There were plenty of doubters in the St. Charles East football community when coach Bryce Farquhar switched to the triple-option offense in the summer of 2015.
Though the new system was taught to the Saints by an expert -- former Cary-Grove coach Bruce Kay, an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association hall-of-famer who in 2009 won the Class 6A state championship using the triple option -- many didn't welcome the change.
Skeptics instead preferred the spread offense so widely used throughout high school football these days, the kind former Saints offensive coordinator Shaun Ratay implemented.
As St. Charles East nears the end of a second season running the triple option, the numbers back Farquhar's decision.
Not only are quarterback Zach Mitchell and the 7-0 Saints playoff bound for the first time since Mitchell's older brother, Jimmy, guided a spread offense to a 6-4 record and a playoff berth in 2013, they are approaching the offensive output of Jimmy's team.
Though differences in scheme mean he will never approach the single-season passing numbers Jimmy amassed as a senior -- 143 of 263 passes for 2,377 yards and 26 touchdowns -- Zach is a big reason why the Saints average 342 total yards per game.
"He went from a kid whose older brother was a spread quarterback who put up big numbers and went Division III, to having this crazy coach putting in the triple option," Farquhar said. "He has been tremendous. He has done everything we have asked him to do."
With 2 regular-season games remaining against Elgin (1-6) and Streamwood (2-5), both of which allow 35 points and better than 320 yards per game, the 2016 Saints will soon surpass the 2013 team in both touchdowns and total yards, Farquhar said. The 2013 team scored 313 points in 10 games (31.3). These Saints have scored 276 points in 7 games (39.4).
"Putting up better offensive numbers than the 2013 team has been a motivating factor for Zach," Farquhar said. "He's done a great job, just his attitude and the way he's bought in. He has the arm to throw, he has speed and he put on the muscle in the off-season. It's been good to coach a kid that works that hard."
With a win at Elgin on Friday, the 2016 Saints can add another achievement to their resume the 2013 team lacked: an Upstate Eight River title. St. Charles East clinches a share with a victory and can win the title outright by finishing 9-0.
Upset bid: Jacobs can become playoff eligible with a win in its final regular-season home game, but it won't be easy against Fox Valley Conference leader Prairie Ridge (7-0, 6-0).
Led by junior quarterback Samson Evans, the Wolves are ranked No. 2 in Class 6A in this week's Associated Press poll. Jacobs has won two straight.
"No one seems to believe in us, but everyone on our team knows what we can do," said Jacobs wide receiver Trevor Loewen, who caught 2 touchdown passes from Chris Katrenick in last Friday's 48-0 win over Glenbard East. "We're going to come out and be ready to play."
In the first two weeks of the season, Prairie Ridge defeated Cary-Grove by 12 points and Huntley by 11. Jacobs lost to Cary-Grove and Huntley by a combined score of 70-14.
However, the Golden Eagles last week regained the services of safety Conrad Beech, a top-notch defensive player who missed the first 6 games due to injury. Wide Receiver Aidan Ludlum also returned from injury last Friday and made 3 catches for 85 yards.
In their last 3 games, the Golden Eagles have returned to a run-based philosophy with positive results. Since making the switch at halftime of a Week 5 loss at McHenry, they have scored 123 points.
"They have changed a lot," Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. "They are definitely getting better. From watching the film of their first game against Huntley, they're a completely different team. Obviously, they are running the ball more, but I can see the kids are playing in all three phases with a lot more confidence. Jacobs will give us a good test. They'll expose things we will need to work on as we head into the playoffs."
A loss to Prairie Ridge would force the Golden Eagles into a must-win situation next week at Hampshire (3-4, 2-4).
"I told our guys they have a tremendous opportunity because they're coming to our place and we're playing pretty good football," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. "We're a different ballclub than we were a few weeks ago with some of the bodies we've gotten back and some of the things we're doing."
This kicker can play: Adam Durocher has been an unexpected contributor to St. Charles North's 6-1 season.
The kicker for the North Stars since his sophomore year, the versatile 5-foot-9, 155-pound senior already owns program records for field goals, field goal attempts, extra points and touchbacks. However, it's fair to say Durocher has expanded his game.
After the team's slot receiver of the last two years, Tyler Mettetal, was lost for the season due to a baseball injury, Durocher filled the void. A former running back at the lower levels, he enters Friday's game at Geneva second on his team in receptions (21), receiving yards (295) and receiving touchdowns (4).
"We were thin at slot receiver and he stepped up and has been as consistent as anyone," St. Charles North coach Rob Pomazak said. "He's as good as they come for what he does as a kicker, but the really nice job he has done for us in the slot has really gone unsung."
Charging back from injury: Aurora Central Catholic cornerback and wide receiver Griffin Zajac was held out of practice Tuesday due to a strained oblique, but coach John Belskis said the senior is expected to play Friday when ACC (6-1, 2-1) welcomes Chicago Christian (2-5, 1-2) in a Metro Suburban Red game at 7 p.m.
Zajac was twisted awkwardly in a pileup during last week's 38-37 loss to MSC Red leader Ridgewood (5-2, 3-0). Earlier in the fourth quarter he returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown that drew the Chargers within a point of the lead.
Zajac's status is only part of the good news on the ACC injury front. Belskis said the team is set to welcome back defensive end Victor Ramos and defensive back/slot receiver Jeff Albert from ankle sprains and backup running back and defensive back Kyle Nilo returns from a hyperextended leg.
The Chargers' hall-of-fame coach said his team is trying to put last week's tough loss in the rearview mirror.
"As disappointing as it was because for all intents and purposes it was the conference championship game, if someone had told me before the season we'd be 6-1 through Week 7, I'd have taken it," Belskis said. "A couple of our goals are gone, but we still have goals, like getting a home playoff game for our seniors.
"The only medicine for how we're feeling is to get back on the field and play again. No one is going to feel sorry for us. We need to get back to work and see where we go from here."
On the brink: The West Aurora football team can make history on Friday night by wrapping up an undefeated Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title with a victory over visiting Bartlett (3-4, 2-1).
The conference title would be the first since 1983 for West Aurora (7-0, 4-0), which already clinched a second consecutive playoff berth for the first time since the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons.
It has been a dramatic turnaround for a program that snapped a 12-game losing streak midway through the 2014 season when this year's seniors were sophomores. West Aurora has since won 16 of 22 games.
"Our guys are excited about it," West Aurora coach Nate Eimer said. "We don't hide from it; We talk about it. We have a chance to do something really special here Friday night."
Third-year varsity standout Daquan Cross is 2 points shy of becoming West Aurora's all-time scoring leader, according to records submitted by the program. The record of 238 was set by Alvin Ross (1978-80). Cross has 237.
With at least 3 more games to play, he also could break the school record for career rushing yards. Cross enters the Bartlett game with 2,255 rushing yards, 340 shy of the 2,595 record-holder Joe Howell gained in three seasons from 1993-95.
Cross already holds West Aurora career records for all-purpose yards (4,174) and rushing touchdowns (28). A two-way player, he also owns the record for career interceptions (6).