Here's how the DVC can make things right for Naperville football

  • The annual Naperville Central vs. Naperville North football game, played in many years at North Central College in Naperville and scheduled for Saturday at North, has been canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

    The annual Naperville Central vs. Naperville North football game, played in many years at North Central College in Naperville and scheduled for Saturday at North, has been canceled due to COVID-19 protocols. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

 
 
Updated 4/1/2021 2:06 PM

Rivalries in high school sports are a time-honored tradition.

Especially in football, and especially the in-town games.

 

Palatine-Fremd. The Wheatons. Elgin-Larkin. St. Charles East-North.

And, of course, the Napervilles.

But this season -- this crazier than crazy spring football season -- took an unfortunate twist last week and the fallout of that continues this week, which means a rivalry game that dates back more than 45 years, will not be played, as the schedule stands now.

After Naperville North played Neuqua Valley in the season opener on March 20, Neuqua's program had positive COVID-19 tests. Due to the close contact North had with Neuqua, both programs were placed in 14-day quarantine protocols by the DuPage County Health Department.

Neuqua's scheduled game against Naperville Central last week, and the Wildcats' contest with Metea Valley this week, have both been canceled.

Naperville Central was able to schedule a game against Marmion last weekend, but Naperville North found out at 8 a.m. last Saturday its game with DeKalb was called off.

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But the even more unsettling news to the Redhawks and Huskies? Their annual game, scheduled for this Saturday at North, is also canceled.

"It's terrible," said North coach Sean Drendel. "We don't have a COVID case on our team. Our team is COVID free and has been the whole season. We've asked our kids to do things the right way and we have great senior leadership. That's the hardest part, that our kids have done everything right."

Even though this season's game wasn't going to be played at North Central College, which has hosted the NN-NC game many times over the years to crowds of, in some years, 8,000-plus, it was going to be the first in the series at North since the early 2000s, according to Central coach Mike Stine.

And, the Huskies were looking forward to snapping a 3-game losing streak to the Redhawks.

"It's disappointing not being able to go against our rival," said North senior linebacker Adam Sturtz, who recently committed to play college football at Butler.

"We feel like we're in a good spot this year and that we have a lot of talent. Central is a really big game for us. It's one of the biggest games we play in high school and it's disappointing to not be able to experience playing them again. It's pretty sad."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Stine has seen a lot of strange things in his 15 years as Central's head coach, but this may top the list.

"It's a strange year and this just makes it stranger," said Stine, whose team will host Morton on Saturday at 2 p.m., the second week in a row the Redhawks were able to find a replacement game.

"We wish we could play both those teams and we'd like to be preparing for North right now. We're preparing for an unnamed opponent right now. We wish it was Naperville North but it's not."

Redhawks senior linebacker Shane Roth echoes his coach.

"It's very weird, especially with us being right down the street (from North)," Roth said. "My heart goes out to those guys that they haven't been able to play (the last two weeks). Even if we don't play this week, we have a tough game with DeKalb in Week 4 and we just have to get ready."

There is a way to turn this negative into a positive, and we implore the administrators at DuPage Valley Conference schools to do what it takes to make it happen.

The DVC schedule for the sixth and final week of this shortened season is "open." The league had planned to play a 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4 and 5 vs. 6 on that final weekend but with five of the six schools in the conference now having at least one game canceled, that needs to be thrown out.

What the DVC needs to do is schedule a Central at North game for Week 6, regardless of records.

"My kids didn't make this choice," said Drendel, whose team, at this point, won't play a home game through Week 5. "Can we at least think about the kids and make this happen?"

"The 1-2-3-4 thing is going to go out the window," Stine said. "You don't want teams to play (each other) back-to-back, but we'd like to play Naperville North and Neuqua Valley. We'd like to play everyone."

That might not be feasible this spring, but the DVC setting up Week 6 so Central and North can play each other certainly is doable.

"That would be awesome," Roth said. "We wanted to play both those guys, so hopefully we can get one of them in Week 6."

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