Two hot teams.
One scorcher of an afternoon.
The Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division title won't be settled Saturday but the winner of the West Aurora-South Elgin matinee -- forecast to be played in conditions more typical of mid July than late September -- "will definitely be in the driver's seat," Blackhawks coach Nate Eimer said this week.
Defending UEC Valley champion West Aurora (4-0, 2-0) puts its 13-game regular-season winning streak on the line at South Elgin (4-0, 2-0) on a day when the temperature is expected to flirt with 90 degrees at kickoff at 1:30 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
While no football team can be completely prepared to withstand such heat, South Elgin coach Pat Pistorio said the fact his team competed in hot weather once already this season should help. The Storm played their season opener against a team from Miami, Fla. on a hot, humid night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando on Aug. 25.
"Our time in Florida really allowed the kids to understand what real heat is," Pistorio said. "They remember what those practices were like down there before our first game. I think they can handle it. Tapping into that memory will be important."
Managing playing time will be critical to both teams. The Storm use multiple two-way players, including quarterback/safety Nate Gomez and some linebackers who double as offensive linemen.
"Our position coaches know we have to pay close attention to our rotations and where players are with fatigue," Pistorio said. "We'll have to hydrate and rotate players in as much as we can. We have good communication and I think between the coaches and myself we have a good gut feeling as to when a guy should be in and when he needs to rest."
Likewise, West Aurora has its share of two-way performers. Topping that list is running back/defensive back JaQuan Buchanan. The junior with 4.6 speed has carried 43 times for 320 yards (7.4 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. He also has 2 receptions for 26 yards and a score.
"We have a good rotation going in our backfield to spell people when they need it," Eimer said. "Hey, it's a day game and everyone's going to be hot, but it's going to be fun. You have to enjoy it. We're both 4-0. It should be a great game and a lot of fun with a lot of good football players on the field."
One such player is Gomez. In the last three weeks against Lockport, Glenbard East and Bartlett, the senior has been nearly unstoppable running the read option. In those 3 wins he carried 79 times for 715 yards (9.1 avg.) and 11 touchdowns, and he threw for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns on 21-of-40 passing with 3 interceptions.
"He's one of the best offensive players I've seen on tape in my career," Eimer said. "He can do it all. He can run away from you, he can run you over and he can throw. He's a lot like some of the explosive kids we've had; when you have a chance to tackle him, you have to tackle him. At some point he's going to break away. When that happens you just have to keep playing."
Irresistible force meets immovable object: Something has to give Friday when Cary-Grove's swarming 3-3-5 defense faces Huntley's Eric Mooney, the area's fastest quarterback.
Cary-Grove (3-1, 3-1 Fox Valley) has limited opponents to 20 total points. Huntley's offense averages a FVC-best 46.3 points per game.
Mooney possesses low-4.4 speed and uses it to Huntley's advantage. Through 4 games he has carried 49 times for 429 yards and 6 touchdowns. The 6-foot-12, 190-pound senior has thrown for 659 yards and 7 touchdowns on 46-of-76 passing with 3 interceptions.
Huntley (3-1, 3-1) has been getting a big lift from running back Melvin Aninagyei-Bonsu. The senior has rushed for 526 yards and 9 touchdowns in 62 attempts (8.5 avg.).
"(Mooney) is throwing the ball better and (Aninagyei-Bonsu) has some real speed," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "They have a good backfield with those guys. They run routes well and they're good at catching the ball. They are just very explosive on offense. They're a tough team to stop."
The Red Raiders face a Cary-Grove defense that includes junior cornerback Danny Daigle. The second-year varsity player had an interception in last week's 52-26 victory over Jacobs.
Cary-Grove won last year's meeting 33-7 on grass in Cary. The Red Raiders won 29-8 on their synthetic home turf two seasons ago.
Homecoming? Game on: Westminster Christian was forced to forfeit its 8-man football game last Saturday at Oakfield, Wis., but the Warriors resume their schedule this Friday with homecoming against the Alden-Hebron/Faith Lutheran co-op team at 7:30 p.m.
Westminster Christian (1-2), a team with 12 players, was short four men Saturday due to conflicts. One player competes in cross-country and another competes in soccer. Both had key meets to attend in those sports. Another player was injured and another had a conflict with his job.
Westminster Christian athletic director Rick Palmer said he didn't want to send a team of only eight players three hours north and risk a player getting hurt a week before homecoming, when the school rents portable lights to illuminate Warrior Field.
"Homecoming is important to us," Palmer said Wednesday. "The plan is to finish out the year strong."
In an unrelated development, the Warriors have lost their head coach, at least temporarily. First-year coach Mike Gross happens to be a claims adjuster by trade. After Hurricane Irma struck Florida two weeks ago, Gross left for the Sunshine State for professional reasons. In his absence the team is being coached by assistant Mike Monell.