You couldn't draw up two worse consecutive plays for Naperville Central's football team.
Facing Neuqua Valley -- one of the area's top offensive teams -- the Redhawks' defense lost senior lineman Cole Wooldridge and junior linebacker Bobby McMillen to knee injuries on back-to-back plays. It looked grim for both returning starters, not just for that game but for the season.
Last week the Redhawks learned Wooldridge would miss the remainder of the season. The good news, however, was that McMillen played in last Friday's win over Lake Park and made 7 tackles.
Tough as it is to lose Wooldridge, the loss comes in a definite area of strength for Naperville Central, which also brought back linebacker Jack Wooldridge as a returning starter.
"We felt we had some depth at linebacker, and it's starting to show," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine.
Before the season Stine knew he had two juniors ready to break into the varsity lineup -- Dan Delgrosso and Joe Schweikart. Schweikart's development, in fact, allowed the Redhawks to shift Cole Wooldridge to the defensive line.
Now Schweikart's replaced Cole Wooldridge up front and Delgrosso is in at linebacker. Against Lake Park Delgrosso made 8 tackles with a sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Schweikart intercepted a pass.
"We knew both of those guys were good as sophomores," Stine said. "They've really stepped up for us."
On Tuesday Montini coach Chris Andriano was on the phone with the Daily Herald. Across from him in the coaches office was the Broncos' offensive line, an all-new ensemble entering this season.
Andriano said through three games they'd allowed 1 sack. A couple linemen held up clenched fists meaning they'd given up zero.
One or none, a unit that began the season as one of Montini's few question marks was rounding into shape -- well enough that the sole returning starter, Anthony Ferraro, now plays defensive tackle.
From left to right, Montini's starting offensive line of Grant Branch, A.J. Melarkey, Frank Vosicky, Mario Galli and Tom Long, working with new line coach Kevin Worthy, are coming along.
"They're off to a great start," Andriano said. "We couldn't be happier with the way they've played and developed so far."
Compared with last year's line featuring behemoths Tate Briggs and David Sarkan, this isn't a large group. On the Broncos' roster Branch and Galli head the weight class at 255 pounds.
After two straight games gaining less than 100 net rushing yards Montini broke through with 271 last week against Wheaton Academy. St. Francis' strong defense will provide another test.
"When we all play together and the timing gets together we'll get better, Andriano said. "If we can continue to improve up front, then we're the real deal. It's the key to all of our games, offensively, is those guys up front."
Wheaton Warrenville South improved to an impressive 3-0 with last week's 17-13 cross-town win over Wheaton North.
Among the many big plays by the Tigers, senior kicker and punter Evan Jakubowski made more than his share. The strong special teams play wasn't lost on coach Ron Muhitch.
"That was a focus for us," Muhitch said. "That turned out to be a major part of the win."
One point of emphasis was forcing Wheaton North's explosive offense to march 80 yards to score. Jakubowski's four touchbacks on four kickoffs took care of that. He also pinned down the Falcons on their 1-yard line with a perfectly placed punt.
In a tight game, Jakubowski added 5 points to the scoreboard including a 26-yard field goal that boosted the Tigers' halftime lead to 10-0.
"We played well in the kicking game," Muhitch said. "I think it's going to continue to be an important phase for us."
All the angles:
Another line coming off a solid game was IC Catholic Prep's defensive front of Evan Czyzycki, Sam Lytton, Sam Symeonides and Michael Perrone, none of whom is listed at more than 210 pounds.
In a key Suburban Christian Gold contest, Aurora Central Catholic's double-wing offense sliced through the Knights' defense like butter only to fumble at the IC 1-yard line. Regardless of the turnover, had things continued in that manner there's no way IC wins 21-14.
"We have guys who are fighters and they're technically sound," said IC coach Bill Krefft. "But when you're giving up 80 (pounds) a man technically sound doesn't always get it done."
Krefft said assistant coaches Kevin Carver and Roger Kelly went to a four-man front and directed them to shoot gaps and take angles rather then attack the larger Chargers head on. Thereafter ACC had one drive gain more than two first downs.
"We really got after them after that fumble recovery at the 2-yard line," said Perrone, who lit a spark with his interception and 35-yard touchdown return. "We knew that they can be stopped, we can stop them, and let's keep going."
The Knights play Marian Central, Montini and Aurora Christian Weeks 5-7. After facing the huge linemen of Kaneland and Aurora Central Catholic they at least won't be surprised by what's in front of them.
"It helped us a lot with the line, for the whole season," said IC quarterback Jack Copher. "It's a starting mark and now we're going forward."
Adjusting on the fly:
Hinsdale Central will be without starting quarterback Chase Hamilton for four-to-six weeks, according to coach Rich Tarka, due to a broken leg suffered during last Friday's 30-7 West Suburban Silver Conference win over York.
The Red Devils turned to 6-foot-1, 208-pound senior linebacker and running back Jacob White to take over behind center. White responded with 17 carries for 161 yards and a touchdown while making a team-high 9 tackles on defense.
"We were a little concerned because we had to put him in there in the middle of the game," Tarka said. "But he did a nice job managing the offense."
White entered the season as Hinsdale Central's backup quarterback. Although White didn't attempt a pass against York, Tarka stressed his strong arm makes him a passing threat moving forward -- especially after a full week of practice at quarterback leading up to Friday's game against Proviso West.
"He's a great athlete," Tarka said. "There are so many things he can do for us."
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