St. Laurence wins first playoff game in 22 years

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Antonio Elizondo screams at his teammates during the final drive of Friday night’s playoff win over Rich Central. Elizondo’s fumble recovery with 3:13 left in the game helped preserve a 41-34 victory – the Vikings first playoff victory since 1993.


The last time St. Laurence won a playoff football game, none of the members of the 2015 squad were even born.

Their coach, Harold Blackmon was 15-years-old. He a student at Leo with no idea he would become an NFL player.

The year was 1993 and the 22-year postseason drought ended Friday night but it wasn’t easy. The Vikings and Rich Central ping-ponged back-and-forth, combining for 75 points before both defenses buckled down for a scoreless fourth quarter and the Vikings won the home contest, 41-34.

“With the history – you don’t expect to breeze by that first game because it’s been such a long time coming,” Blackmon said. “I think it’s great. It was great to see the alums out here. It was a great atmosphere. We wanted to make those guys – the ones who came before us – proud. It’s not just us. It’s a long history of guys who came up a little bit short.

“It’s our turn to carry the torch and we’re trying to make them proud.’’

The Vikings (8-2) are hoping that the gap between this playoff win and the next one will be just seven days as they visit King (8-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gately Stadium.

Despite the huge scoring output by both teams, the game came down to a huge defensive play. The Olympians were on the Vikings’ 8-yard line and Antonio Elizondo chased down a loose ball after a high snap and smothered it on the 21 with 3:13 left in the game and the Vikings were able to run out the clock.

“I just happened to be fortunate enough to be around the ball,” Elizondo said. “We’re aggressive on defense and any one of us could have gotten that ball. I just so happened to be there to pick it up. We played great defense when it mattered the most. The offense consistently helped pick us up. We played for each other and that’s the story of the game.’’

It was the second fumble recovery of the year for him.

“I had one against Leo and it was near the sideline,” he said about the recovery in a 41-6 win Oct. 16. “That one was a little less significant I guess you could say.’’

Quarterback Alex Martinez was 11-of-13 for 257 yards and three touchdowns while added 87 yards on 15 carries. Fayezon Smart ran 24 times for 154 yards and Kevin Williams scored on a 19-yard run with 3:26 left in the third, which provided what turned out to be the winning touchdown. Robert Chayka had three receptions for 115 yards. Jimmy Burnette racked up his seventh interception of the season. 

There was a collective sigh among the St. Laurence faithful after that one.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Blackmon said. “I think our guys grew up.’’

Martinez said he was happy with the win even though the execution was sometimes off.

“Our offense and defense lean on each other,” Martinez said. “Our offense actually had kind of a bad day. We had a couple of turnovers. We got stopped on the one-inch line and our defense was able to force five turnovers so that was really big.’’

On paper, St. Laurence figured to win big in the first round. On paper, the Vikings figure to win big against King. But that is falling on deaf ears.

“I don’t think we listen to what other people say about the other team,” Elizondo said. “It’s more about what we feel about ourselves. If we’re confident in ourselves and play for each other, we have a chance of winning.''


Brother Rice QB throws six TD passes on his birthday

  • Written by Phil Arvia


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Receiver Ricky Smalling (left) jukes a defender from Bartlett in Brother Rice's first-round playoff victory Friday night.


At the conclusion of his team’s 49-21 win over Bartlett in the first round of the Class 8A football playoffs, Brother Rice quarterback Cam Miller was asked what it was like to have a day like the one he’d just had.

“Well,” he said, “it’s my birthday, so it started off pretty good.”

And ended quickly.

The Crusaders held the ball for all of seven minutes, 53 seconds in the first half Friday. It was enough to run 29 plays and score seven touchdowns in seven possessions, giving the fifth-seeded hosts a 49-0 lead over No. 28 Bartlett, not to mention a school record for points in a half.

Also before intermission,  the newly 18-year-old Miller threw for six touchdowns — tying his own school single-game record — and set Brother Rice’s single-season mark with 29 scoring passes, breaking the standard of 26 set by Matt Page in 2012. Oh, and he completed 13 of 14 passes for 312 yards, raising his season completion percentage to 70.9 percent (202 of 285), which if Rice’s season were over would smash the old school mark of 65.5 percent.

It’s not over, though.

Rice (9-1) will host No. 12 South Elgin (9-1), a 62-10 winner Friday over Evanston, at noon Saturday in a second-round matchup.

Crusaders coach Brian Badke, in his fourth season at the helm, snapped a two-game losing streak in first-round playoff games and has his team poised to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.

“We’ll go as far as Cam takes us,” Badke said. “He works really hard at his trade. He’s a winner, a competitor.”

Wide receiver Ricky Smalling, who had five catches for 163 yards, including touchdowns of 55, 67 and 23 yards, echoed those sentiments.

“He never gives up,” Smalling said. “He’s strong-minded, very smart, he’s a very verbal leader.”

Though, thanks to Rice’s no-huddle offense, Miller said nothing to Smalling after the one incompletion he threw in the game, a bomb that glanced off a wide-open Smalling’s fingertips on Rice’s first offensive snap of the second quarter.

“I should’ve laid out for the ball,” Smalling said. “Cam might’ve overthrown me a little, but no excuses — catch everything, drop nothing.”

On the next snap, the Crusaders went back to the same play. This time, Smalling gathered the deep ball in, taking it for 67 yards and a touchdown.

“I wasn’t expecting it — I was happy they called it again,” Smalling said. “They saw an opportunity to strike, and we did.”

Smalling’s 55-yard scoring grab came on the third play of the Crusaders’ first possession. Their second drive took four snaps, ending with a seven-yard toss to Julian Blain. Possession No. 3 lasted two plays, the second a brilliant 64-yard catch and run by Blain in which he stopped twice to shake off would-be tacklers, essentially bootlegged around a third then picked up blockers down the sideline before a final cutback into the end zone.

After Smalling’s 67-yarder, Miller hit Patrick Murphy on an 18-yard fade route in the left corner of the north end zone, Clifton Taylor (11 carries, 50 yards) bulled over for a two-yard score and Smalling turned a short pass to the flat into a 23-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown dash.

Bartlett (5-5) came in averaging 46 points per game over the four-game win streak it put together after losing four of its first five games. But, against the Crusaders’ first-team defense in the first half, the Hawks managed just 106 yards while punting four times and turning the ball over on downs three.

“They out-matched us a little bit,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. “They’re a talented group. (Miller) is his conference’s (offensive) MVP — he’s very talented, very accurate. And his receivers can go get it, too.”

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Playoff hope helps Martinez cope

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



A few thoughts from a busy weekend in high school sports:

No joy of a postseason football win or even a state title will replace the sorrow he faced when Alex Martinez’s father, Richard, died suddenly at age 48 on Oct. 8.

But the senior QB said that being able to play the sport has eased things a little. He has helped lead the team to four wins including Friday’s 41-34 victory over Rich Central in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs Friday night in Burbank.

“All the guys rallied around me during a tough time,” Martinez said after the game. “This was really a big win. It helps take your mind off of everything. Just playing out here and playing football with your best friends is great.’’

The Vikings won their first game playoff game since 1993.

When Martinez entered the doors of the school for the first time, he said this type of season was something he hoped for.

“Every eighth grader who plays football dreams of coming to high school and playing in a state championship or a state playoff game,” he said. “Now we’re on a track to do it. Survive and advance. That’s our motto. We have to come out every game for however long we have and get it done.’’

(SUBHEAD) What in the heck was Notre Dame thinking?

I have made it a point in my long career not to criticize high school coaches for their decision making.

But for Pete Carroll’s sake, I am still scratching my head about Niles Notre Dame’s decision not to push Marist back in the closing minute of Friday night’s Class 8A game.

The Dons declined a penalty what would have put Marist a third-and-goal situation at the 18-yard line. That gave Marist a fourth-and-goal at the 5. Sophomore Tom Gillen kicked what turned out to be the game-winning field goal with 35 seconds left in a 17-14 win.

My guess is that ND was hoping for Marist to score quickly and the Dons still had a half a minute to play with to try to tie or win the game. They were in deep trouble, that’s for sure.

But the Dons’ defense held the powerful Marist offense from scoring a ton of points. Maybe if Marist makes another penalty or loses yardage or even stays at the 18, you are looking at a 35-yard kick. I like my odds a lot better for overtime in that scenario.

Oh, well, the Dons’ decision helped us keep another one of our area teams alive.

(subhead) How bad was it?

The rainy, cold and muddy conditions at Katherine Legge Park in Hinsdale at noon on Saturday was described by some as “bad” and “really bad.’’

Sandburg coach John O’Malley went one step further.

“This was the worst,” O’Malley said. “Given the course we were running on and the temperature—I would have rather it snowed. But these guys have run through everything in practice – if it’s negative 2 out they are still out there. There is no indoor track at Sandburg and it it’s a day, we’re running. They don’t think anything of it.’’

No one was making excuses. O’Malley and senior Chris Torpy pointed out that everyone in the meet had to run in the same conditions.

But they were tough conditions.

“I was getting water in my eyes and stuff kicked up in my face,” Torpy said. “But after a while, you don’t even notice it. It’s cold and your muscles are a little tighter. But every runner here had to go through it.’’


Will the real Bulldogs please stand up?

  • Written by Phil Arvia



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Anthony Quinn and his Richards teammates have a laugh after a game this year.

Surveying the regular season behind him, Richards running back Pat Doyle was unimpressed with a 6-3 mark and a share of the South Suburban Red title, both earned Friday in a 41-0 win over Oak Lawn.

“I feel like we should be a lot better than we are,” he said. “Last week (a 35-7 win over Evergreen Park), we finally showed up a little bit. The defense played great, the offense played great.

“We finally came together — just a little late.”

Reminded he had the playoffs ahead, Doyle paused then said, “Yeah, better late than never.”

The Bulldogs, who at 5-1 shared the league crown with Reavis and Eisenhower, earned a ninth seed and will visit No. 8 Morgan Park at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Gately Stadium in the first round of the Illinois High School Association Class 6A playoffs. A year ago, Richards lost to eventual state runner-up Lemont in the quarterfinals, while in 2013 the Bulldogs themselves finished second, falling in the first 6A title game played at Northern Illinois University.

This year, the championship returns to Huskie Stadium, which may not be as much of an omen for Doyle as it is a reminder. Doyle, who carried 205 times for 1,408 yards and 16 touchdowns in the regular season — including 21 carries, 153 yards and two scores vs. Oak Lawn — joined that squad for the playoff run as a freshman.

“I just remember how close everyone was on that team, how the older guys brought everyone in and made us feel a part of everything,” he said. “That was a good experience.”

This year’s team? It had it moments of glory and frustration so far.

The 2015 squad struggled early. Only a second-half comeback from 14 points down against Lemont prevented Richards from starting 0-3.

On the other hand, Lemont (8-1) is a No. 3 seed in 6A. And Richards’ losses came to Lincoln-Way North (9-0, seeded No. 1 in 6A), Geneva (8-1, No. 7 in 7A) and Eisenhower (7-2, No. 15 in 7A).

The losses to North and Eisenhower were by a combined eight points, and the Bulldogs led early in both, including a 23-2 halftime advantage against North.

“We’ve put together a couple of good halves, but we haven’t put together a good game yet,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “The losses — we got beat by Geneva. The other two, we lost them.”

Anthony Quinn, who, like Doyle, played in the 2013 playoffs as a freshman, agreed.

“We have to start finishing games off, putting people away,” he said. “I think we still have a lot of potential, but we’ve got to stop putting ourselves in tough situations with penalties and stuff.”

A maturing offensive line should help quarterback Jake Moran and some of the other skill players.  Returning tackles Joe Carpenter (6-foot-2, 270 pounds) and Domantas Backus (6-0, 220) have been joined by guards Devonte Ware (5-11, 250) and Nick Mejia (5-11, 240), and center Sultan Benson (6-0, 270) to form a unit Doyle described as “big and physical — and they play together.”

“At the beginning of the year, we were trying to find the pieces,” Sheehan said. “We’ve had them in their spots for the last five weeks, and they’ve really grown as a unit. They are the key.

“Pat, to me, is the best running back in the area. He has the best vision I’ve ever seen from a back at Richards. When the line is clicking, we’re tough.”

How tough? Well, to get back to DeKalb, the Bulldogs would have to wade through a potential second-round rematch with Lincoln-Way North. Lemont is also in their half of the bracket.

“We’ve got a very tough road ahead, but we’re just worried about Morgan Park right now,” Sheehan said. “We’re 6-3. We’ve got to handle our business.

“They’re a big, physical team. They’re aggressive. We’re going to have our hands full.”


Marist girls teaming, er, teeming with excitement

  • Written by Phil Arvia

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File photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist’s MaryClare Leonard (No. 542), who finished 20th and 10th in the state individually in Class 3A the past two years, wants the whole team to make it down state in Class 2A this year.


Still catching her breath after battling to an eighth-place finish in the Class 2A Marist girls cross country regional Saturday at Midlothian Meadows, Redhawks junior Maryclare Leonard cut off an interviewer to ask, “Can I bring my teammates over?”

Without waiting for an answer, she pulled freshmen Jill Borza, the 12th-place finisher, and Colleen Murphy, 13th, into the conversation.

Later, Borza explained why.

“She’s about the team,” Borza said. “She really doesn’t care about herself. She’s always motivating us.”

Leonard might have gone another route upon the Redhawks’ reclassification into 2A this season after she finished 10th in the Class 3A state meet as a sophomore — in a time (17:06) that would have been good for second in the 2A meet. But, while she has struggled this season — she described her regional time of 18:40 as “a bad day” — she’s had no problem staying on track for her main goal.

“This season has been about focusing on the team,” she said. “The seniors…we want to get them downstate.”

The Redhawks took the first step toward that goal with a solid third-place total of 80 points at their own regional. Lemont (65) edged Montini (67) for first. The top six teams (Rosary, Glenbard South and Wheaton Academy rounded out the group) qualified for the Halloween morning Wheaton Academy Sectional at Kress Creek Farms Park.

The top five team finishers at the sectional advance to the Nov. 6 state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

“We’ll see Yorkville in the sectional — they may be the No. 1 team in the state in Class 2A or 3A,” Marist coach Pat Quinn said. “The five teams that make it out of our sectional will all have a chance to be among the top 10 teams in state. The sectional is really a mini-state meet.”

While Leonard’s 10th-place finish last season and her 20th-place as a freshman trail only the 2006 AA title won by her cousin, Lauren Haberkorn, as the top individual finishes in Marist girls cross country history, she entered this season more mindful of the notion that the Redhawks have never qualified as a team.

“To get the team down has really become the overriding goal,” Quinn said. “Together, together, together — that’s their mantra. This kid is more concerned about how tight the pack of the team is.”

In the regional, there was none tighter. Just 1:19 separated Marist’s top six runners, while Lemont’s first and sixth finishers arrived 1:46 apart and  Montini’s 2:11.

Following Leonard, Borza (19:02) and Murphy (19:10) for the Redhawks were senior Catherine Viz (19th, 19:21), sophomore Nora Doyle (28th, 19:51) and junior Carlin McNulty (31st, 19:59).

The pack may be ready to go lower, given their willingness to follow Leonard and Leonard’s history.

“She’s an amazing team leader,” Murphy said. “She really pushes all of us to be our best — and we’ve gotten stronger behind her as a team.”

Last season, Leonard shaved 36 seconds off her time from the regional to the sectional, then dropped another 18 seconds at state. As a freshman, her times also improved from regional to sectional to state.

“That’s always been my mentality,” Leonard said. “The focus isn’t on winning. It’s on running the best time.”

Marist’s boys team also qualified for the sectional, finishing fourth overall behind champion Hinsdale South. Redhawks scorers included Eddie Slack (12th, 16:22), Kyle O’Farrell (13th, 16:24), Matt Wagner (15th, 16:28), Jack Kelly (22nd, 16:44) and Paul Lesley (46th, 17:44).

Brother Rice earned a ticket to the sectional with a sixth-place finish behind Joe Sweeney (14th, 16:27), Jack Mongan (27th, 17:04), Matt McKendry (31st, 17:12), Steve Sloan (34th, 17:22) and Jake Rafferty (35th, 17:22).

Richards had two individual qualifiers: Jason Mallo (6th, 15:52) and Marek Warywoda (24th, 16:49).

In other regional action:

Class 3A

Sandburg Regional


Sandburg, the No. 1 ranked team in the country according to two websites, rested some of their top runners and the team still romped to the team title, posting 21 points to finish ahead of Shepard (67), Oak Lawn (102), Eisenhower (124), Argo (137) and Stagg (148). Brandon Lukas (15:11) and David Gleisner (15:14) finished 1-2 for the Eagles, followed by Dan Laskero (4th, 15:26), Paul Sieczkowski (6th, 15:45) and Alex Szymanski (8th, 15:50). Shepard’s Caleb Washington (3rd, 15:24) and Paul Milkus (5th, 15:36) rounded out the top five.


Sandburg won the team title with 44 points. Mother McAuley (3rd, 54), Stagg (4th, 118), Shepard (5th, 167) and Oak Lawn (6th, 170) also moved on to sectional competition.

McAuley’s Ashley Canner finished first individually, in 18:25, followed by teammate Ashley Bryja. Rounding out the top five were Sandburg’s Erica Cerva (18:43), Shepard’s Kelli Callahan (18:50) and Sandburg’s Jade Lukas (19:00).

Class 2A

Riverside-Brookfield Regional


Evergreen Park advanced with a sixth-place finish. The Mustangs’ scorers were: Ricky Mutnansky (30th, 18:38), Max Schultz (32nd, 18:42), Daniel Meza (36th, 19:03), Horace Holifield (41st, 19:39) and Dan Novak (43rd, 19:53).

Qualifying as individuals were St. Laurence’s Cesar Vega (22nd, 17:50) and Jorge Velazco (29th, 18:33).


Evergreen Park finished fourth as a team to advance. The Mustangs’ scorers were: Katie Sammon (19th, 22:26), Megan Quick (20th, 22:27), Kayley Burke (23rd, 22:38), Isabella Villamil (24th, 22:39) and Emily Huneck (25th, 22:41).

Class 1A

Bishop McNamara Regional


Chicago Christian, behind individual champ April van Ryn (19:06), won the team title with a total of 33, far ahead of runner-up Clifton Central (72). Jill Van Dyk (5th, 19:57), Allie Boss (7th, 20:15), Cassidy VandeKamp (8th, 20:16) and Becca Falb (12th, 21:01) were the Knights’ other scorers.

Aurora Christian Regional


Queen of Peace finished fifth to advance to sectional competition. Hannah Skrypken finished 22nd overall in 22:26 to pace the Pride.