when Palatine plays at Conant and Elk Grove travels to Meadows. The Saxons and Pirates meet in Week 9 at Palatine.

Eagles emerging: Leyden (3-1, 2-0) has made a big leap from last season's 3-6 squad to this season's first place team in the West Suburban Gold.

It's all started with a consistent defensive unit, led by linebackers Adam Morrison and Ivan Nevarez. The Eagles have allowed just 38 points this season, including 2 shutouts.

And it appears the offense is starting to catch up. Coach Tom Cerasani felt like his team established an identity on that side of the ball in a 27-21 win over Downers Grove South, thanks to the defense.

"The defense gave us an opportunity to dominate the game," Cerasani said. "When you don't have to worry about the other team scoring, it's a lot easier to play."

Coaching crosscurrents: The rivalry between Conant and Schaumburg always has plenty on the line with the Mayor's Cup and position in the standings. And this season is no different with the Cougars and the Saxons expected to be two of the top teams in the MSL West.

But Friday's showdown at Gary Scholz Stadium has a few extra twists. Schaumburg offensive coordinator Dave Pendergast was the head coach at Conant for 18 seasons during which current Cougars coach Bill Modelski was his defensive coordinator.

The Saxons' offensive coordinator, former Fremd coach Mike Donatucci, will also be looking across the sidelines at some familiar faces as his nephews, Anthony and Sam Donatucci, coach for the Cougars.

Modelski joked that there should be a few side bets taking place leading up to tonight's game.

"There's a lot of natural rivalry there with our kids, but when you throw those things into the mix, it's even more interesting," Modelski said.

Notes: Christian Liberty will honor former coach Ken Johnson in a pregame ceremony before their game on Saturday against Alden-Hebron. Johnson joined the team as a volunteer coach in 2009 after retiring from Conant and served as their offensive coordinator through 2011. He was responsible for installing Christian Liberty's "wing-t" offense they currently use. Said coach Jim Calkins: "He was a big part of our football team and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude." … A brutal 3-game stretch of Fremd, Schaumburg and Palatine has hurt Hersey's record, but there is a bright side to playing such a tough early schedule. "If you don't play good opponents, then you can mask some of your problems," said Hersey coach Dragan Teonic. "You don't really know how good or bad you are if you don't get exposed." … Fearful of burning his players out, Meadows coach Matt Mishler has tried to avoid starting players on both sides of the ball in the early part of the season. But starting safeties Jacob Grant and Austin Reed are starting to see more action on offense as the duo combined to score all 4 of the Mustangs' touchdowns in the win over Fremd … Lost in the shuffle of all of Schaumburg's weapons has been the play of their quarterback. "Nick Anzelmo had his best game yet (against Prospect)," said Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling. "It didn't necessarily show up on the scoreboard or the stat sheet, but the way that he conducted himself was probably the best we've seen from him." … The start of division play brings a fresh start to teams like Elk Grove that haven't yet performed to the level they had hoped. Said Grenadiers coach Larry Calhoun: "Our record isn't what we hoped. It is what it is. We are 0-0 and looking to be 1-0." … Wheeling has five sophomores getting significant playing time. Among them are running back Isaac Branch, who ran for 169 yards and a touchdown last week, and quarterback Armani Dennis. "Our sophomore kids are playing well in a spot where there's a lot of adversity and they have just stepped up and played," said coach Brent Pearlman. … Hoffman Estates recently changed up both their offensive and defensive schemes, and coach Eric Illich says the response of his players and coaches has been great. "It's a little bit of a learning curve and we've seen growth on both sides of the ball. We have definitely seen improvement and like the effort of our kids."

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