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Daily Herald's 2013 Season Coverage
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Article posted: 11/14/2013 9:24 PM
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Plenty of reasons to show up
  • Mikey Dudek of Neuqua Valley,left, and Jon Lubanza of Naperville Central go up for pass during game action Friday in Naperville. Dudek caught the ball.

    Purchase Photo | Mikey Dudek of Neuqua Valley,left, and Jon Lubanza of Naperville Central go up for pass during game action Friday in Naperville. Dudek caught the ball. Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 

Where is everybody?

Two weeks into the football playoffs and I have yet to see a packed house.

Story Continues Below

This edition of Eyes on Five looks at disappointing crowd sizes. Hopefully, it gets better this week.

1. A Wirtz state of mind:

Anyone remember the dark days of Chicago Blackhawks hockey ... literally, when the home games were blacked out by old-school owner Bill Wirtz?

Wirtz did not allow home games to be broadcast on television because he felt it was unfair to season-ticket holders who paid to see the games. Putting games on TV, he believed, gave no reason for fans to actually attend the games.

As we've seen in the seasons since his son, Rocky, took over the team in 2007 and allowed home games to be televised, his father was dead wrong about his theory. Fan interest became unprecedented and sellouts the norm.

That being said, looking at the crowd sizes at playoff football games I wonder if "Dollar" Bill might have been on to something.

I can't believe I just wrote that, but how many football fans are sitting at home watching the games streamed live on the computer instead of braving the cold weather, bad parking and uncomfortable bleachers to see the action in person?

A number of different media outlets stream or televise games, but that'll come to an end starting with this weekend's quarterfinals as the IHSA's agreement with the NFHS Network kicks in. Fans will need to subscribe to the NFHS Network to watch any streamed games.

Will that get fans off their couches and into the stadiums? We all know the answer Bill Wirtz would give.

In any case I'll give you three reasons why you should head to a quarterfinal game on Saturday.

2. The Flash:

If you haven't seen Neuqua Valley senior receiver Mikey Dudek play, you're truly missing out on something special.

Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 175 pounds, Dudek is human electricity. He has hands of glue, 4.4 speed and makes grabs that defy football logic. On top of that, you really have to wonder about opposing teams that actually kick the ball to him with a chance to run in space.

Dudek and Neuqua Valley take on Naperville Central at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Class 8A quarterfinals, which is important to note because he had some of his finest plays the first time they met in Week 2. The Wildcats lost 58-24, but Dudek had 12 catches for 243 yards and scored 2 touchdowns.

At least two of the catches flew in the face of the physics of football.

Dudek clearly saves his best for rivals like the Redhawks, so you'd be wise to see him play at Naperville Central.

3. The Hammer:

In last season's Class 7A title game, Glenbard West safety Hayden Carlson made perhaps the best play I've seen at the high-school level.

His diving open-field fourth-quarter tackle of Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel saved a touchdown that likely would have cost the Hilltoppers the state title. Instead, Glenbard West held on for a 10-8 victory.

That one tackle cost Carlson, now a senior, nine months of competition because of the shoulder surgery he required. There's no doubt he lives up to the "Hitter" tradition at Glenbard West.

Because of his 100-percent-all-the-time attitude, Carlson's a player you should definitely try to see. The Hilltoppers play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Schaumburg for a berth in the 7A semifinals.

Carlson's a beast in the secondary, but he's also a big-play machine as a receiver and as a returner on special teams. Needless to say, he doesn't spend much time on the sideline.

If I coached a player like Carlson, I probably wouldn't want him leaving the field either.

4. The Wildcat:

Last spring Wheaton North senior quarterback Clayton Thorson was offered a scholarship by Northwestern without ever starting a varsity game behind center.

He's showing why this season.

Thorson, who accepted the Wildcats' offer, is on par with any quarterback remaining in the playoffs. Last week's effort against Fenwick was all the reason necessary to make sure you get out and watch him play in the 7A quarterfinals against Lake Zurich at 6 p.m. Friday in Wheaton.

Trailing the Friars 31-6 late in the first half last week, Thorson engineered a stunning comeback that led to a 32-31 win by the Falcons. He completed 30 of 52 passes for 413 yards and 5 touchdowns, giving him 2,722 passing yards and 28 touchdowns on the season.

On top of that, Thorson's powered Wheaton North's ground game. Using his athleticism and a sturdy 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, Thorson's rushed for a team-leading 534 yards and 12 touchdowns.

That's 3,256 total yards and 40 touchdowns he's accounted for in 11 games.

Every team needs a leader in the playoffs and -- without question -- Thorson is the Falcons' leader as they vie for their first trip to the state semifinals since 2002.

5. Stat time:

There's a common rule among sports writers that there's no cheering allowed in the press box.

Yeah, I mostly cover games from the sidelines, but the spirit remains the same. I make it a rule not to root for any of the teams I cover.

But I'll say this about Glenbard North senior running back Justin Jackson. While not actually rooting for the Panthers to advance to the Class 8A title game, I feel bad for the rest of the state because they won't get to see him play in DeKalb.

Last week Glenbard North fell 20-16 to Stevenson, ending Jackson's amazing senior season.

Jackson ends the season with 348 carries for 3,171 yards and 38 touchdowns, leaving him second on the IHSA's list for rushing yards in a season -- 154 yards shy of the state record. Jackson rushed for 6,514 yards and 84 touchdowns for the Glenbard North varsity.

kschmit@dailyherald.com

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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