No playoffs? Teams still look for strong finish to season
Not every football team reaches the playoffs. That doesn't mean they mail it in the last night of their season.
"It's one last time to go out and compete, and we feel good about it. We feel good about the way we're going to play," said Metea Valley coach Ben Kleinhans.
Metea Valley (0-8, 0-8 DuPage Valley Conference) finally returns starting quarterback Garrett Despot from his Week 6 injury to Lake Park. He can help the Mustangs serve two causes on Friday -- spoil 4-4 host Rock Island's attempt at playoff qualification and give DVC and District 204 mate Neuqua Valley a "playoff point," or opponent victory, as the Wildcats also aim for the playoffs.
"I would like Neuqua to get in," Kleinhans said. "They do things the right way."
Glenbard East (2-6, 2-2 Upstate Eight Valley) won't make or break anyone's playoff bid hosting Bartlett on Friday. However, to Rams coach John Walters this game "means a ton."
The Rams, who last week against West Chicago got 5 catches for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns by senior receiver Kenny Adams, can finish the season winning two straight games and three of their last four, and finish with a winning record in the UEC Valley -- on senior night.
"We still have an opportunity to be successful, and when you have that opportunity you've got to go out there and be successful," Walters said. "It's up to our staff and our kids to make sure we take full advantage of our opportunity."
West Chicago (2-6, 1-4 UEC Valley) enters its final game at an unfamiliar opponent, Crystal Lake South, 2-6 against a strong schedule that includes Jacobs, Prairie Ridge, Huntley and Cary-Grove.
Can't say Wildcats coach Ted Monken doesn't stick to his guns. His goal for his team's season finale mirrored what he said entering Week 1.
"We want to play well, hang in there and try to get in the fourth quarter, and see what happens," Monken said.
Easy does it:
The last three weeks Willowbrook (7-1, 5-0) became playoff eligible and clinched a share of the West Suburban Gold title with wins over York, Morton and Proviso East by an average margin of 41 points.
As easy as it's been recently, the Warriors have to gear up for a Week 9 game against Downers Grove South (4-4, 4-1) -- a highly motivated team that can seal a playoff berth and a share of the Gold title with a win.
"Our guys need to be prepared for a team with a sense of desperation and very motivated," said Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth. "We have to be ready to match that intensity."
The Warriors may not be as desperate at Downers South, but they still have plenty to play for in the regular-season finale.
Eight wins would vault Willowbrook into a higher seed, likely in the Class 6A bracket. And it'd give the program its first outright Gold title since 1982.
More than anything, the Warriors want some momentum heading into the playoffs.
"You can't simulate that kind of atmosphere in practice, so it'll be good for us to be back in that kind of situation," Hildreth said. "I think we'll be ready for it."
Running it up:
Naperville Central senior A.J. Deinhart spent the last few games trying to play through injury, and last week he finally started feeling like the running back who earned all-DuPage Valley Conference honors as a junior.
That meant rushing for 98 crucial yards on 20 carries to help Naperville Central (6-2, 6-1) clinch a share of the DVC title with a 14-7 victory over Wheaton North. The Redhawks needed every single yard in the defensive struggle.
"I thought Friday was the first time he looked like the A.J. of old," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "We really needed it."
Wheaton North made a point of bottling up the Redhawks' passing game of quarterback Payton Thorne and receivers Jayden Reed and Tommy Coyne, forcing the offense to lean on Deinhart.
With Deinhart and the passing game feeding off each other, the offense aims to be in top form heading into the postseason.
"(Deinhart) just didn't have the power he had before," Stine said. "We're starting to see that again now."
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