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Article updated: 9/21/2013 5:47 PM
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Do teams need to move up to win?
 

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Do teams need to move up to win?
  • Video: Keegan's buzzer-beaters

  • Video: Hayden Carlson

  • Video: Dudek catch

  • Glenbard North football coach Ryan Wilkens talk with quarterback Brett Gasiorowski during a recent practice. The Panthers might soon drop to Class 7A from Class 8A.

    Purchase Photo | Glenbard North football coach Ryan Wilkens talk with quarterback Brett Gasiorowski during a recent practice. The Panthers might soon drop to Class 7A from Class 8A. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 

When it comes to reaching an IHSA state championship football game, coaches and players will go to just about any legal length to achieve that dream.

How far will they go? This week's Eyes on Five takes a look, and adds a couple other tidbits along the way.

Moving on up:

It's a rarely utilized option, but it may become more popular with certain football teams.

The IHSA divides its sports into different classifications based on enrollment. Football separates into eight classes -- Class 8A has the biggest schools -- while most other sports have three or four classes. The IHSA also allows schools to petition to move up a class for any number of sports. All they need to do is fill out the "Request to Play Up in Classification" form found at IHSA.org and the IHSA will either approve or deny the request.

Schools must commit to move up for a minimum of two years, and this year the form had to be submitted by Sept. 1. While this year is no longer an issue, next year it might become an interesting football topic depending on how certain schools end up being classified for the playoffs next month.

It's no secret Class 7A has become the power football class in Illinois. Glenbard West, Wheaton Warrenville South, Lake Zurich, Lincoln-Way East, Wheaton North, Benet, Downers Grove North, St. Rita, Batavia ... the list of heavy-hitters is a long one.

This season, though, something scary is happening. Powers typically grouped in Class 8A -- Glenbard North, Mt. Carmel and Maine South, for example -- have popped up in The Associated Press 7A rankings.

It's unlikely all of those schools will fall from 8A to 7A when the IHSA releases its pairings because the IHSA classifications are not linked with The Associated Press. The AP poll, however, could be a sign of the times.

Folks at Glenbard North insist that 7A, if it doesn't happen this year for the Panthers, will happen in the very near future due to decreasing projected enrollment numbers.

So here's a thought: Will 7A schools start petitioning to move up to 8A? Competitively speaking, it might be a smart idea.

This week I broached the subject with several coaches spread across 6A, 7A and 8A. Some said they'd never do it, some said they've talked about it with school administrators, and some said they'd think about it.

It's definitely something for everyone to think about as the 2014 petition deadline approaches.

Moving out west:

It may not be as bold as moving up from Class 7A to 8A, but this off-season Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch tried something different to get his team thinking about returning to a state title game.

He entered the Tigers in a summer 7-on-7 event at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, site of this season's championship games. It's the first year NIU is hosting the two-day event, and in the future the Huskies will trade hosting duties with the University of Illinois in Champaign in alternate years.

In past years Muhitch took the team to Champaign in the summer, a strategy that resulted in multiple state final appearances.

Will the DeKalb strategy work? Hard to say only three games into the season, but an unbeaten start against Glenbard West, Maine South and Wheaton North is a good sign.

It certainly turned out to be a good sign for Tigers quarterback Ryan Graham. Northern Illinois coaches got the chance to evaluate him at the 7-on-7 and last week offered him a scholarship.

Following in his father's footsteps, Graham accepted.

Simply moving on:

It's the most important tackle I've ever seen in a high school game, and I've got to think it's on the Mt. Rushmore of most important tackles in state history.

It came from Glenbard West safety Hayden Carlson in last year's Class 7A championship game. Taking a perfect angle and using his tremendous athleticism, Carlson made a diving, monster fourth-down tackle of Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel that prevented a first-and-goal and possibly a game-winning touchdown for the Griffins.

Due in much part to Carlson's hit, the Hilltoppers went on to win the 7A title with a 10-8 victory.

Carlson traded a championship ring for a whole lot of pain. He tore his labrum on the play and succumbed to surgery last spring, costing him an entire baseball season with the Hilltoppers.

Carlson, a senior who bulked up to 190 pounds on his 6-foot frame since last year, wasn't cleared for football contact until the week before the season opener against Wheaton Warrenville South.

Despite limited field time Carlson's quickly re-established himself as a critical member of Glenbard West's "Dark Side" defense.

"He's one of the best I've seen in terms of being a leader and doing all the right things," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "I had no doubt he'd come back and be fearless out there."

Listless:

Anyone attending the Week 2 game between Neuqua Valley and Naperville Central saw firsthand the amazing abilities of Wildcats receiver Mikey Dudek.

Now the tape's out there to prove it.

Among Dudek's 12 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown that night was an amazing first-half grab that found the Illinois-bound senior leaping over a defender from behind and snaring the ball with one hand while tumbling to the ground.

It's the kind of catch you had to see to believe and, thanks to YouTube, you can. The clip has become so popular that a local push was made to get the catch on SportsCenter's top 10 play list on ESPN.

Dudek didn't make the cut, but it's still better than most of the clips I see on ESPN.

Then again, what do I know? I still think my 11-year-old nephew Keegan's three buzzer-beating basketball shots in one game belonged on SportsCenter.

Stat time:

By now I hope you've heard about Willowbrook quarterback Brian Johnson throwing for a state-record 675 yards in the Warriors' 62-49 Week 2 win over Lyons Twp.

Johnson had another big game in last week's 35-28 victory over Hinsdale South, throwing for 350 yards.

With 1,330 yards in three games, Johnson's on pace for 3,990 regular-season passing yards.

kschmit@dailyherald.com

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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