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Jeff Vorva's Extra point: They're singing 'Go Macs Go'

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

 

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mother McAuley players pile on after Saturday's supersectional win over Geneva.

 

Food for thought for those who aren’t very hungry:

The hangover of the Cubs World Series title is gone.

The last clown to climb a light pole has come down. The players will go into hibernation at their homes across the country and most of us won’t see them again until the Cubs Convention in January.

Now it’s time to focus on something more important – getting this area another Illinois High School Association state championship.

 

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Since 1980, the 12 high schools in this area have produced at least one state championship each season except 1996-97 and 2003-04 (and you are not allowed to blame Steve Bartman for that). That’s an amazing standard of excellence. Sandburg and Mother McAuley have done the heavy lifting on this and McAuley’s volleyball team has a chance to keep the string going with an appearance in the final four of the Class 4A championship, which opens Friday in Normal. They are hoping to win their 15th title.

The Macs, considered the top team in the nation by prepvolleyball.com have not looked like the top team in the nation in a two-set sectional title win over Marist Thursday and a three-set supersectional title win over Geneva on Saturday.

When you think of a top team in the nation, you think of Godzilla-sized hitters who can dent the gym floor with their power. You think of a team that slams and opponent down right away and steps on its throat.

This year’s McAuley team is not like that. It’s a team that is made up of players with no one over 6-foot tall with pretty decent power. Lately, it seems to take a lot of punches and kicks until a talented team gets tired and then starts making mistakes and it’s the Macs who are lifting a trophy.

All they do it win.

Style points? That’s for others. The Macs have made it down state more on grit and determination.

And then there are their fans.

I covered the Cubs for 10 years and have found the “Go Cubs Go” song to be irritating. Now the spirited Mighty Macs fans are changing the lyrics to “Go Macs Go.” Some find it funny. Some find it annoying. But this is their thing and if it means the Reporter/Regional area will collect another state title – sing away.

Jinxing the no-hitter

On Oct. 20, I wrote about Tony “Taps” Cantafio, a stat keeper from Pennsylvania who died earlier this year after getting creamed by a player on the sideline of a high school football game.

I mentioned how in close to 40 years in this racket, I had never been hit.

That changed Saturday.

In the closing minutes of the first half of St. Laurence’s Class 6A second-round playoff win over Crete-Monee, Vikings quarterback Romello Washington was coming my way.

Phil Arvia, who wrote the outstanding front page story on the game, was next to me and as we were bailing, I thought he said “We’re gonna get killed!”

He was OK, but Washington plowed into me as I was scooting away and he undercut me and I fell on top of him.

I don’t care how much protection a player has there is not enough equipment in the world to save someone from having a Vorva fall on top of you. I asked him if he was OK, and he said he was.

Then he ran back on the field and at the time, things were not looking good for his squad. But then he did a classy thing. He jogged back over and asked if I was OK. And I said I was.

I am happy I did not suffer the same fate as Tony “Taps” Cantafio.

After the incident, Arvia insisted he said “We’re gonna die!” and not “We’re gonna get killed!”

I would hate that the final words I would hear on Earth would be a misquote.

Disappointment x 2

I thought when favored Marist and Brother Rice bowed out in the first round of the Class 8A football playoffs, their opponents would go on to do great things.

But they both lost in the second round.

New Trier, which knocked off Marist 31-24 in the opening round, went on to lose to St. Charles East, 17-10. Fremd, which shocked Brother Rice 45-42 in the first round, was topped by Huntley, 38-30.

Goofball scores

A year after Marist beat Barrington 59-56 in the second round of the Class 8A playoffs, some smaller schools put on a couple of shows that made that game look like a defensive battle.

On Friday night in Class 5A, Peoria beat Decatur Eisenhower, 96-40.

But on Saturday in Class 2A, Deer Creek Mackinaw beat Chicago’s Hope Academy, 91-70.

“I felt like we’d win the game, that we had the better team,” DCM coach Job Linboom told the Peoria Journal Star  minutes after the game. “But that they’d score 70, never in a million years would I have seen that. I’m totally shocked.’’

Deer Creek led 64-42 at halftime.

 

Smart and his 'little brother' help St. Laurence beat Crete

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fayezon Smart gives a nonchalant reaction after a first-half score. He later scored the winning TD in a 41-40 playoff stunner over Crete-Monee. 

 

When you grow up on the south edge of Bronzeville, near where the Dan Ryan clips the edge of Englewood, having just two catches in 10 games after transferring into St. Laurence from Leo does not constitute hard times.

Spending most of the first half watching while your teammates fall behind 27-14 to Crete-Monee in a Class 6A doesn’t quite reach that level, either.

But it does get your attention when your coach texts you in the middle of the week.

“He texted me out of the blue,” KeShawn Douglas said. “It was nighttime. I was like, ‘Oh my God, what could he possibly want?’”

Coach Harold Blackmon wanted Douglas to be ready, telling him, “You’re going to get an opportunity.”

The junior wide receiver got more than one, catching touchdown passes of 44, 28 and 32 yards in the second half as 12th-seeded St. Laurence stunned No. 4 Crete-Monee 41-40 Saturday in Burbank in a second-round Class 6A playoff contest. The Vikings (8-3 and the last area team still alive in the Illinois High School Association playoffs) will host top-seeded Lemont (11-0) a 42-10, second-round winner over Danville, in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“He’s fast and we saw on film they’d have a tough time with our outside receivers,” Blackmon said of Crete-Monee (8-3), which was the 6A runner-up a year ago. “Last week I told KeShawn, ‘Just keep working.’”

Douglas has known little else since transferring in January to St. Laurence.

“I had a rough start,” he said. “My grades, I come from a rough part of town … just a bunch of stuff. I made a whole (180-degree turn). I’m just glad I came to St. Laurence.”

Before he made the decision to transfer, Douglas called Fayezon Smart, a senior, the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher and, like Douglas, a graduate of the Hayes Park Blitz program.

“That’s my little brother,” Smart, who lives in Englewood not far from Douglas, said. “I told him it was going to be a big transition. He wasn’t going to be the only guy on the team. He wasn’t going to start.

“He got here and he changed around big time. We can’t let where we come from bring us down.”

Nor were the Vikings willing to let the Warriors do so. Though Crete-Monee dominated time of possession and outgained St. Laurence 513 yards to 387, the Vikings solved the Warriors when it mattered most.

Smart (21 carries, 159 yards) kept them in it early, dancing to a 63-yard score on the Vikings’ first offensive play after Crete-Monee drove 80 yards in 5:07 for a touchdown after the game’s opening kick. Smart evened things again with a one-yard score in the second quarter after Crete went ahead 14-7 on a 35-yard touchdown punt return by Kevin Pate, who also had 10 receptions for 184 yards and two scores — both of those coming in the second quarter as the Warriors took a 27-14 edge to intermission.

Over the next 17 minutes, Douglas and quarterback Romello Washington (14-of-23, 254 yards) traded touchdowns with the Warriors. But, with under three minutes left and nursing a 40-35 lead, Crete-Monee attempted just its second punt of the game.

The snap sailed over Pate’s head, and he was dropped for a 35-yard loss after tracking the ball down. Taking over at the 8-yard line and benefitting three snaps later from a pass interference call in the end zone, the Vikings took their first lead of the game when Smart bulled over from four yards out with 1:44 to play.

“We just don’t give up,” Smart said.

For the second week in a row, St. Laurence pulled out a win with a fourth-quarter comeback. Its first-round win came by a 31-28 count over Richards after trailing with less than five minutes to play.

“The Vikings don’t make it easy,” Blackmon said. “But we don’t quit. We don’t work like that, we don’t think like that.”

A win over Lemont would put the Vikings in the state semifinals for the second year in a row after they reached the 5A final four in 2015.

“That’s a great team, well-coached,” Blackmon said. “It’s not an easy road we’re on. But it’s not supposed to be.''

 

Schwarber, er, Burnette helps spark St. Laurence over RIchards

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Laurence defensive back Jimmy Burnette is all smiles on the sideline after hauling down an interception late in a 31-28 win over Richards.

St. Laurence defensive back Jimmy Burnette laughed and said “a little bit’’ when a reporter asked if he would compare himself to Kyle Schwarber.

Schwarber is the Cubs slugger who hits Babe Ruthian-like home runs but spent almost all of 2016 on the shelf injured until he was activated for the World Series, much to the delight of his teammates.

Burnette had nine interceptions as a junior in 2015 and missed most of this season when he suffered a grade 2 right knee sprain in the second half of a 63-49 loss to Class 3A power Immaculate Conception in Week 2 and played a little in a 16-9 loss to St. Ignatius to close the regular season.

But he was back starting on Saturday and back to his old tricks as he had a huge interception in the final the final four minutes in the fourth quarter of a game that saw the lead ping-pong back and forth and the Vikings hung on for a 31-28 upset win over Richards Saturday in the first round of the Illinois High School Association playoffs in Oak Lawn. The Vikings (7-3) host defending Class 6A state champion Crete-Monee at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“I started therapy six days after I got injured,” Burnette said. “I didn’t think I would have this big of an impact on the game. I imagined it was going to be an emotional impact where I would pick everyone up. I tried to do that for the team even when I was injured.

“They told me I could be back in six-to-eight weeks and I tried to be optimistic. So did the trainers, the coaches and my parents. They were all supportive.’’

“That interception really helped us,” said running back Fayezon Smart, who missed four weeks with injury issues of his own and scored what turned out to be the winning touchdown with 4:58 left. “We both said we were going to make some big plays in this game.’’

Smart finished with 77 yards on 21 carries while quarterback Romello Washington ran for 55 yards and a touchdown and threw for 227 yards and two TDs, including a 53-yard scoring completion to Alex Saunders.

Richards was led by sophomore Derek Flowers, who had 108 yards and three touchdowns while quarterback Jake Moran threw for 145 yards for the Bulldogs (7-3).

Since finishing second in the state Class 6A in 2013, the Bulldogs have almost made season ending heartbreaking losses on their own field an art form.

They lost 19-13 to Lemont in the quarterfinals in 2014 and 17-10 in overtime to Lincoln-Way North in the second round and now this three-point loss in the first round. A 47-yard field goal attempt by Andrew Calderon to tie the game fell short with 24 seconds left.

“This hurts,” said senior receiver Nathan Gimza. “This is worse than the other two because it’s my last game.’

“I feel sick to my stomach for my seniors,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “They played their heart and soul out for four years and this is a bad way to go out.’’

 

Brother Rice ready for 'Part 2'

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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Photo by  Jeff Vorva 

Branden Houston had 10 catches and two touchdowns for Brother Rice, who lost in a shootout to Loyola on Friday night in a battle for the Catholic League Blue title.

 

There were no tears, no anguished cries, really no need for Brian Badke to say what the Brother Rice football players kneeling around him were clearly thinking.

“We just gave them a gift in October,” the coach said. “We’re going to take it back in November.”

He spoke a bit more, then crouched to meet the Crusaders’ gaze.

“Eyes on me,” he said. “You will be champions.”

It will have to be a Class 8A state championship now. The Catholic League Blue title went Friday to defending 8A champ Loyola, which captured a titanic tussle between unbeaten squads, 48-37, in Mt. Greenwood.

The Ramblers (9-0, 4-0) won for the 26th straight time and sewed up a No. 1 seed in the playoffs. Brother Rice (8-1, 3-1) slipped to a No.8 seed and will host Fremd. Brother Rice and Loyola could face each other in the quarterfinals.

“We know Part 2 is coming soon,” Crusaders wide receiver Ricky Smalling (12 catches, 121 yards) said. “We know what we have to do and what we have to work on. We’re going to be so much better in the playoffs.”

Both teams were plenty good in the regular season finale. 

The lead changed hands nine times, the last when the Ramblers’ all but unstoppable tight end/wildcat quarterback, Duke recruit Jake Marwede, scored the fourth of his five touchdowns with 9:15 to play. He capped the scoring, and a 13-carry, 87-yard day, with a four-yard rumble with 2:15 left.

The former score came two snaps after Loyola gained 33 yards on a fourth-and-six from the Rice 43 with pass off a fake punt. The latter after the Ramblers took over on the Crusaders’ 37 following a fumbled punt snap.

Rice also had an extra point attempt blocked in the second quarter, ending a streak of 101 such kicks made by John Richardson over two seasons.

“Special teams have always been our strength,” Badke said. “They hurt us tonight.”

So did turnovers, of which Rice had three. The first came with less than a minute left in the first half, after a Loyola fumble forced by Michael Butler-Kindle and recovered by Iben King gave the Crusaders, leading 23-14, the ball at their own 31. 

Rather than taking that edge to the locker room, Rice tried to add to it. After being sacked on first down, quarterback Dino Borrelli (28-of-42, 407 yards, 3 TD) was hit again, fumbling away to the Ramblers, who scored one second before the half to cut the edge to 23-21.

Asked if he considered taking a knee, Badke said, “I never have. I probably should have in that situation.”

Branden Houston, who had touchdown catches of 46 and 37 yards among his 10 grabs for 213, led Rice’s offensive fireworks. Patrick Murphy (2 receptions, 42 yards) added a 33-yard touchdown catch while Wyoming recruit Xazavian Valladay (14 carries, 50 yards) had touchdown runs of seven and 27 yards.

Ramblers quarterback Tommy Herion was 17-of-32 for 205 yards. After Loyola’s starting tailback, Hamid Bullie, went down with a knee injury on his third carry of the day, Kyle Rock, who typically starts the Ramblers’ home games, stepped up for 110 yards, including a 20-yard score, on 17 carries.

The Crusaders got dinged up as well, notably the team’s leading tackler, linebacker Brian Olsen, who returned from a neck injury suffered on the opening play of the second half and was limping noticeably in the postgame handshake line. 

“It was tough, they’re a physical team,” Olsen said. “But it’s the second season now. We’re 0-0. We’ll see them in the quarterfinals."

 

McAuley No. 1 in the nation in volleyball

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Mother McAuley’s volleyball team is ranked high in the in the nation in three polls, including No. 1 by PrepVolleyball.com.

Volleyball regionals began this week and last week, Mother McAuley’s team picked up a nice surprise as the Mighty Macs were ranked No. 1 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.

McAuley, 33-1 heading into this week’s regional action, is also ranked fifth by USA Today and 14th by Max Preps.

The postseason started Monday and regional title games will be decided tonight, Thursday.

Locally, McAuley is at the Class 3A Hinsdale Central Regional and was in line to face either Downers Grove South or Hinsdale Central at 6 p.m.

A possible showdown between Sandburg and Lyons Township could take place at the Argo Regional at 6 p.m.

At Stagg, a Marist-Downers Grove North battle could be on tap at 6 p.m.

Winners of these three regionals feed into the Marist Sectional Tuesday and Thursday.

In Class 2A, Queen of Peace is hosting a regional and eying a title battle with either Bogan or Goode STEM tonight, Thursday, at 6 p.m. The winner feeds into the Christo Rey Jesuit Sectional Tuesday and Thursday.

Chicago Christian is at the Agricultural Science Regional and could face either Marian Catholic or Rich South at 6 p.m. The winner heads to the Chicago Christian Sectional Tuesday and Thursday.