A matchup that brings out the best in Antioch, Lakes
Some serious stuff is on the line tonight in Lake Villa.
The football heavyweights of the Northern Lake County Conference will be battling each other for sole possession of first place in the league, preservation of a perfect record and a top-tier seed in the upcoming IHSA playoffs.
That Antioch (6-0, 4-0 Northern Lake County Conference) and Lakes (6-0, 4-0 NLCC) are sister schools from the same district and are located just down the street from each other, is icing on the made-for-Hollywood cake.
Clearly there's a lot to play for in this season-defining game, which kicks off at 7:15 p.m at Lakes High School.
But how about we loosen up the laces (footballs have laces!) on this game and this rivalry. We set out to have some fun with a couple of players from each team, with the hopes of giving you a clearer, and maybe not so buttoned-up look at two of the best teams in Lake County ... and to possibly determine which one is the best in various categories.
Cornerback Nico Chiappetta and wide receiver Javen London of Antioch and running back/safety Ethan Greenfield and quarterback Jake Johnson of Lakes had fun with my questions. I hope you do too. Get ready football fans: It's the "best of" high school football, Antioch vs. Lakes edition.
Let's start off right out of the box with a possible game-changer, an X-factor for tonight. Which team has the better student fan section, better known as the Antioch Cardinal Crazies vs. the Lakes Royal Rush? (Note: the football stadiums at both Antioch and Lakes are a long walk from the team locker rooms inside the school. Student sections from both teams formally make the walk with the team from the school to the field prior to all home games. It's a tradition at both schools.)
Chiappetta, Antioch: Our Cardinal Crazies are always cheering for us. They are way better than the fans at Lakes. Before each game, they're tailgating in the parking lot and then they walk with us to the field and when we get there, they make a tunnel for us to run through and someone is usually running around with an Antioch flag.
London, Antioch: Our fans are going to 'Crush the Rush.'
Greenfield, Lakes: You can't crush the Rush.
Johnson, Lakes: Our student section won the state championship last year for best student section (an online poll sponsored by Comcast SportsNet). We have a banner for it and everything. The school spirit at Lakes is something else. The Royal Rush loves to come to our games.
Let's get tactical. Which team is the best with the Xs and O's, starting with offense?
London, Antioch: We've got the best offense because even if someone gets injured, we have a bunch of guys we can put in who are just as good. We have a lot of depth. Our offense is also really unpredictable with the read option.
Chiappetta, Antioch: And we have a lot of varsity players back from last year and our offense was pretty good last year too.
Greenfield, Lakes: Ours is the best. We have so many weapons on offense, so much talent.
Johnson, Lakes: Definitely us. We run a modern-day spread. I mean, who runs the triple option anymore? (Of course, Antioch does.)
Greenfield, Lakes: Our defense is insane. We've got guys who are crazy. They scream, they bark. They make weird noises. It's so fun to watch them and be out there playing with them.
Johnson, Lakes: For me, it's an honor to go against our defense in practice. They are so good, and they are just insane. I think we have the best defensive coordinator in the state (in Jason Ellerman).
Chiappetta, Antioch: I think we have the best defense. Our coaches coach it up so well. They get us so prepared that we always feel like we know exactly what the other team is doing.
Best special teams?
London, Antioch: Us. We rep special teams every day before practice and a lot on Thursdays. Everyone, starters and reserves, gets a ton of reps, and we try to have fun with it.
Greenfield, Lakes: We do. We have a lot of sophomores and juniors on special teams, guys who might not be starters, so they get super excited to get in the game when they play special teams. They put forth a lot of effort because they are wanting to prove themselves.
But what about looking good while you're playing good? That's pretty important too. Which team has the best uniforms, and the best helmet design?
Greenfield, Lakes: Lakes, for sure. We have some of the best uniforms in the state. We have white on white. We have our new all greys. We still have a black jersey and a blue jersey. We have all kinds of fun combinations. And our helmets have the best design with the wings on them. It looks so cool, absolutely amazing.
Johnson, Lakes: Ya, definitely us. We are the Oregon of high school football. We have so many jersey options, and we have a new helmet design every year. The senior class now designed our new gray uniforms for this year. I actually came up with the design from scratch. That was really fun. It has a college feel to it. I think it's pretty cool that our helmet design changes every year too. We have been wanting the Eagle wings on our helmet for a long time. We definitely have the best helmet. I have a cousin who played at Antioch years ago and their helmets are the same now that they were back then. I'm not sure when was the last time they changed their helmet decal at Antioch.
Chiappetta, Antioch: I think we have the best uniforms. We've got these all white uniforms that are super fresh and clean, and they make us look huge. The football moms got them for us. They bought them for us and surprised us before our game against Wauconda. I like the Sequoit logo on our helmet, but I am going to give it to Lakes that they've got pretty cool feathers (wings) on their helmets.
When it comes to Friday Night Lights, atmosphere is also huge. So which team has the best stadium?
London, Antioch: Well, we have turf and they have grass, so I think our stadium is better.
Chiappetta, Antioch: Turf is definitely the best.
Greenfield, Lakes: I'm a big fan of grass fields, and we have really, really nice grass at Lakes. It's a great feeling walking into our stadium.
Johnson, Lakes: I think a big thing about our stadium is that there is no track separating the stands from the field, so the fans are really close to you and you can feel that. And the end zone on the one end is right up against our concession stand. That's pretty cool. People can be getting their food and see the game really well.
Speaking of food, fans need some good eats when they are watching football. Which school has the best football concessions?
Johnson, Lakes: There's nothing better than a Lakes Eagles hot dog after a tough game. After games, we get some of the leftover (concession) food. It's really good.
Chiappetta, Antioch: I can smell the burgers at our place during the games and they smell so good. Your mouth just starts to water.
London, Antioch: Our coaches sometimes eat burgers in the locker room during halftime. I guess they want to keep their energy up, but all of us (players) are wanting to eat them, too.
Clearly, though, the taste of victory tonight will trump the taste of any hot dog or burger for the Eagles and Sequoits.
Let's just hope fans get treated to a fun and competitive game that is worthy of these two elite programs.
"Obviously, this is the biggest game of the season against our biggest rival and we're both 6-0," Chiappetta said. "There's a buzz all over school about it."
Antioch is vying for its second straight Northern Lake County Conference title and its second straight undefeated season while Lakes is going for its fifth conference title in six years and its first-ever undefeated season.
"Whenever we play Antioch, it always brings out the best in everyone," Greenfield said. "When you think about all the other things surrounding this game, it just adds to all the excitement."
• Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw