Cary-Grove fullback Tyler Pennington will start Friday's home game against Huntley, according to Trojans coach Brad Seaburg.
A two-time all-state fullback and linebacker, Pennington suffered a high-ankle sprain early in a Week 2 victory at McHenry. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior finished that game with 134 yards and 3 touchdowns but did not play in Week 3 against Hampshire or last week at Jacobs.
"That's not an easy thing to come back from, but the kid has a tremendous pain tolerance," Seaburg said. "He really wanted to play last week but we sat him out again."
There was no need to rush Pennington back based on the solid play of junior Max Skol (5-11, 175), who Seaburg said had been designated to rotate in at fullback prior to Pennington's injury. Against Hampshire and Jacobs, Skol carried 27 times for 196 yards (7.3 avg.) and 5 touchdowns.
Skol also is a key piece of the defense at safety, though many of his defensive reps the last two weeks have gone to junior Jack Trauger (6-3,190). Trauger and junior Daniel Gilroy (6-3, 205) have been splitting Pennington's duties at middle linebacker.
Skol's performance along with that of versatile senior back Kyle Pressley (18 carries, 79 yards), who shifts from slot back to fullback this season, give Seaburg and staff the flexibility to play Pennington more on defense when he returns if they so choose. Cary-Grove's sixth-year coach said such decisions will vary.
"It depends on the game," Seaburg said. "Tyler is such a consistent runner and he has such good vision. He knows our offense and he knows where the blocks are going to be. Max has the ability to do what Kyle Norberg (North Dakota) would do and break one off for 70 yards because he was so fast. Tyler will get the tough 4 yards."
Already in playoff mode: The winner of the Upstate Eight River clash between Larkin (2-2, 0-1) and Geneva (2-2, 1-1) at Burgess Field on Friday at 7:30 p.m. maintains a viable chance of making the playoffs.
The loser faces an uphill climb.
Following an 0-9 season in 2014 and a 1-8 campaign last year, Larkin is 2-2 for the first time since 2013 and hunting its first playoff berth since 2006. One reason is the leadership of eight third-year starters. Another is the emergence of running back Kindrel "Nomo" Morris.
Playing in his second varsity season, Morris, a 5-foot-7, 135-pound junior, has rushed for 398 yards and 6 touchdowns on 66 carries (6.0 avg.). He also has 6 receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown.
"The offense runs around him, no doubt about it," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. "He's extremely quick and fast. We've seen all their films and there isn't anybody that's stopped him. And when you think you have (Morris) under control (quarterback David Hibbler) will scoot around the end on you. We have to prevent the big play."
Larkin's defense is tasked with containing Geneva running back Lance Arni. The converted safety leads the 24 schools in the Fox Valley coverage area with 697 yards in 115 attempts. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound senior has scored 7 rushing touchdowns.
The job of keeping Arni and the Geneva offense in check falls mainly to Larkin's defensive linemen: Isai Rios (6-0, 220), Ezzry Leon (6-0, 205), Omar Morales (5-11, 205), Jesus Facio (6-1, 205) and Aris Johnson (6-1, 240).
"The last two weeks we've been able to defend the run better than we have in my first two years here," third-year Larkin coach Dragan Teonic said. "It's going to be a great test for us. Geneva is going to run power iso and trap. They do it every year. The question is can they do it against us this year?"
Visionary thinking: Huntley's Charlie Zornow plays middle linebacker when he's not playing Nostradamus.
The prescient 6-foot-1, 205-pound junior called his shot in last week's 49-7 Fox Valley Conference win at Hampshire when he predicted to a coach he would make an interception on the next series.
"Usually, after the first couple of drives I talk with coach (Paul) Reinke, my linebackers coach, about what we're seeing," Zornow said. "I told him I learned early from watching the sophomore game that they like to hit the quick slants. And as I watched them during the (varsity) game, their quarterback seemed to be having a staring contest with his receivers. I told Reinke I could guarantee a pick six."
Prediction turned into production. Zornow jumped a slant route on the next series and returned the interception 28 yards to put his team ahead 13-0. It was one of four interceptions by the Huntley defense.
"I wish I would have thrown down some money on it or something because I would have won after I took it to the house," said Zornow, who also registered 3 solo tackles and 3 assists.
Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak won't complain if Zornow makes a repeat premonition Friday when Huntley (3-1, 3-1) visits Cary-Grove (3-1, 3-1) in a battle for second place in the Fox Valley Conference.
"When he came off the field I said, 'Could you call that next week, too?' " Zimolzak said.
West Aurora gets healthy: No. 1 quarterback Jake Jankovsky will return from injury Friday when West Aurora (4-0, 2-0) hosts defending Upstate Eight Valley champion South Elgin (2-2, 2-0) at 7:30 p.m., according to Blackhawks coach Nate Eimer.
Jankovsky sprained an ankle in Week 1. Eimer and staff made sure the 6-foot-1, 175-pound senior was fully healthy before making his return since the quarterback in West Aurora's wing-t scheme needs to be mobile, able to either sprint or carry out a fake on any given play.
Jankovsky isn't the only Blackhawk back from injury. Senior Spencer Locke (6-2, 205) was recently cleared. Eimer said the preseason expectation of Locke was for him to start at tight end and defensive end.
Also recently cleared is skilled sophomore JaQuan Buchanan, a running back and defensive back whose athleticism Eimer said "is in the same category with DaQuan Cross and DaVion Cross."
The additions could strengthen coordinator Tony Melchiori's already formidable 3-5-3 defense, which has limited four opponents to 18 total points.
Last week, the West Aurora defense stopped Glenbard East from the 6-inch line on four consecutive plays in an epic stand Eimer said his players "will talk about forever."
He'd like the Blackhawks to create more long-lasting memories this Friday night.
"This is what you play for," Eimer said. "They're 2-0. We're 2-0. This is what we do this for. We've got the defending champs coming to our place on homecoming. We're excited about it.