Wright sparks St. Edward to key Metro Suburban win
The St. Edward offense didn't need a quarterback last week.
It had Nick Wright.
Starting quarterback Anthony Holte was unable to play for St. Edward last Friday in a 21-14 Metro Suburban Red victory at Chicago Christian due to an injury suffered the previous week.
His absence was magnified when backup Zeke Rolando, the sophomore son of coach Mike Rolando, was forced from the game with a third-quarter injury, leaving the Green Wave without a quarterback to protect a 2-touchdown lead.
The coaching staff switched on the fly to a direct-snap power offense based around Wright, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior who, like many of his teammates, plays both ways.
St. Edward (3-3, 3-0) stacked twin lead blockers and three tight ends in front of Wright. Behind an offensive line consisting largely of sophomores, he bulled his way to 289 yards and 2 touchdowns on 49 carries, including 35 direct snaps.
Wright saved the best surprise for last. The Wave led 21-14 with 1:20 left and faced fourth-and-10 from their own 47-yard line when Wright connected on a 20-yard halfback pass to sophomore Anthony Cirrincione. Wright's only completion in his only attempt allowed first-place St. Edward to run out the clock on a third straight MSC Red victory.
The win against Chicago Christian, which entered with a 4-1 record, represents St. Edward's season in microcosm. The Wave have been finding unique ways to win with an unusually small roster depleted further by injuries. At the outset of the season, the varsity consisted of five seniors, seven juniors, 12 sophomores and eight freshmen. Twenty-Eight players are available for Friday's game against IC Catholic Prep.
"I think it's pretty miraculous that the kids have won the games they have," coach Mike Rolando said. "On paper, or even if you just saw them standing next to each other, you'd say St. Ed's is in trouble. We're usually outsized and out-experienced, but you can't underestimate the heart these kids have. They'll run the through a wall for us."
St. Edward's midseason rise is all the more improbable considering who is no longer with the team due to transfers after the 2017 season, when the Green Wave finished 5-4 but missed the playoffs on points. That list includes the starting running back at Larkin, a quarterback and a linebacker at Elgin and a defensive lineman at Burlington Central, among others.
"Several kids left, each for their own reasons and different reasons possibly," Rolando said. "We have the right kids that are playing really well together and for each other now."
Those leaders include four-year varsity contributors like Wright, Sidney Muhammad, Jake Floyd, Mason McGraw and Jake Kaufman.
It's unlikely St. Edward can challenge two-time defending Class 3A champion IC Catholic Prep when the longtime rivals meet in Elgin on Friday. ICCP has outscored its opponents 264-47.
But beating the Knights is not a must for the Green Wave to make the playoffs. If they can win their final two regular-season home games against Fenton (3-3) and Ridgewood (4-2), they would be guaranteed a playoff berth as MSC Red champions.
"Winning the Red and getting in the playoffs has been our focus since April," Rolando said "Our main goal is to come out of the IC game healthy and get the guys who are banged up healthy so we're going into Weeks 8 and 9 at full strength.
"We're not better than Fenton or Ridgewood or anybody in our league. We're as good as them and they're as good as us. We could win all five Red Division games or lose all five. It depends on if we execute. If we execute and play well, we can beat anybody."
Bulldogs by the numbers: Statistics reflect how dominant Batavia has been this season.
The top-ranked team in Class 7A has outrushed its opponents 1,582 yards to 264 through 6 games. Overall, the Bulldogs outgain the opposition 421-175.
Batavia (6-0, 4-0 DuKane Conference) is winning the turnover battle 18-9, led by Quinn Urwiler. The junior linebacker is responsible for 3 interceptions, a forced fumble and 3 recoveries. Senior safety Nicholas Conger has 2 forced fumbles, a recovery and an interception.
In last Friday's 41-0 victory over Geneva, Batavia's defense limited the Vikings to 2 first downs and 54 total yards.
"I think that's kind of been our calling card," coach Dennis Piron said. "People have had a really hard time running the ball."
Not to be overlooked: Fox Valley Conference leader Cary-Grove (6-0, 6-0) has been sailing along behind an offense that averages 45.5 points and 436 total yards per game.
Likewise, a less-heralded, young defense is playing well for the top-ranked team in Class 6A.
The Trojans have limited opponents to 85 points. They forced 5 turnovers in the first half of last week's 63-21 victory at winless McHenry, highlighted by interception returns for touchdowns by Dymitri Kanellakis and sophomore linebacker Arik Mistak.
Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg lauded the play of linemen Jake DiMatteo (6-1, 210) and Johnny Gagliano (6-0, 200), junior linebacker Jake Johnson, senior safeties Michael Boyd and Danny Daigle and junior corners Luke Eletheriou and Kanellakis, among others.
"Our defense is probably not getting enough credit for our success," Seaburg said. "Our pressure on the quarterback has been very good so far this year."
Record-setting Blackhawks: West Aurora posted historic numbers in last Friday's 57-13 Upstate Eight Conference victory over Glenbard South.
Offensively, West Aurora (5-1, 5-1) set a modern-day school record with 613 total yards, according to records kept since 1958. The offensive line of three-year starter Ian Mooney, Evan Alexandrou, Tyler Adkins, Dylan Whisenant and Anthony Chavez cleared the way for 326 rushing yards, 287 passing yards and 57 points, the third-highest, single-game total in program history.
Eight-year coach Nate Eimer characterized it as "probably the best game we've played since I've been here."
Defensive linemen Matthew Johnson, Rodney Jones, Chris Kimmons and Joseph Birdsong helped limit the Raiders to 13 rushing yards.
The West Aurora defense was stout despite the absence of standout lineman Denver Warren (6-foot-3, 300 pounds), who did not play for an undisclosed reason. Warren will likewise sit out this week's game at Elgin, but will return to action the following week against East Aurora, Eimer said Wednesday.
Rock solid: It's easy for a coach to gush about a two-way lineman like Kaneland senior Drew Hahn.
After all, Hahn (6-0, 265) is a stalwart blocker for an offense that averages 326 total yards and 24.7 points per game.
He is also a force for a defense that holds opponents to 252 total yards and 14.8 points per game. With 39 tackles to his credit, Hahn leads first-place Kaneland (5-1, 2-0 Northern Illinois Big 12 East) in tackles for loss (13), sacks (3) and hurries (3).
Knights coach Pat Ryan says the stats don't paint the full picture of the player.
"He is a really good football player, but he is a great kid, first and foremost," Ryan said. "He has great leadership qualities. He does everything the right way. Never misses anything and the other kids look up to him. He leads by example.
"He's very coachable. We pointed out some mistakes he made in the Sterling game, some technique things, getting up the field too much, some alignment issues. He made the corrections and the next week against DeKalb he had 15 tackles with 6 tackles for loss and a couple of sacks. He is the rock of this team."