Benet defense maturing quickly

Updated 9/13/2017 3:00 PM
  • Benet Academy football coach Pat New in practice.

      Benet Academy football coach Pat New in practice. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Benet's defense is clearly a young unit.

Redwings football coach Pat New, however, didn't realize how young until he started listing the personnel at each position.

"Three juniors and a sophomore on the line, two of three linebackers are juniors and two defensive backs are juniors," he said. "I knew we were young, but that's a lot of guys who aren't seniors."

After struggling at times in a Week 2 loss to Notre Dame, Benet's defense stepped up in last week's 27-0 East Suburban Catholic Conference victory over Marian Central Catholic. It was the Redwings' first shutout of the season.

Seniors Devin Petersen, a linebacker, and defensive backs Ben Cooney and Connor Reid are cornerstones of the defense, but the quick development of the younger players adds an element of confidence heading into a stretch of ESCC games that surely will be a test.

Defensive back Jack Cooney and linebacker Mike Wymer are two of the junior leaders of the defense. The emergence of junior defensive back Billy Lawler has allowed senior Nick Keyes to focus on his offensive play at receiver.

Benet (2-1, 1-0) and its surging defense will try to stay unbeaten in the ESCC in Friday's game at St. Viator (2-1, 1-0).

"This is kind of what I expected from the defense," New said. "We were pretty physical last season, and this group is starting to play that way."

Little things add up:

Sometimes good things come from opponents' mistakes. Like a blown defensive coverage Neuqua Valley capitalized on for Jake Eskoff's 98-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Hoffman or Trevor Tesmond's 47-yard fumble return, the Wildcats' first 2 touchdowns in last week's 29-7 win over Waubonsie Valley.

Other times it's being in the right place at the right time, like Ryan Wheeler blocking a field goal near the end of the first half.

There's also plain old execution and athleticism as on Will Chevalier's 36-yard punt return.

The common denominator is the work put in before a game.

"Everything starts on the practice field," said Neuqua Valley coach Bill Ellinghaus. "We had a very good week of practice coming off the loss to Naperville Central. The kids refocused on doing what's right in practice."

Ellinghaus won't allow a slip in preparation for physical Wheaton Warrenville South, which he called "the best 0-3 team I've seen in a long time." Not when goals of playoff qualification and a DuPage Valley Conference title remain in play.

"We talk about doing the little things right and the big plays will happen, and I think we did that this week," he said. "Those things don't happen unless the little things are done right."

Big addition:

After allowing 86 points in the season's first two weeks, Naperville North's defense needed a boost.

Ryan Marrano provided it.

The Huskies' linebacker returned from injury in last week's 43-25 DuPage Valley Conference victory over Wheaton North. The defense wasn't perfect in allowing 215 rushing yards, but the improvement was obvious.

"He plays with a ton of passion for the game," said Huskies coach Sean Drendel. "He brings so much more to the game than just his ability."

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior showed his ability by notching a team-high 13 tackles, including a sack. He also broke up a pass. Marrano's return to inside linebacker allowed Ian Joyce to return to his natural spot at outside linebacker.

The trickle-down effect made the entire defense better. That's the kind of impact a competitor like Marrano, an all-DVC honoree as a junior, can have.

"He's got a confidence that everyone on the team feels," Drendel said. "He's a kid everyone really respects out there."

Riley returns:

When in May 2016 Mike Riley spoke about his imminent retirement from Glenbard South, he said a couple of vacations were in order. Evidently not during football season.

Raiders coach Ryan Crissey said the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee, who also served as a program assistant for Raiders coaches Jerry Barton, Dan Starkey and Jeremy Cordell, came to practices last fall and even worked the headphones in the press box during games.

When offensive coordinator Bobby Bennett moved to Indiana before this school year, that position became available. Apparently Riley was, too.

"I called him and said get off the retirement wagon," Crissey said. "Enough is enough, time to dust off the whistle and get back to coaching again."

After scoring 29 points in a Week 2 loss at Galesburg, then quarterback Jack Crouch and running back Adam Haushahn pacing 272 yards rushing in last week's 47-8 win over Aurora Central Catholic, Crissey said the team has gained confidence, Riley included.

"It's been a good couple of weeks and I really think we're starting to hit our stride," Crissey said.

Touchdown strikes:

IC Catholic Prep is participating in the Touchdowns Against Cancer program, a joint effort of MaxPreps and the crowdfunding platform Pledge It that raises money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.

From Sept. 14-30 every touchdown scored by participating schools will benefit St. Jude's based on fans' pledges. In the program's debut last season nearly 200 teams nationwide raised more than $100,000 for the hospital.

IC Catholic, as well as St. Viator, was among 27 "2016 All-American Teams" that each donated at least $1,000. Knights coach Bill Krefft believed IC pledges last year approached $8,000 or $9,000. This year 16 Illinois programs are involved including Elgin, DeKalb and St. Joseph.

Krefft said program assistant Jim Sheedy and Marya Gibbons -- whom Krefft called "director of football operations" -- informed him of the program. With most everyone knowing a cancer patient, Krefft said, "It was something that was very close to us."

Chances are IC Catholic will again be an All-American Team. The Knights come off a 54-0 win over Elmwood Park to face a Chicago Christian team Wheaton Academy just beat 47-7. Next week could bring a high-scoring affair against St. Edward, and IC visits Riverside-Brookfield on Sept. 29.

Great quote:

Montini veered a bit from its three-quarterback approach in last week's 28-7 win over Fenwick.

Brad Norgle, part of the mix, played tight end, H-back and slot receiver. Dropback passer Matt Morrissey got the start, then Wildcat-style senior Nick Orlando came in on the second series and played much of the game until Morrissey directed a long possession in the third quarter.

Each player offers a wrinkle defenses must handle. With Orlando it's velocity.

"We're bringing in the closer very early at times," said Broncos coach Mike Bukovsky.

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