Whatever form the DuPage Valley Conference may take in the future, Neuqua Valley would like to win it in 2016.
The Wildcats (7-0, 6-0) can clinch a share of the conference title with a win Friday at Lake Park (2-5, 1-5). Naperville North stands a game back at 5-1 in the DVC.
Neuqua Valley won several titles in the unified Upstate Eight Conference and its Valley Division, but the DVC is "obviously a whole new challenge," coach Bill Ellinghaus said.
The defense has led the way, featuring three-year varsity players Isaiah Robertson at safety and linebackers Jon Rhattigan and Anthony Ippolito. Robertson is headed to Notre Dame, Rhattigan has offers from Princeton and Dartmouth, and Ellinghaus thinks colleges are missing out on Ippolito, tied with Rhattigan for the team lead in tackles at 60.
"We have a fast defense this year," Ellinghaus said. "They're quick to the football, they play fast and we're a senior-dominated defense right now."
Neuqua's last unbeaten regular season came in 2012. It ended the season 12-1 after a 26-21 loss to Mt. Carmel in the Class 8A semifinals. Ellinghaus is looking only as far ahead as Friday.
"Right now this is the opportunity in front of us," he said. "You've got to take every opportunity as it comes and this is a big one. The fact that we could win conference this week is huge."
Not done yet:
After losing two straight games for the first time in 10 years, Glenbard West's football team felt it had something to prove.
The Hilltoppers proved it to previously unbeaten Oak Park-River Forest in Saturday's 56-39 West Suburban Silver victory.
"Everybody's got Glenbard West counted out like the death of an era or whatever," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet.
Glenbard West (5-2, 3-2) just completed a stretch of three straight games against unbeaten Silver opponents, dropping matchups to Lyons Twp. and Hinsdale Central. The Hilltoppers' defense faltered a bit, but they'll never again see a string of quarterbacks like they just faced in Ben Bryant, Josh Bean and Jeremy Hunt.
"L.T. and Hinsdale and Oak Park have some very good quarterbacks," Hetlet said. "We can defend the run, but sometimes no matter how hard you play, there are guys that just make plays. Those guys just don't miss many balls."
Not that Glenbard West is out of the woods with regular-season games remaining against Proviso West and Addison Trail, but the Hilltoppers hope they're back on track to defend their Class 7A championship.
"We're a very good football team, we just lost two games," Hetlet said. "They wanted to come back out and play Hitter football."
Naperville North (6-1, 5-1 DuPage Valley Conference) clinched its first playoff berth in three years with Friday's 50-31 cross-town victory over Naperville Central, but the Huskies don't plan on stopping there.
The next step is winning their next two games against Waubonsie Valley and Wheaton Warrenville South in the hopes of getting a first-round home game.
"It's a very big deal," said Naperville North coach Sean Drendel. "Even if we get to 8-1, though, there's a chance we won't get a home game. But it's important that we get there so we at least have a chance at it."
The Huskies posted 2-7 seasons the last two years and faced first-round playoff games on the road the previous three seasons as a five-win team. Each road trip ended with a loss, providing extra motivation to stay at Harshbarger-Welzel Field for Week 10 this year.
"That's a pretty good flip in one year," Drendel said of the Huskies' turnaround from last season. "Most teams don't make changes like that, and that's a credit to our kids. We want to make the most of it."
Eliminated from the playoff picture three weeks ago, Wheaton Warrenville South (2-5, 2-5 DVC) could have packed it in for the season.
Instead, the Tigers did the opposite. They've won their last two games and have shown they'll push as hard as they can to get two more.
"To their credit they've never quit," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "It's been really good for us these last couple of weeks."
It won't be easy continuing the winning streak this weekend. WW South travels to Orchard Lake in Michigan to take on St. Mary's Prep. The Eagles (4-3), who have won seven state titles, including the last two seasons, boast numerous players who either have committed to FBS college programs or hold offers from them.
The Tigers wrap up the regular season against Naperville North, which wrapped up a playoff berth last week.
"There's no doubt that's a tough couple of games to finish with," Muhitch said. "But we'll keep working to get better. They come to every practice with good motivation and trying to get better each week."
To a greater extent than last season Glenbard North (5-2, 4-2 DuPage Valley Conference) has kept teams honest with the pass on top of a crushing ground game.
"When (teams) load up the box you've got to execute the passing game," said Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens.
Defenses must attempt to contain tailback Vittorio Tricase, who has run for 1,352 yards and 26 touchdowns. That comes at the peril of three-year starting quarterback Shane Conway's improved chemistry with Northwestern-bound receiver Jace James and other Panthers receivers.
In 10 games last season Glenbard North averaged 68 yards passing and 317 total, and averaged 29 points. Through seven games this year Conway averages 124 yards passing while the team averages 382 overall and 36 points.
Conway completed 35 percent of his passes in 2015 and is at 56 percent this season. James, the only player to reach double figures in receptions a year ago, remains the runaway leader with 30 catches for 601 yards but Tyrik Henderson is a viable second option with 11 receptions. Tricase's 6 catches would have placed second on Glenbard North in 2015.
"If they try to make us one-dimensional," Wilkens said, "it's almost to our benefit."
Only one will be happy:
Fenton and Wheaton Academy converge Saturday in a Metro Suburban Blue game with lots at stake.
Fenton (3-4, 1-2) has an outside shot at a playoff berth, though unbeaten IC Catholic Prep comes to Bensenville in Week 9.
"We want to put ourselves in a position to be 4-4 and play a meaningful Week 9 game," said Bison coach Mark Kos.
Wheaton Academy (4-3, 0-3) owns a more favorable final foe in St. Edward. Warriors coach Brad Thornton still doesn't want to trust the Warriors' playoff points, now at 30, will get them in the playoffs with only five wins. Six gets them in automatically.
"That's what we're putting before our guys, trying to create a sense of urgency," Thornton said.
The Warriors are getting healthier, hoping to return receiver-safety Harrison Taylor and linebacker Tyler Jackson. Both have missed the last four games to injury.
Somewhere along the line Saturday they'll encounter Fenton running back-nose tackle Dylan Butts, a junior two-year starter praised by Kos for his sound fundamentals and leadership by example.
"Us being 4-3 and them being 3-4," Kos said, "sure, this is a potential first-round playoff game for us at this point."
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