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updated: 8/24/2016 10:28 PM

Benet ready for the ESCC challenge

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  • Benet Academy football players battle for the ball during summer practice.

      Benet Academy football players battle for the ball during summer practice.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
 

Will it be the two-time defending state champion or the underdog football team that advanced to the Class 8A final?

How about last season's conference co-champions? How about Benet?

One thing's for sure. The team that emerges as the East Suburban Catholic Conference champion will be battle-tested and ready for anything in the postseason.

"It's interesting," said Benet coach Pat New. "I don't know that the talent will be as strong as it's been in the conference, but it's still going to be a great conference."

Benet, on the heels of the program's unprecedented fourth straight playoff appearance, is primed to be among the ESCC title contenders. The offense is in good hands with quarterback Jack Sznajder, who last season threw for 1,784 yards, returning for a third starting season.

Alec McEachern will bull his way at running back and Marty Dosen will remain effective in a hybrid position in the slot. Combined, they rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as juniors.

Defensive returners include linebackers John D'Angelo and Ryan Liszka, defensive backs McEachern, Danny O'Malley and Erik Jones, and linemen Brett Kerger and Steven Arrowsmith.

On both sides of the ball, it's a combination of talent capable of winning Benet's first ESCC title since 2012.

"I think other teams might be favored to win it," New said. "But we feel like we can compete for the title."

It's tough to bet against two-time defending state champion Nazareth, despite the transfer to Oswego East by Iowa-bound running back Ivory Kelly-Martin. Between Christian Sampleton and Devonte Dunn, the Roadrunners feature some of the state's best line play.

Nazareth, though, wasn't the only team representing the ESCC in DeKalb. Four-loss Marist rocked the 8A bracket -- starting with a first-round victory over ESCC co-champ Notre Dame -- and made it to the title game.

The RedHawks, typically known for their explosive offense, have elite defensive talent. Linebacker Micah Awodiran is headed to Yale while defensive back Robert Topps is committed to Kansas. Junior Elijah Teague is among the ESCC's best linemen.

Joliet Catholic, last year's other ESCC co-champ, again should be in the mix. Marian Central and Carmel could surprise the front-runners while St. Viator's experienced offense includes tight end Cole Kmet, who's committed to Notre Dame.

Only once in the last five years has the ESCC champion rolled through the league with an unbeaten record, and in five of the last 10 years there have been co-champions. Expect that trend to continue.

"Our guys are used to the level of play in the conference, and I think that'll help us this year," New said. "It's a challenge, but we'll be ready for it."

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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