Breaking down Fox playoff picture with 3 weeks to go
As the calendar turns to Week 7 of the high school football season Friday, it's worth taking a quick look at the Fox Valley playoff landscape.
Remember, 5 wins makes a team playoff eligible and 6 wins is an automatic berth.
Guaranteed in: Batavia (6-0), Cary-Grove (6-0) and South Elgin (6-0) have automatic bids.
Playoff eligible: No area teams check in at 5-1 this week.
Getting close to eligibility: Geneva, Bartlett, Aurora Christian, Jacobs and Hampshire are each 4-2 and need only one more win to become playoff eligible with five.
On the fence: At 3-3 each, St. Charles North, Marmion, Crystal Lake South, Kaneland, Elgin, Larkin, St. Edward and West Aurora are all in play for possible playoff berths. An automatic bid would require each of these teams to win out, and each can afford to absorb only one more loss in order to preserve a chance at playoff eligibility.
Long shots: St. Charles East, Burlington Central and Huntley at 2-4 would have to win out in order to become playoff eligible with five wins.
Eliminated: Aurora Central Catholic (1-5), Dundee-Crown (0-6) and Streamwood (1-5) have been eliminated from 2021 playoff qualification.
In on the action:
Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen has been high on the defensive play of Mac Happold and Blake Stempkowski in recent times.
"Both have a knack for the ball," he said heading into last week's game against St. Charles East. "They seem to be in on every tackle/big play the last two weeks."
Making a difference:
Two difference-makers for St. Charles North of late have been sophomore place-kicker Hunter Liska and running back John Vendl.
Through his first five games, Liska had made 6 field goals, was perfect on point-after attempts and had 10 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Vendl has been a key presence in the North Stars' backfield. "John has been a huge spark on the offensive side of the ball," North coach Rob Pomazak said.
Showing off his smarts:
Burlington Central coach Brian Melvin said junior Jake Herman has registered plenty of positives this season. "Quietly, Jake is having a nice season," the coach said. "Jake never leaves the field and is one of our smartest football players."
Brady Schroeder has made the transition to quarterback look seamless this year, Crystal Lake South coach Rob Fontana noted.
"Brady had to step in and play quarterback for us this year," he said. "He was a full-time defensive player for us last year and we made him a full-time offensive guy for us this year. He has been selfless in his transition and only wants to do what helps the team."
Another asset has been the play of Kyle Kuffel. "Kyle missed our spring season and has really stepped up his game for us," Fontana said. "He works his tail off each day to continue to learn his position and get better each day. He is a smart kid with a high football IQ, so he catches on quickly and is always flying to the ball on defense."
South started 0-2 and now will take a 3-3 record into Friday's game against McHenry.
"I have been impressed with our ability to stay focused on our goals," Fontana said. "When you start off 0-2, it's easy to start to see things in other ways. Our guys have stayed true to course and have continued to improve each week. We have had the next-man-up mentality each day at practice and on Friday nights. Each guy has stayed focused on our goals and they hold each other accountable throughout the week. When you have as few players as we have currently, having that kind of strong leadership is vital in our success."
10th grade treat:
Hampshire sophomore Gage Homola is contributing at tight end and middle linebacker for the Whip-Purs. "Gage has been a great player for us this year," Hampshire coach Jake Brosman said. "He is a great blocker and has made some great catches for big plays on offense. On defense, he plays physically inside on the run and does a great job getting to his drops vs. the pass."
Opposing teams should sleep on Whips' defensive lineman Avery James either. "Avery has played great on the defensive line for us," Brosman said. "He has created good pressure on the quarterback when we are facing passing teams. He makes it difficult for teams to run to his side also by being difficult to block."
Kaneland coach Pat Ryan has himself a constantly improving quarterback on his hands in Troyer Carlson. "Troyer continues to impress at the quarterback position, and his development at the position continues to improve from week to week," he said.
Sam Gagne is another big-time performer for the Knights. "Sam continues to make big plays for us on offense and special teams," Ryan said. "He keeps finding his way into the end zone."
Ryan noted freshman Sam Bruno has given the team a nice boost. He was perfect on extra points in his first two games as the varsity kicker.
Let's talk about St. Edward juniors Timmy Warner and Tommy Wood and their contributions to the Green Wave defense. Heading into Week 6, Warner had 26 tackles from his free safety spot, "and is one of our top pass defenders," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando said.
Wood had 25 tackles, "and uses his quickness on the defensive line to be successful against much larger opponents," Rolando explained. "Both of these guys weigh in around 150 pounds, but they are two-way starters and give an awesome effort week in and week out to make their team better."
Rolando also has been thrilled with the play of the Green Wave offensive line. "Really, it's the way our line has played and how they have had success up front," he said. "Our line averages a generous 174 pounds, and yet we have been able to average close to 200 yards a game rushing. Those guys up front deserve a lot of credit."
Quartet of elite talent:
On the West Aurora high-octane crew are Tim Hancock, Jordan Lishman, Fernando Aguilar and Frankie Chavez.
"Tim Hancock is one of the best linebackers in our conference," Blackhawks coach Nate Eimer said. "Jordan and Fernando anchor our interior defensive line and nobody has been able to run inside on us. Frank Chavez is our center. Nobody will ever notice from the stands, but he is the best center I have seen on tape this year."
Tearing it up on both sides:
Bartlett junior Koleman Salyers switched from wide receiver to running back, "and has made a seamless transition," Bartlett coach Matt Erlenbaugh said. "It has been fun watching him get better each week."
Senior linebacker Stevie Callahan is another difference-maker for the Hawks. "Stevie has been playing lights out," Erlenbaugh said. "He is making big plays for us at and behind the line of scrimmage."
Sands of time:
Larkin coach Grant Dietz noted last week that the season is flying by. "It seems like yesterday that we started," he said. "The shocking thing about us is we are in a better position than we were last spring. The players are making strides in areas that are not shown on the scoreboard or the win/loss column. The little things and attention to detail is starting to come into the players' focus. They are becoming students of the game, and over time this will equate to more points on the scoreboard and more wins. Being better students of the game also means they are doing better in the classroom as well. Because we are performing better in the classroom as a student, we can spend more time developing the athlete on the field. This, over time produce a better product on the field. The process will take time, but the players are meeting challenges and overcoming obstacles and are not being afraid of success."
Senior quarterback Dontrell Maxie has caught Dietz's eye. "Dontrell is our playmaker," he said. "Our offense runs through him. He has a strong arm, but also can run, which opens up our offense."
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, junior wide out Erick Myrick has stepped up big with teams trying to take away Larkin playmaker Jamarion Stubbs. "Erick has speed and hands," Dietz explained. "He is picking up the offense and understanding his role. He is a playmaker for us and we like what the future holds for him. Since teams are taking away Jamarion, this has opened up other playmakers."
Dietz calls senior lineman Michael Hibbler "a leader of the team on and off the field," he said. "Michael is asked to play multiple positions and does everything we ask and then some."
A frequent name for Elgin this year when it comes to excellence is Clem McCullough II. "Clem is a defensive standout and is doing everything for us," Elgin coach Anthony Mason said. "He has learned our culture, committed himself to being elite and has performed at a high level."
Through five games, McCullough was leading the Maroons in tackles, tackles for loss and had 2 interceptions.