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updated: 10/11/2012 10:31 PM

Best MSL football season ever? Hard to argue against 2002

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Words such as "best" and "greatest" get tossed around much too easily. It is a result of judgments usually being too quickly, particularly when it comes to sports.

But the 10th anniversary of the second of Prospect's three Class 7A state football championship teams -- which will be celebrated at tonight's game against Wheeling at George Gattas Stadium -- is also enough time to regard the 2002 football season as one of the best and most memorable in Mid-Suburban League history.

After all, avenging regular-season losses to MSL East rivals Buffalo Grove and Hersey was the toughest part of the Knights' repeat run to a title. Conant nearly reached the 8A semifinals -- having to beat Barrington twice in three weeks -- and gave BG one of its toughest regular-season tests.

The once-downtrodden Knights were coming off an unbeaten state title with a team considered even more talented for coach Brent Pearlman. Quarterback Jared Dall, running back Bryon Gattas and receiver Nick Iovino led an explosive offense and they were bigger up front with two-way linemen Chris Bergner and Brian Powers.

But they not only had to deal with the expectations of trying to repeat but also with a Buffalo Grove team which had aspirations of joining its 1986 team as state champions. Those expectations were raised by the return of future Notre Dame star and current Indianapolis Colt Tommy Zbikowski to run the offense and middle linebacker Eric Andino to lead a tough, intimidating defense.

Quietly in between BG and Prospsect was Hersey, which arguably had its best team since its 1987 state champion with a rugged and stingy defense led by Ryan Baysinger.

MSL East play started with a heavyweight battle as BG and Zbikowski avenged a pair of losses from the previous year by scoring the first 20 points and holding on for a 20-14 win before a huge crowd at Prospect. Two weeks later, the defending champions were suddenly reeling when they were stunned at home at the horn on a Hersey field goal by Kevin Mazur.

BG rolled to the MSL East title and through its first two playoff games without any trouble. Prospect and Hersey had to meet again in a much-anticipated second-round playoff game that was in doubt until the final play again -- but this time the defending state champs pulled out a 13-7 victory.

That set up Round IV of what was one of the best series of matchups anyone could have asked for in a two-year period. For the second straight year, Prospect was headed to BG for a Saturday afternoon quarterfinal. Many regarded it as the unofficial 7A title game.

This time, Prospect established early control and knocked Zbikowski out of the game for a good chunk of the second half. It only added to the drama when he returned and led a late march along with burly fullback Mark Woodsum that put BG a yard away from a go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute left.

Then, Prospect defensive lineman Paul Johansson shot through a gap and forced a fumble and it had a 17-16 victory. Wins over Lake Zurich and Edwardsville didn't have nearly the same drama or intrigue as the title repeat was completed.

And a decade later, there is no doubt about 2002 ranking as one of the best -- and possibly the best -- year for MSL football.

Congratulations: To former Elk Grove coach Bruce Bazsali, who has turned around a Rockford Lutheran program which won only 3 games in his first two seasons and just 9 games in the last nine years. Lutheran won its first 6 games this season before losing 35-34 last week to perennial Big Northern power Byron.

Condolences: To the families and friends of former East Leyden boys basketball coach Norm Goodman and veteran sportswriter Bill Jauss. Goodman, who died last week, had a legendary career where he won more than 500 games with players such as current NBA executive Glen Grunwald, former Bulls announcer Tom Dore and Mike Griffin, a starter on Michigan's 1989 NCAA championship team.

Jauss died Wednesday and became a nationally known figure for his work on the Sportswriters on TV. But he also brought the same work ethic, interest and fun-loving attitude during his time on the high school baseball beat nearly a decade ago for the Tribune.

• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald. You can contact him at

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