Two men cut from the same coaching cloth match wits when No. 10 Huntley (6-3) meets No. 7 Fenwick (7-2) in a Class 7A opening-round playoff game at Morton High School on Saturday at 7 p.m.
First-year Huntley coach John Hart won two high school state championships in Indiana, and he coached the now-defunct Evansville BlueCats of the United Indoor Football Leauge to that franchise's best season in 2006.
Remember those eight state championships won by now-defunct Driscoll? The first was won by new Fenwick coach Gene Nudo in 1991.
Nudo has even deeper ties to football played indoors. An Arena Football League hall of fame inductee, he coached the Arizona Rattlers to the title in 2007. He resigned as president and general manager of the Chicago Rush last December to undertake the mission of restoring football glory to Fenwick.
Nudo's Friars have already taken a step in that direction by making the playoffs following a 3-6 season in 2011. Fenwick is led by senior inside linebacker Pat Hart, named the Catholic White MVP. Huntley understands after viewing film the challenge a player like Pat Hart presents.
"There was a play in the St. Viator game where there was a busted coverage and he's a linebacker on the backside of the play," John Hart said. "There's a ball thrown 45 yards down field. The guy gets a 45-yard start on him and he caught him from behind. I don't know if I've ever seen that out of a linebacker before. He's really good at what he does. Athletically, he's pretty special."
Led by their standout linebacker and 6-4, 250-pound defensive end Ryan Smith, Fenwick has limited opponents to 14.9 points per game.
That unit faces a Huntley team averaging 31.1 points, led by senior quarterback Kam Sallee (6-2, 185). He has rushed for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns and thrown for 1,334 yards and 21 touchdowns. Sallee tossed 4 touchdowns last week, including one to 6-3 senior Bryce Beschorner (43, rec., 800 yards, 11 TD) and a pair to 6-4 senior Jake Lackovic (22-420-8).
"Sallee is a dual threat who can run as well as throw, and those are some big, tall receivers," Nudo said. "They're an all-around good team. They have physical defensive linemen and they know how to manage pressure. I think coach Hart has done a great job. He's been successful everywhere he's been and he has that program trending at the right time."
The Red Raiders will rely on Jake Scalise and Mitchell Kawell in the backfield with senior running back Ethan Connor limited to the role of emergency backup due to injury, Hart said. Scalise leads Huntley with 556 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns
Fenwick's multiple-formation offense is ignited by 6-foot-2, 215 junior running back Robert Spillane (790 yards), one of four grandsons of 1953 Heisman Trophy winner and Fenwick graduate John Lattner on Nudo's roster. The Friars can also throw the ball, evidenced by quarterback Gino Cavalieri's 15 touchdown passes.
Offensively, they do a lot of things and make you defend a lot of things," John Hart said. "Defensively, they're so sound, a lot like Kaneland or Crystal Lake South. They do things so well they make you adjust to what they do as opposed to the other way around.
"At this time of year, you really try to make sure you don't beat yourself. If you look at teams that make runs in the playoffs, they're teams that really start playing really good defense, they play solid on special teams -- maybe even great -- and they don't turn the ball over. Those guys keep winning."