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A midday thunderstorm gave way to muddy playoff football Saturday in Glen Ellyn as two strong high school teams from nearby suburbs met for a highly anticipated quarterfinal contest.
Hype, unity and simplicity set the scene as the teams took to a soggy Duchon Field about 1:30 p.m., half an hour after the game between the Glenbard West Hilltoppers and the Wheaton North Falcons was scheduled to begin.
Hype built as the visiting Falcons entered the stadium first, following a drum line tapping out a cadence and slapping hands with parents like quarterback Johnny Peltz's mother, Nancy Swider Peltz, as they shouted "first play" or "one more."
"This is the furthest they've gone and the most important game they've played," Swider Peltz said about the team led by her son, a senior. "Every kid is going to get hyped."
Excitement mounted as the Hitters strode down the hill atop which their 1920s-era school sits, following a drum line playing a faster cadence and yelling a battle cry during breaks in the drumming.
As the game got going, unity connected students in cheering sections for both schools. The Glenbard West Castle Crazies, led by seniors Dan Mulvihill and Matt Udelhofen numbered in the hundreds as they danced, clapped and chanted, with speakers amplifying their efforts.
"We always bring speakers," Mulvihill said. "I don't think anyone else does that."
Unity carries through the years for Glenbard West football fans, like Jack Giersbach, whose family members have attended the school since the 1950s, and for superfans like Udelhofen, who said the cheering section tries to keep traditions intact.
"We thought it'd be fun to get everyone involved, make sure everyone is cheering, supporting the guys," Udelhofen said.
Simplicity drove cheers of "We've got spirit," or "Let's go West!"
What the Wheaton North cheering section lacked in size, its students — dressed in solid white and crammed into the visiting bleachers — tried to make up in volume. With their own chants of "You can't do that!" when Glenbard West was penalized with a flag, and with applause timed to the drum line's beat, Falcon fans brought excitement and support for what they called the school's best gridiron squad in 10 years.
"Games are so exciting, and our team is so good this year," said Wheaton North senior Ann Szeliga.
Simple as it sounds, coming to games "gives us a chance to show our support for the team," said fellow Wheaton North senior Natalie Peterson.
With a 10-1 record to Glenbard West's perfect 11-0, some saw the Wheaton North Falcons as underdogs.
"We don't like to think about it like that," senior Falcon fan Mari Wank said.
On the field, Wheaton North's white uniforms and Glenbard West's black gear with green accents quickly turned to brown from the slop of mud under soggy grass.
Sound shifted from the north visiting bleachers to the south home stands as the ball went east or west in favor of one team or the other. A back-and-fourth defensive battle of a first half gave fans plenty to watch, but few reasons to explode in celebratory cheers. The class 7A quarterfinal was one of four going on Saturday, sending four victors to the semifinal round of the Illinois High School Association state championship series.
With a win-or-go-home game on the field, a game that eventually went Glenbard West's way in front of a crowd of thousands, Castle Crazies superfan Mulvihill summed up the atmosphere for all who enjoy the teenage spectacle that is high school football: