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The annual football game between District 300 rivals Dundee-Crown and Jacobs has always been important from a bragging rights perspective.
However, the game traditionally held little meaning beyond district boundaries because neither program experienced much success through the years, let alone success in the same season.
That makes Friday night's game in Algonquin (7:15 p.m.) arguably the most important in the history of this 31-year old rivalry. It marks the first time Jacobs (6-2) and Dundee-Crown (6-2) have met when both are playoff bound.
"It's exciting because now we both have a lot of talent and a chance to do something in the playoffs," Jacobs junior running back Josh Walker said. "There's a lot more riding on this game."
"It's about having a chance to host a playoff game," D-C coach Vito Andriola said of the stakes. "If we win, we have a good chance of being at home in the first round."
The outcome of this game has been somewhat predictable through the years. Dundee-Crown dominated the series in its early days, winning 14 of 15 between 1984 and 1998.
Jacobs has dominated the Chargers for the last decade, winning 10 straight to trim D-C's all-time series lead to 16-14.
The Golden Eagles already have stormed to a share of their first title in the Fox Valley Conference since 1979. They can win the FVC Valley title outright with a seventh straight win, but the outcome against Dundee-Crown is hard to predict this time around.
"It's always seemed like one team was better than the other, but this is the first time you go into this game not knowing who is the better team," Jacobs quarterback Bret Mooney said. "It's the first time ever both teams have been this good. The fans will be going at it, the players will be going at it. It's going to be a good, tough game."
Aside from their respective success, the two offenses could not be more dissimilar. Jacobs is the more glitzy team with the Colgate-bound Mooney running a prolific spread attack that accounts for 373 total yards and 29.4 points per game, much of it via the big play. Mooney has completed 121 of 189 attempts (64 percent) for 1,686 yards and 17 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions.
His top target is receiver Hunter Williams. The senior has 58 receptions -- 23 more than any receiver in the area -- to go with 626 yards and 7 touchdowns. Mooney can also throw to Camden McLain (26 rec., 357 yards, 4 TD), Walker (17-238-2), Ryan Sargent (16-238-2) and Nick Gierlak (5-64-1), all juniors.
The strength of Mooney's arm is balanced by Walker's fleet feet. The area's fifth-most prolific running back has rushed for 716 yards and 7 touchdowns on 110 carries (6.5 avg.). Mooney, who worked on improving his mobility in the off-season, is the area's 10th-leading rusher with 498 yards and 3 touchdowns on 106 totes.
The Jacobs offense will face a Dundee-Crown defense that allows 306 yards and 20.5 points per game. The Chargers are led by a strong secondary that includes senior safety Sam Franckowiak, the area leader with 4 interceptions, and linebackers Tim Schanmier, Jordon Linson and Zach Thelen.
The secondary also boasts safety Malik Dunner, one of the top athletes in the Fox Valley Conference. The Carpentersville resident runs the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds, squats 350 pounds and benches 285. Dunner rolled an ankle last week against McHenry and sat out the second half, but he expects to start.
"I'm fine; it's nothing major," Dunner said. "I wouldn't miss this game. D-C hasn't beaten them in like 10 years so this would be a big win. We hadn't beaten McHenry in 22 years, but we beat them last week so that (losing streak against Jacobs) doesn't mean a lot."
Dunner has also been a key offensive performer at wingback in recent weeks, rushing for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns on 16 carries. However, with Dundee-Crown's full roster available to dress this week for the first time all season without injuries or ineligible players, it could lessen the need to play Dunner on offense.
Offensively, the Chargers average 240 yards and 27.6 points per game by controlling the ball and the clock via the ground game. They are paced by junior Caleb Parson (106 carries, 601 yards, 9 touchdowns) and seniors TJ Moss (68-442-5) and Cordero Parson (39-243-3).
"Their backs run extremely hard and they're going to be excited to come over here and play," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. "Vito has done a great job over there getting those kids to where they are at. We expect a very tough matchup. I think it's great for District 300 that all three teams (including playoff-bound Hampshire) are doing so well this year. It's great for the whole community."
Jacobs counters with a defense led by inside linebacker Greg McLeod (62 tackles) and defensive backs Cody Ferencz (58) and Tommy Savage (52). Ferencz, a wrestler with deceptive strength, last week picked off a Huntley pass near the goal line in the second half to help preserve Jacobs' lead.
"The key to success for us against Dundee-Crown is just flying around with speed and intensity," McLeod said. "We have some strong guys up front who not everybody knows, but they show up when they need to."
The D-C offense recognizes the challenge presented by a Jacobs offense that forced 3 second-half turnovers a week ago. Jacobs owns a plus-7 turnover differential; Dundee-Crown is plus-3.
"We have to play 100 percent and play our best game because we play hard," D-C offensive tackle Trent Hanselmann said. "Like coach says, we may not be the most talented team, but we are the hardest working team. We have 11 guys who have been playing varsity since we were sophomores. We know what to do."
Strip away all the big-picture implications of this game and it still boils down to childhood friend versus childhood friend. When Walker lines up in the backfield, he'll look across the line of scrimmage and see pals Dunner and cornerback Kiwaun Seals. They became friends in seventh grade when Walker was playing football and running track at Dundee Middle School and Dunner and Seals were doing the same for Carpentersville Middle School.
Around that same time Walker became friends with the Parson brothers, who played football and ran track for Westfield Middle School. They still hang out as a group every few weekends when they get the chance, which makes winning this game critical as far as those bragging rights are concerned.
"All the other things on the line are important but we need to win or those guys will talk about it the whole year until the next game," Walker said with a laugh. "And I'm not hearing all that."