Vikings, Rams will repeat opening football act
Maybe the second act will go off without a hitch.
A much-anticipated inaugural meeting between St. Laurence and Reavis on the football field created quite a pregame buzz among fans in Burbank last August. But when game night arrived along with it came rain — lots of it, accompanied by enough thunder and lightning to make playing more perilous than pleasurable.
So Friday night’s kickoff got postponed until Saturday, which did nothing to slow the Vikings, who collected a 44-16 victory to begin what they hoped was a playoff-qualifying campaign. St. Laurence ultimately fell short of that goal, as did the Rams, but both will enter 2014 with renewed hopes.
And once again their first test will come against each other. The Vikings host Reavis Aug. 29 at Kavanagh Field, and the anticipation for Round 2 runs just as high.
“It’s always big to play a neighborhood school [because] it’s big for bragging rights,” St. Laurence coach Harold Blackmon said. “Some of the players know each other so that adds a little more to the game. This year we’re playing at home so we’re hoping for an electric atmosphere that night.”
Actually more than bragging rights could be at stake. With both squads legitimately eyeing a postseason berth, getting off to a successful start is crucial, particularly since everyone only gets nine opportunities to prove themselves playoff-worthy.
“It’s obviously a huge game for the community,” Reavis coach Tim Zasada said. “[But] more importantly, it’s big for both teams because both teams are on the rise. When you talk about being playoff eligible with five wins, it’s a big game. We’re looking forward to giving them a better game this year.
“Last year was the first year we played and it was a total mismatch. We felt like we left plays on the field last year. They had the upper hand, but we’re going to give them competition this year, unlike last year.
“They have great kids, coaches and tradition, and to play them on their field is going to be a great challenge to open the 2014 season, but we’re looking forward to it. That what it’s all about.”
Zasada isn’t the only one who expects more out of the Rams this time around.
“Last year I realized Reavis was a young team [so they] will have more experience on this year’s team,” Blackmon said. “We expect them to give us more of a battle this year because they have more players coming back and, for the most part, we’re young and inexperienced.
“We’re better athletically than in the past, but we’re unproven as a football team and have players in key positions who have taken few, if any, varsity snaps. So who we will be will play out in the course of the season.”
After hosting the Rams, St. Laurence will hit the road for four straight weeks before closing out its season with three of its final four games at home. In addition to Reavis, the Vikings take on Aurora Christian, Leo, St. Ignatius and Bishop McNamara from the Chicago Catholic League White; Brother Rice (Blue), Wheaton-St. Francis (Green) and St. Francis de Sales (Red) in CCL crossovers; and Chicago Vocational in a nonconference matchup.
“I think it’s a challenging schedule,” Blackmon said. “We have some good teams on our schedule and we have some teams we’re not familiar with, so it makes it a challenge. It’s tougher to prepare because we’re just not familiar with them.”
In addition to St. Laurence, the Rams take on South Suburban Conference Red foes Eisenhower, Evergreen Park, Oak Lawn, Richards, Shepard and Argo. An SSC crossover with TF South and nonconference affair against Washington round out the slate.
“It’s definitely challenging [and] there’s not a week off,” Zasada said. “You usually get two or three gimmes per year, but we don’t see those this year. Every game is going to be tough.
“Some teams are very physical and some very skillful. And then you tack on great football coaches. If we win five games this year, that’s great with the toughness of the schedule.”
Bulldogs will host
Unlike its SSC Red partner Reavis, Richards will not be playing a neighborhood team in Week 1. In fact, the Bulldogs’ initial opponent doesn’t even hail from Illinois.
Richards hosts Arsenal Tech out of Indianapolis in its opener at Korhonen Field. This will be the first contest between the schools, and Bulldogs coach Tony Sheehan thinks his Class 6A runner-up club will get tested.
“They play in the biggest division in Indiana and play some very tough teams,” Sheehan said. “They’re good, they’re athletic [and] they’re big up front. It’ll be a challenge for us Week 1.
“Our expectations remain the same — we always have high expectations. There’s no extra pressure on us. Everyone got to taste what it was like going to state, but [we] have some bad taste from not winning it so everyone’s hungry.”
The path to a sixth straight playoff appearance and 29th in the last 30 years won’t get much easier, either. In addition to the slate of divisional foes and an SSC crossover clash with Oak Forest, Richards will tangle with Geneva and Northern Illinois University-bound quarterback Daniel Santacaterina on the road in the season’s second week.
“Geneva is very big, very strong,” Sheehan said. “Their quarterback committed to NIU and they’ve got a big lineman who’s getting recruited [by D-I schools]. It’s going to be a challenge.
“We expect another great atmosphere. Great football is played up there and we need to bring our A-game.”
The Oak Forest contest is plopped right in the middle of the SSC Red schedule, with three divisional games on either side of it. Sheehan said he likes the setup because “we’re not stuck in a rut.”
“It’s going to be a challenge week in, week out,” he said. “You have to rise up and can’t take any weeks off.
“We’re working hard, looking forward to [the season], and we know it’s going to be a tough ride. But that’s the fun of it — you never know what can happen on Friday nights.”