It took six weeks, but Benet's football team finally got a Friday night breather.
The Redwings (5-1, 4-0 East Suburban Catholic Conference) endured more than a month of nail-biters until last week's 56-7 victory at Marian Catholic gave them a chance to relax a little bit. They took full advantage of the rare opportunity in the ESCC.
"It was really a relief," said Benet coach Pat New. "It's been such nail-biters all season. It seems like every single game has gone down to the last minute."
It hasn't been quite that close, but almost.
All five games leading up to last Friday, including Benet's season-opening loss to St. Laurence. either finished with a margin of 5 points or fewer, or the margin was within one score heading to the fourth quarter. The tight outcomes aren't surprising considering each of the Redwings' first five opponents boasts at least three wins.
Marian Catholic tied Benet early in the second quarter, but the Redwings broke open the game with 28 straight points before halftime. The second half became a much different game.
Benet rested key personnel while also getting junior backup quarterback Matt Boyle some much-needed varsity reps. The blowout win was perfect timing as the Redwings make their push to win the ESCC title.
The Redwings play perennial state power Joliet Catholic on Friday, but you'll hardly recognize Benet's opponent. The Hilltoppers remain winless on the season.
"They're struggling but they're still Joliet Catholic," New said. "They're a much better team than their record indicates."
In 2015 Waubonsie Valley's theme entering the Class 8A playoffs was to "make some history" -- to take their longest road trip and, as a No. 30 seed, come out with a victory over No. 3 Edwardsville.
It was a rousing success.
Coach Paul Murphy hopes that experience will translate to a second chance at acing history, Friday's 220-mile hike to Fishers, Indiana, to play Hamilton Southeastern. Waubonsie (3-3) visits a 6-1 team that is ranked No. 8 in Indiana's largest class, 6A, by Jeff Sagarin.
Murphy reiterated the "make some history" goal.
"It's the first time in 41 years any Waubonsie Valley team has traveled out of state," he said.
What they'll face is a team that averages 140 yards rushing and 272 passing. Quarterback Adam Mullett, 6-foot-5, has passed for 1,907 yards and 15 touchdowns but also 11 interceptions.
What Mullett will face is the pass rush of newfound defensive end Chuck Robinson, who caused a fumble last week, and three-year starting safety Connor Yukna among others.
Waubonsie Valley, which hopes to welcome Hamilton Southeastern to Aurora in 2017, will pull off Interstate 65 to visit Purdue University in West Lafayette and have lunch several hours before the 7:30 p.m. game.
"We're getting the kids out of school early, so they're happy about that," Murphy said. "We're making memories for these kids that'll last a lifetime."
After rushing for 1,000 yards last season as a sophomore, Jack Jessen was expected to be a major piece of Willowbrook's offense.
The junior hasn't disappointed, rushing for 660 yards and 10 touchdowns through six games. But because Jessen also plays linebacker, the Warriors have been careful not to wear him down.
"Jack doesn't come off the field so spelling him is important," said Warriors coach Nick Hildreth.
Enter Chris Diaz. The fellow junior wasn't up on varsity last season like Jessen, but he had a strong year on the sophomore level. Diaz has acclimated well to the varsity level, giving Willowbrook (4-2, 2-1 West Suburban Gold) a nice tandem of running backs.
Diaz has carried the ball 50 times for 379 yards and 4 touchdowns, including nearly 200 yards and 2 touchdowns the last two weeks. Diaz has averaged double-digit carries, allowing Jessen's offensive load to be decreased.
"That first game (Diaz) was kind of wide-eyed and unsure of himself," Hildreth said. "He's gotten a lot better. Having both of them in the mix has worked out well for us."
New personal best:
Always rife with rich details, Daily Herald correspondent Bill Stone noted that a penalty put Glenbard North's Vittorio Tricase over 300 yards rushing in the Panthers' 34-7 DuPage Valley Conference victory over Wheaton North.
Taking off from his own 1-yard line, Tricase took a handoff 42 yards. The play ended, however, with Wheaton North's Drake Dickinson recovering a fumble. Glenbard North (4-2, 3-2) was called for a holding penalty but Wheaton North (3-3, 2-3) declined the penalty so it could keep the ball.
Tricase finished with 314 yards on 39 carries, getting the call on more than 72 percent of the Panthers' 54 official plays from scrimmage. The yardage eclipsed Tricase's 300-yard game in Week 4 last season against Glenbard East -- yet remains 91 yards shy of Justin Jackson's 405 yards rushing on 42 carries in a 2013 game, which remains the program and DVC record.
"We've got to keep it going," Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens simply said of Tricase's workload and results.
Recognizing more than 18 years of service to Neuqua Valley, athletic director Barb Barrows will have Wildcats Stadium named in her honor in a ceremony during halftime of Friday's game against Wheaton North. Barrows will retire after the 2016-17 school year.
Helping celebrate the freshly minted Barb Barrows Stadium will be Neuqua Valley's original principal, Kathy Birkett, past principal Michael Popp and other current and former members of Neuqua's administrative team.
"It's a great honor for her," said Wildcats football coach Bill Ellinghaus, whose club improved to 6-0, 5-0 after last week's 35-20 DVC win over Naperville North. "It's someone who's meant so much to athletics here at Neuqua Valley."
Just when they needed it:
Montini may have saved its season last Friday.
With three games left the Broncos (3-3, 2-1 Chicago Catholic Green) aren't out of the woods in seeking to extend their 23-year streak of playoff appearances. Yet their decisive 34-6 win over previously unbeaten De La Salle relieves some pressure with Mt. Carmel visiting Lombard in Week 8. The Broncos play DePaul at huge Lane Tech Stadium on Friday and finish with St. Francis on Oct. 21.
"That was our best game of the season," Montini coach Chris Andriano said of the win over De La Salle.
Offensively, it was nothing spectacular, just nice contributions from players such as running back Will Smith and quarterbacks Matt Morrissey and Nick Orlando. Defensively, the Broncos collected 6 turnovers, including 2 interceptions by junior safety Rian O'Connor.
Overall, Montini is getting more comfortable with personnel and shifts in the lineup due to injuries to players such as running back Prince Walker and defensive end Nick Malik.
Jalen Slater has come in well for Malik, and Brian Jackson and Connor Williams have helped solidify the defensive line. Josh Hiero has done the same on the offensive line, where Brennan Springmire comes in to give big Michael Ross a breather. Sophomore middle linebacker Jackson Bruscianelli has made an impact since entering the starting lineup Week 5 against Marmion.
A 4:15 p.m. game at Lane Tech -- where Andriano's father went to school -- presents a different routine. But on the field, Montini may be figuring things out.
"I think it's personnel and just learning about our guys better and coaches doing a better job game-planning with our personnel," Andriano said. "We're putting it together."
Downers Grove South junior quarterback Matt Greenwald was carrying the Mustangs' offense until a broken leg suffered in the first quarter of their Week 5 win over Morton ended his season.
Greenwald spent three days in the hospital. His first stop after being released was a no-brainer.
"He left the hospital and came straight to our practice," said Mustangs coach Mark Molinari. "That's how much he cares about this team."
In five games Greenwald led the Mustangs (3-3, 2-2 West Suburban Gold) with 75 carries for 261 yards and 5 touchdowns. He threw for 652 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"The doctor is saying he'll come back 100 percent, and we're hopeful he'll make a full recovery," Molinari said. "It's just a really tough blow for him and for us. It's devastating."
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