The focus of this year's Wes Spencer Classic will have a bit of a twist.
Instead of primarily focusing on the historic rivalry between Naperville North and Naperville Central, Friday's DuPage Valley Conference game at North Central College will be all about getting in the playoffs.
"The main thing is getting to five wins," said Naperville Central coach Mike Stine. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. It just happens to be Naperville North this week."
While the battle for the DVC title takes place Friday in Carol Stream between Wheaton North (7-0, 5-0) and Glenbard North (6-1, 5-0), Naperville North (4-3, 3-2) and the Redhawks (3-4, 3-2) will be fighting to get to five wins, the minimum number for playoff eligibility.
A loss knocks Naperville Central from playoff contention for only the third time since 1992. Naperville North still can get to five wins with a Week 9 victory, but a loss would force the Huskies to beat Glenbard North in Week 9 to avoid missing the playoffs for the second time since 1986.
In past years the Wes Spencer Classic involved fierce bragging rights and many times the DVC title. This is an unusual situation for both sides, but it won't change the competitive nature of the game.
"We both feel like if we can make our way into the playoffs we can make a run," said Huskies coach Sean Drendel. "Sure, we want to beat Naperville Central. But we mainly want to make the playoffs and keep the streak alive."
Even in a 14-6 loss to Marmion, a highlight of St. Francis' season occurred last week when No. 26, senior running back Jack Petrando, returned to the field in a big way. He carried 26 times for 151 yards and a 3-yard touchdown plunge.
Petrando, who tore a medial collateral ligament in his knee in July, fully intended to return by October. But a firm timetable is difficult to place on that sort of injury.
"I've never seen a kid in my 44 years of coaching come off an MCL and perform the way he did in nine, 10 weeks. Unbelievable," said Spartans coach Greg Purnell. "It's a testimony to Jack's tremendous work ethic in the off-season. This kid deserves an awful lot of credit."
The coach, who also credited the doctors and rehabilitation specialists who worked with Petrando, was concerned about the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder's ability to cut on the field. That didn't seem to be an issue for Petrando, also a linebacker who in 2010 and 2011 led St. Francis in tackles.
As a junior, Petrando ran for 1,437 yards and 17 touchdowns and garnered Daily Herald All-Area and Illinois High School Football Coaches Association all-state honorable-mention honors.
Finishing the season against Guerin and Chicago Christian, chances are good the 3-4 Spartans will gain playoff eligibility. With 29 playoff points, however, they'll need help on pairings night. Last year's cutoff, 40 points, was the highest seen in 11 years of the eight-class system, and a corresponding high of 25 5-win teams didn't make the cut.
"This injury cost (Petrando) a lot of recognition this fall and really hurt his team's chances of being successful," Purnell said. "But he's back now and we've got to win a couple games and try to finish .500 and try to sneak in the back door of the playoffs."
Benet's defense has been rock solid all year with four shutouts and an average of 6 points allowed per game.
The Redwings (6-1, 3-1 East Suburban Catholic), however, were stunning offensively in last week's 49-0 win over Nazareth. Sophomore quarterback Jack Beneventi powered the barrage with 300 passing yards and 4 touchdown passes spread evenly to receivers Jack Toner and Jack Euritt.
It was the fourth time Benet's scored more than 40 points, but this effort was most impressive given Nazareth's normally stingy defense.
"We actually felt like it was not a great matchup for our offense," said Benet coach Pat New. "The defense has always impressed me, but I was not expecting this kind of explosion from our offense."
All three phases need to be in top form this weekend when Benet plays host to Marist (7-0, 5-0), which hasn't scored fewer than 3 touchdowns in any game this season.
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Despite losing 35-34 in double overtime to rival Neuqua Valley in a game for the ages, Waubonsie Valley coach Paul Murphy sees bigger things ahead.
Entering last week's game to help determine the Upstate Eight Valley title, he called the battle of unbeatens a "measuring stick" for where the Warriors were in Week 7.
"Our goal is to make a run in the playoffs," Murphy said after Friday's game.
A lost fumble and 2 interceptions in Neuqua territory -- one pick inside the Wildcats 25-yard line -- while remaining in the game against the powerful rival gave plenty for the Warriors to learn from. Murphy believes his team will get a chance at retribution.
"We're going to see them again, because the state's going to put us in the same bracket," he said. "I don't care what the (playoff) points are, them and us are going to be in the same bracket. I don't know if it's the second round, the third round or the semis, we're going to see them again."
Last week Montini rediscovered what damage a Hurricane can do -- Marian Central Catholic quarterback Chris Streveler.
Montini earned a 24-21 halftime lead on Alex Wills touchdowns passes to receivers Joey Borsellino and Mark Gorogianis, a 48-yard Andrew Harte field goal and Dimitri Taylor's 4-yard touchdown run.
"We came out on fire, then got the hose put on us," Broncos coach Chris Andriano said.
Much as Marian did the second half against St. Francis, Marian adjusted. The Minnesota-bound Streveler scored on 4 second-half TD runs and threw for another.
Up against another unbeaten team in Aurora Christian, Andriano looks for a mental readjustment because he figures the three-time defending 5A champions have bigger things to play for than a conference title.
"We're not going away," he said.
"We've got to pick ourselves up off the floor," Andriano said. "Nobody's going to feel sorry for us, I can tell you. So if we feel sorry for ourselves we're in real trouble."
Glenbard East's 60-25 DuPage Valley Conference win over West Chicago was much overdue for the Rams, who have had no trouble moving the ball on most opponents this season.
The Rams have averaged 360 yards a game but that translated into an average of only 17 points each outing leading up to the West Chicago game.
"We've been doing good stuff offensively all year, we just have not been consistent in finishing what we're doing," said Glenbard East coach John Walters. "We've gone through the gamut of issues in the red zone."
Thanks to senior quarterback Joe Kotch, those issues disappeared against West Chicago. Kotch ran for 3 touchdowns and threw for 4 scores as he piled up 524 yards of total offense.
"Joe just had a big game," Walters said. "To rush for 196 and throw for 328? No, I haven't seen that."
It's never easy taking that fifth loss of the season and realizing your playoff hopes are over. After three straight playoff appearances for Fenton -- an unprecedented streak for the program -- the Bison's streak officially came to an end with last week's loss to Glenbard South.
"Even though it hasn't gone the way we scripted it, we owe it to the players to finish with intensity," said Fenton coach Mark Kos. "There will be no let up."
With nine sophomores up on varsity, Fenton's endured its share of growing pains. But while the youth movement bodes well for the future, Kos won't think about that until this season is over.
"To the seniors my goal is to send them out with two victories," Kos said. "And for the juniors and sophomores, what a great way to build for next year."
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