SXU is looking out for No. 1

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

St. Xavier’s Mike Ivlow turns the corner and runs for a school-record 98-yard touchdown run in Saturday’s 45-0 victory over Lindenwood-Belleville.

Former Richards High School star Josh Hettiger was brutally honest about the 2016 season for St. Xavier University’s football team, which finished below .500 for the first time since 1999.

“It was a letdown, 100 percent,” the sophomore linebacker said. “All offseason we said ‘we suck – we’re not a good team.’ We used it as fuel all offseason.’’

The Cougars used that fuel and roared out of the gate this season 3-0 with a shocking opening-season victory over Marian, which was ranked fifth in the nation in the NAIA by the coaches at the time. They followed up with a couple of romps including Saturday night’s 45-0 victory over Lindenwood-Belleville at Deaton Field in a Mid-States Football Association crossover game.

It was their first shutout since a 31-0 pasting of William Penn Nov. 17. 2012 and just the 10th shutout in the history of the school, which started football in 1993 and played 278 games. On offense, sophomore receiver Harold Davis had three touchdown receptions and senior running back Mike Ivlow broke the school record with a 98-yard run in the third quarter en route to a 189-yard rushing night.

Now, the ultimate test.  

The Cougars, ranked 11th in the country, travel to Fort Wayne, Ind. to take on the No. 1 team in the nation and defending national champion St. Francis, at 5 p.m. at Bishop John D’Arcy Stadium in another crossover.

SXU is 5-8 lifetime against St. Francis (also known as the Cougars) and won 53-26 the last time these team hooked up on Oct. 11, 2014.

“Our wins and losses are pretty close against them,” SXU coach Mike Feminis said. “We’ve had some huge games with them. We were No. 1 a few different times. They were No. 1 at least a couple of times. There was a game where it was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 one year. We’ve played them in the playoffs three times.

“This is about as big as it gets at our level. It’s a good rivalry and a healthy rivalry. We have a lot of respect for them. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. I can’t wait. Any time you get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the country – how can you not be excited?’’

St. Francis (also 3-0) brings in a powerhouse offense that exploded for 686 yards in a 49-21 victory over St. Ambrose Saturday in Davenport, Iowa. Nick Ferrer threw for 508 yards and six touchdowns. The senior has 110 career TD passes.

Hettiger, who had 2 ½ sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against Belleville, is looking forward to the challenge. He said that the season opener against Marian had a special feel to it and he said he can’t wait for a crack at No. 1.

“The atmosphere is just so different,” Hettiger said. “You can’t compare it with anything. Once you get out there, it’s just so surreal. I don’t know what it’s going to be like but I’m excited and the team is excited.

“If we bring the same type of energy as we did (against Lindenwood-Bellville), I’m looking for another shutout.’’

Ivlow said the offense should be ready.

“Everyone had us under the radar before the season started,” he said. “We’re ready to roll. They have everything to lose and we have nothing to lose. We’re going in with the same mentality that we have each week, and that’s to be ready to go.’’


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: We can't have do-overs, can we?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


PAgE 1 St. L TACKLE 9 21

Photo by Melissa Tamez 

St. Laurence defensive back Donte Bronson (15) stops St. Rita receiver Mick Doyle from getting at first down during St. Rita’s 24-19 win on Friday in Burbank.  

All 10 high school football teams in the Regional/Reporter area played over the weekend – Week 4 of the Illinois High School Association season.

Speaking of, four, it was heartbreak city for four of those teams.

I know there are no do-overs allowed, as but if those four teams – St. Laurence, Brother Rice, Richards and Evergreen Park – had another chance at their opponents…

OK, let’s just have fourth-quarter do-overs, OK?


Naaah, I know it’s not going to happen.

But it’s rare that 40 percent of our teams lose heartbreakers like that. For some, it could affect playoff consideration down the line. Here is a quick look at the heartaches:

--Richards, one of the best teams in the South Suburban Conference Blue, had a lead on South Suburban Red power Lemont late in the game in Lemont.

But Martin Mathias found Austin Nagel (how the heck many great Nagels have gone through Lemont and when is it going to stop?) for a touchdown with 1:12 left in the game to give the hosts a 15-10 win.

Richards is 2-2 and is used to being in this position. The Bulldogs play a tough non-conference schedule and have seen 2-2 records before. Odds are good they can run the table for a 7-2 mark. Or if they stumble a little, they can make a playoff-eligible 6-3 record.

--St. Laurence had a 13-10 lead over St. Rita heading into the fourth quarter, but St. Rita scored early in the period and with two minutes, 25 seconds left, the Mustangs scored a back-breaking touchdown to go ahead 24-13  in Burbank.

If the Vikings could have recorded a stop or picked up a turnover in that drive, the explosive offense could have done its thing in the waning minutes. As it turns out, the offensive did put a scoring drive and trailed 24-19 with 1:09 left.

It’s probably not going to hurt the Vikings’ playoff chances because they can still win their Chicago Catholic League White Division, but it could cost them in the seeding.

--Brother Rice couldn’t afford to go 1-3 but when Montini quarterback Nick Orlando ran in a touchdown and threw a pass for a two-point conversion with :33.8 left in the game,  the Crusaders fell to that mark.

Four of the Crusaders’ next five opponents are Providence Catholic, Mt. Carmel, St. Rita and Loyola.

To me, this is uh-oh time for the Crusaders, which trailed 21-10 at halftime and roared back to take a 28-21 lead before Montini’s final drive.

--Evergreen Park lost the heartbreaker of all four heartbreakers when Argo quarterback David Manns scored on a sneak with :15 left to give the Argonauts a 21-20 victory over the Mustangs.

EP’s record is at 2-2 and is not out of playoff contention, but with some strong teams such as Richards, Shepard and Reavis on the schedule, this loss could loom large in October.

Are you sure we can’t have some do-overs?

IHSA crazy game of the week

During Week 1 of the season, Naperville North trailed 42-0 and came back for a 53-49 victory over host Edwardsville and I’m thinking that there will not be a game that crazy for a long time.

A long time is not as long as it used to be.

Week 4 saw Peoria Notre Dame high school lead 35-8 after one quarter over host Peoria High School and led by as much as 34 before Peoria made a comeback.

The final score was Peoria 82, Notre Dame 80. In overtime.

“Honestly, both sides probably deserved to lose,” ND coach Sean Gillen told the Peoria Journal-Star, whose poor sportswriter, Dave Eminian, probably took longer to type in the box score than write the game story.

The marathon set a record for most points in and IHSA game when both teams score. Last year, Deer Creek-Mackinaw beat Chicago Hope Academy 91-70 in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs.

Chicago Hope, by the way, is visiting St. Laurence on Friday.



Flowers provides scoring punch for Bulldogs

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Derek Flowers of Richards breaks two tackles en route to his first of four touchdowns in a 27-21 victory over Shepard Friday night in Palos Heights.



When crunch time rolled around, nobody in the healthy throng of fans Friday at Shepard was surprised to see Richards go with a steady diet of handoffs to Derek Flowers.

After running for three touchdowns and 98 yards in the first half, Flowers finished with four scores and 202 yards on 26 carries in a 27-21, South Suburban Red win in Palos Heights.

“The ball is the game,” the 5-foot-9, 215-pound junior running back said. “Protect the ball first. Everything else is second. Your body, everything.

“We knew we were going to have to punch them in the mouth.”

Call that an unfortunate choice of words.

Two players from each side — Shepard’s Rishard Blake and Nieko Carter, and Richards’ Niles Gall and Jalen Lee — were ejected for fighting in the second half. The first three left after an incident at 10:22 of the third quarter and Lee in the final minute of that period.

Each of the four is required by IHSA rules to sit out his next game.

“Ridiculous,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “That was by far some of the worst officiating I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s going to be some film sent into the state.

“That’s bad — especially with Lemont next. We need those guys.”

Gall is Richards’ leading receiver with 12 catches for 149 yards, including six for 47 Friday. Lee, a 6-3, 275-pound sophomore, is a huge presence in the Bulldogs’ line.

Still, Blake, who entered as Shepard’s leading rusher, and Carter, who had a 75-yard touchdown run off a fake punt in the first quarter, may have been tougher losses. The Astros were already missing head coach Dominic Passolano, who according to acting head coach A.J. Porter left school roughly four hours before the game to deal with a family emergency.

“We’ve been together for nine years, him and I,” Porter said. “We know each other very well. (Passolano’s absence) didn’t matter.”

Of Passolano’s eight previous Astros squads, six had gone to the playoffs. None beat Richards. This team had hoped to change that.

“We knew our skill kids matched their skill kids,” Porter said. “We thought, if our toughness could match their toughness…”

Flowers got help from quarterback Sebastian Castro, who was 15-of-21 for 161 yards and added 40 yards rushing. Shepard quarterback Marques Porter (8-of-15, 158 yards) kept the Astros close by connecting on big strikes to Chris Harrison (4 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns).

Richards (2-1, 1-0) recovered a Shepard fumble on the opening kickoff and scored seven plays later on a 10-yard run by Flowers. Carter brought Shepard (2-1, 0-1) even on the ensuing possession.

Flowers capped Richards’ first two possessions of the second quarter with scoring runs of 5 and 15 yards, respectively.  Shepard went to the locker room trailing 21-14 after Porter hit Harrison on consecutive passes of 40 and 32 yards, the latter for a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the half.

A 13-play, 65-yard drive, ending with Flowers powering in from three yards out, opened the second half. Shepard cut it to 27-21 with 6:18 to play on Harrison’s impressive one-handed grab of a one-yard jump-ball from Porter, but could get no closer.

“We made it interesting," A.J. Porter said. "I was telling the kids all week, 'Big-time players make big-time plays.'"

As did Flowers on the ensuing possession, with carries of 6, 9, 27 and 10 yards to help Richards eat up all but the final 40 seconds of game clock.

“We’re going to ride him,” Sheehan said. “He’s one tough player. That’s the key — we’ve got to get down and dirty.”


Vikings conquer No. 1 IC but Richards falls to No. 1 Phillips

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Supplied photo

 Members of St. Laurence’s football team do a good deed loading trucks in Orland Hills to help out flood victim in Texas Saturday morning after stunning IC Catholic in Elmhurst the night before.


The week heading into a game against a team ranked No. 1 is usually full of anticipation and excitement.

Then the game is played and one of two things happen:

One, the big upset, causing yelling and dancing on the field for the postgame for the underdog.

Two, the No. 1 team plays like the No. 1 team and pulls off the victory and the underdog leaves the field deflated.

Two area football teams had a chance to play the Associated Press’s No. 1 teams in the state in their respective classes on Friday night and both scenarios played out.

St. Laurence topped Immaculate Conception Catholic (ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 3A) 26-23 in Elmhurst while in Oak Lawn, Phillips (ranked No. 1 in Class 5A and coming off a monumental 24-20 win over Loyola in Week 1) beat Richards, 34-21.

Outsiders may scoff that St. Laurence, a 6A team, beating a 3A team is not a huge deal, but IC is the defending Class 3A champion that beat St. Laurence, 63-49, in Burbank last year and opened the season with a 43-7 win over Bishop McNamara. The Vikings, which lost in Week 1 to Class 7A power Benet, 49-28, had no interest in opening the season 0-2.

Devon Rembis hit Matthew Hamer with a 73-yard pass with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left for what turned out to be the winning score for the Vikings. Donte Bronson’s interception in the closing minute helped ice the game for the winners.

“That was a really big win for us,” Vikings assistant coach Corey Flagg said. “It was up and down. It was scary. We needed to pull that one out.’’

The next morning, members of the Vikings headed to Orland Hills to load up trucks heading to Texas with supplies to help flooding victims.

St. Laurence, a state semifinalist in Class 5A in 2015 and 6A in 2016, plays its first Catholic League White Conference game of the season against Bishop McNamara in Kankakee on Friday.

Phillips came to Oak Lawn wanting to prove its stunner over Loyola was no fluke and grabbed a 20-0 lead with 9:08 left in the half as quarterback J’Bore Gibbs tossed a couple of touchdown passes and Craig Elmore added a scoring run.

The Bulldogs (1-1) grabbed some momentum before halftime as quarterback Sebastian Castro scored on a 1-yard run with 2:09 left and the defense came up with a stop.

Richards closed the gap to 20-14 when Castro hit Niles Gall with a 39-yard scoring strike in the third but could get no closer as the Wildcats scored two touchdowns to put the game away. Amaree Beard caught a pass for a late TD for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs open the South Suburban Red season at 7 p.m. Friday with a road game against Shepard, which is 2-0. Last year, Richards won 38-10 in Oak Lawn.


A Hunni of an upset for SXU

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo by Jeff Vorva

Quarterback Justin Hunniford runs in the end zone after tossing the ball to the officials after scoring the first touchdown in Thursday’s 32-27 upset win over Marian. Hunniford threw for 425 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores.


The first step in erasing last year’s rare sub .500 season for St. Xavier University’s football team came right away.

The Cougars were 5-6 last year – the first year without a winning season since 1999 – and still picked up a No. 24 ranking in the nation according to NAIA coaches. The Cougars opened their season on Thursday against the fifth-ranked team in the country, Marian, and dominated the first half, lost the lead in the second half but rallied for a 32-27 victory in front of 1,500 fans at Deaton Field. Marian beat SXU 56-10 to open the season in 2016.

The win not only started the healing process from last year, it may be the start of getting the Cougars back to elite status in the country and it also showed its new quarterback is going to be someone who might give future opponents on the schedule some fits.

Junior Justin Hunniford, a transfer from Division III North Central College, barely beat out sophomore Alex Martinez for the starting job in camp and his debut was legendary as he threw for 425 yards and a two touchdowns and ran for two more scores. His 54-yard scoring strike to Chris Simmons on a fourth-and-nine with 1 minute, 28 seconds left in the game, put the Cougars back in the lead for good after giving up 20 straight points in the second half to give up a 26-7 halftime lead.

“That was a good ball thrown by Justin Hunniford,” Simmons, a sophomore who attended Nazareth Academy said. “That man has shown in camp he earned that spot and throws like that are big-time plays and that’s the reason we won the game. I don’t know if I ran the right route, but I was open and he put it on me.’’

Hunniford, a former Providence Catholic standout, said he was excited but calm on the play that meant the difference between a win and loss. He hit Simmons at around the Marian 25 yard line and Simmons took it from there.

“It was a one-on-one matchup with my favorite receiver and I just knew he was going to win it,” Hunniford said. “Chris has a lot of talent and he was the go-to guy in that situation. The safety was coming in on him and I knew he was going to catch the ball and I thought a hit was going to come then and there. He made a move and hit speed took over after that.’’

Hunniford, who connected on 24 out of 36 passes, spread the wealth as Simmons had five catches for 96 yards, Drey Devereaux had five catches for 58 yards and a score, Nick Czeszewski added four catches for 131 yards and Harold Davis had four for 108 including a 78-yard grab in the first half to set up a score.

Abdul Mahdi, former star at Bogan, booted a pair of field goals including a 53-yarder with :21 left in the first half.

While the defense gave up 445 yards to Marian, it came through at a couple of clutch times.

Marian had the ball on a fourth-down play at the SXU 1 in the third quarter and Cougar linebacker Omar Salazar stuffed freshman running back Tristan Tonte for a two-yard loss. On Marian’s final drive, former Nazareth star Dmitri Joe sacked quarterback Luke Johnston and the ball popped loose and was recovered by Jeff Cesario to put the game on ice.

Originally, the Cougars were supposed to open the season against Western Illinois University but the Leathernecks pulled out of the contract and Marian was still available to play.

“We got a check from Western Illinois and got in a great game against a rival, so it couldn’t have worked out any better,’’ SXU coach Mike Feminis said.

SXU visits Missouri Baptist at noon Saturday in St. Louis. Missouri had six turnovers in a 28-7 road loss to Lyon (Ark.) to open the season.