Burlington Central and St. Edward each lost a key football player to a season-ending knee injury this week.
St. Edward senior safety/wide receiver Saveon Smith was given the bad news Monday. The injury he suffered in a Week 2 loss to Chicago Hope Academy? A torn ACL and torn MCL.
Burlington Central junior quarterback Johnny DiCostanzo was diagnosed Tuesday with a torn ACL and torn meniscus, suffered while pitching the ball in the third quarter of Friday's 38-7 win over Rockford Lutheran.
For St. Edward, which began the season with 23 players, losing a two-way standout like Smith, a player 13th-year coach Mike Rolando considers among the best defensive backs in Green Wave history, is a particularly tough blow.
A four-year varsity player, Smith had 6 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns before he suffered the noncontact injury while running a route to the opposite side of the field where the ball was thrown on a 2-point conversion. He also missed the final 4 games of the 2016 season with an ankle injury.
"I feel for all the kids when they're in this situation," Rolando said. "It has nothing to do with wins or losses or the success of the team at that point. You just hate seeing football torn away from them. Being teammates, being brothers on the field, those are the things you take with you. To see Saveon or any player suddenly lose his senior year to injury, it's just a heartbreaker.
"We started with 23 and we're down to 22. They're all upper classmen. There are no younger guys playing until we need them but we're super thin. We have good quality one deep."
Rolando is confident Smith will still be able to play college football.
"He played four years of varsity football," Rolando said. "He's got enough film. We'll find him a home somewhere."
St. Edward (2-1) plays Guerin (0-3) in a Metro Suburban Conference crossover in River Grove on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Losing DiCostanzo is a blow to the Rockets (2-1). Through two and a half games the second-year quarterback had completed 27 of 53 pass attempts for 270 yards and 6 touchdowns and had thrown 6 interceptions.
"I just feel really bad for Johnny," Central second-year coach Brian Melvin said. "It's unfortunate. He was starting to find his way."
It's the second time in three weeks a Central team leader has been lost to a season-ending injury. Middle linebacker Ryan Doubek broke his hand in the season opener at Byron.
Sophomore Jake Lenschow (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) stepped in last week to replace DiCostanzo and completed 2 of 3 passes for 23 yards. A tall, slender pocket passer with good mobility, the three-sport athlete gets the nod as Central's starting quarterback the rest of the way. He has the confidence of his coach.
"Jake is a phenomenal athlete," Melvin said. "He was battling for that spot all that summer. He does just as much as Johnny but they are different players. What's great is we really don't have to change the game plan or tone it down because Jake is a varsity quarterback."
Central (2-1) has won 5 of its last 7 games since opening the 2016 season with a 5 straight losses. The Rockets visit old rival Richmond-Burton (2-1) in the Kishwaukee River Conference opener Friday at 7 p.m.
St. Charles East, North quarterbacks ready: St. Charles North's defense will be wary of dynamic St. Charles East quarterback Clayton Isbell when the rivals square off at Norris Stadium on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Isbell, a third-year varsity player in his first year at quarterback in the triple option, rushed for 217 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries in last week's 23-16 win over Geneva.
"He's got the keys to the car and he's driving it," North coach Rob Pomazak said. "He's a tremendous athlete, no doubt about it. He's worked extremely hard in the off-season and got a lot stronger. He's doing all the things people hoped he could do when he came up as a sophomore. He's a guy you have to prepare for."
Through three weeks Isbell has carried 55 times for 505 yards and 5 touchdowns. St. Charles East (3-0, 1-0 Upstate Eight River) doesn't throw often, but the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior has completed 9 of 22 passes for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns without an interception.
"We want to get our passing game going a bit more, though we understand that's not what we normally do," East coach Bryce Farquhar said. "We feel we can stretch the field more vertically."
Quarterback Michael Hohensee will be back in the lineup for St. Charles North (2-1) against the Saints. He sat out last week's 45-6 win at Larkin to rest an injury. In two games the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior has completed 34 of 59 attempts for 553 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"He's back and ready to roll," Pomazak said.
You again: Friday's Fox Valley Conference showdown at Cary-Grove will be the Jacobs defense's second crack at hard-running senior fullback Max Skol.
Mainly a defensive starter as a junior, Skol filled in at fullback for a few games last season when four-year starter Tyler Pennington sprained an ankle. He gave Jacobs all it could handle in Cary-Grove's 35-14 victory. He forced a fumble on defense and carried 22 times for 127 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Skol enters this battle between 2016 state quarterfinalists with 445 yards and 7 touchdowns on 73 carries (6.1 avg).
"He's no treat," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. "He's a great, hard-nosed player. He's going to bring it every play so we'd better be ready. But our guy, (running back Loren) Strickland, will bring it, too."
Strickland enters Week 4 with 309 yards and 5 touchdowns in 31 attempts, a 10-yard average. He did not play in last year's matchup due to illness.
Friday Knight lights: A win in Friday's Northern Illinois Big 12 East opener against visiting Yorkville (1-2) is critical to Kaneland's playoff aspirations.
The Knights (1-2) are coming off consecutive road losses at Geneva (28-21) and Rich Central (60-28). They defeated the Foxes 27-21 in Yorkville last season.
"Both teams are in the same boat at 1-2," first-year Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said. "I think we match up well in terms that we both run similar defenses. They are very aggressive on defense with their front seven and teams like that can give an offense fits, but we can really move the ball when we're clicking. We have to make sure we can protect our quarterback and pick up their blitz."
Red Raiders off to the races: Speed thrills.
That was on display for Huntley and its fans in Friday night's 56-12 Fox Valley Conference win at Dundee-Crown.
Especially when one considers the Red Raiders needed only 31 offensive plays to rack up 432 yards of offense. Quarterback Eric Mooney ran for 137 yards on just 5 carries -- including a 46-yard touchdown and turning a near-safety into a 42-yard run.
"We want everybody to get a head on a hat," said Huntley senior offensive lineman Joe Wilson, "and open things up for our explosive quarterback and wideouts."
Oh, and don't forget senior running back Melvin Aninagyei-Bonsu, who needed just 12 carries to pile up 165 yards and 4 touchdowns.
"Melvin and 'Moon' were both on the state 400 (meter relay) team," said Huntley assistant coach Mike Slattery of a group that finished eighth at the Class 3A state meet. "That's a heck of a dimension. Melvin had a couple of runs like this against Jacobs that were called back."
The longest it took the Red Raiders to score was on their first possession of 66 yards in 6 plays in 1:50 capped by Aninagyei-Bonsu's 2-yard run. They actually could have had five touchdowns in only four plays from scrimmage in the third quarter but Mooney's electrifying 57-yard punt return to the end zone was called back because of a holding penalty behind the play.
"To be honest, I'm not really that surprised when you're playing with this guy right here," Aninagyei-Bonsu said of the Red Raiders' quick-strike ability as he glanced over at Mooney. "That's what we can do each and every Friday night. I'm proud of the way the O-line blocked and the H-backs.
"What we showed is what we can do to any team out there, and we can definitely do stuff that we can still get better at."
D-C felt the same way after missed opportunities to prevent some of Huntley's big plays.
"We definitely have to fix our open-field tackling," said D-C coach Mike Steinhaus. "But those guys are great players."
Charging ahead: Even though Ricky Ibarra is only a junior, the running back is one of the most experienced Dundee-Crown players after spending last year on the varsity.
Ibarra scored both touchdowns Friday night -- powering in from 7 yards with a fourth-down pass from junior Josh Raby just before halftime and scoring on a 4-yard run 7:11 after intermission.
D-C coach Mike Steinhaus hopes the rest of his team can follow Ibarra's lead.
"Our young guys are still learning the toughness and how you have to play in the Fox Valley Conference," Steinhaus said. "Our kids are learning on the fly."
The 6-foot-4 Raby and 6-3 tight end Jack Michalski connected 6 times for 90 yards. The first three were good for third-down conversions on D-C's game-opening drive from its 28 that ended up 2 yards short of the end zone behind seniors Ben VanOstenbridge and Isiah Ziegler and juniors Giovanni DeLaTorre, Nikolas Karavidas and Gabriel Kurzynski.
"I'm really proud of the way Raby and Michalski played," Steinhaus said. "I thought our offensive line played well."
Steinhaus said sophomore Kareem Dunner did not play because of "an injury he's dealing with" but hoped to have him back for Friday's nonconference game at East Aurora.
-- Marty Maciaszek contributed