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Jeff Vorva's Extra Point -- SWSC super football conference could be super confusing

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

Pay attention, class.

There may be a quiz later.

I was good at general math but not algebra. And the new SouthWest Suburban Conference football schedule for next year and beyond have me scratching my head.

Here’s the deal.

The conference has 16 schools broken into two divisions. The Blue has eight of the biggest schools and the Red has the other eight.

Joliet Central and Joliet West will leave the Blue to join the South Suburban Prairie Conference and Lincoln-Way North is leaving the Red because the school is closing down.

This is the easy part. If you take away three from 16, you have 13 teams left. I get that.

But here’s where the powers that be throw a little curveball when it comes to next year’s football schedule and possibly beyond that.

Instead of having one division with seven teams and one with six (like they will be doing for most of the other sports such as volleyball, basketball and wrestling) the SWSC officials decided to have one big 13-team super conference for football.

The trouble is, there are nine weeks to play football during the regular season.

This is where it starts to feel a little like algebra in my mind.

Bradley Bourbonnais Athletic Director Mike Lehning, who is the conference representative, tried explaining it to me recently.

“Who you play is based on a combination of size of the school and your record in the conference for the last four years,” he said. “You obviously can’t play everybody. It’s 50-50 based on the size of your school and your record as to how tough your schedule it.’’

But the schedule won’t be 50-50.

Some schools will play seven conference game and some will play six.

“If it happens that a team is 7-0 and a team that is 6-0, we will have conference co-champs,’’ he said.   “Some crazy things will have to occur for that to happen, but it could. Same if one team is 6-1 and a team is 5-1.’’

It’s a little like the old Big Ten Conference or even the current East Suburban Catholic Conference where no one plays everyone.

The two local teams in the league – Sandburg and Stagg – have interesting schedules.

Sandburg has six conference games. The Eagles will open the season with two non-conference games and will play Thornton the third week, Bolingbrook, Stagg, Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way East, a  non-conference game week eight and finish the regular season against Lincoln-Way West.

Stagg will play two non-conference game and dive into a seven-game conference schedule by playing Bolingbrook, Lincoln-Way West, Sandburg, Thornridge, Thornwood, Lockport and Andrew.

Some teams will have holes in their conference schedules.

“One team will be out every week,” Lehning said. “Some schools will have to find non-conference games during the season. What’s lucky is that there are other conferences in similar situations. The DuPage Valley Conference is one. The Big 12 --- which is between Peoria and Danville – doesn’t have 12 teams. They are looking for games in the middle of their conference season.

“I’m not speaking for the other schools in our conference, but those are other conferences with teams available. We have Urbana in week 7.  For us, that will work. I don’t know where the others are going.’’

He said this setup will “go on as long as we have an odd number in the conference.’’

When it comes to the other sports in which all 13 conference members have teams, it will continue to be broken up into the Blue and Red.

In 2016-17, the Blue will feature Sandburg, Stagg, Lockport, Bolingbrook, Homewood-Flossmoor and Lincoln-Way East.

The Red will have Lincoln-Way Central, Bradley, Andrew, Thornton, Thornwood, Lincoln-Way West and Thornridge

That’s the easy math.

The tricky part is that it will likely change in 2017-18.

Right now, the conference teams are broken up by enrollment figures from this school year so they can get rolling on finishing up the schedule.

But 2017-18 will be using the enrollment figures from 2016-17, which are expected to be different.

 “The numbers of enrollment are going to change,” Lehning said. “Because North won’t exist, all the populations in the Lincoln-Way schools will increase. We won’t know those numbers until next fall. So this is a one-year deal.’’

Got all that? Good. The quiz will be coming shortly.

When I stop scratching my head.

 What’s in a name?

I once went to high school with a kid named Ronald McDonald and knew another kid named Richard Nixon.

They were named long before Ronald was a clown and Nixon was not a crook.

Both kids received some commentary from their peers for most of their lives and let me make this perfectly clear, it was not all flattering.

I once covered a basketball game in which the coach smartly used his nickname. Chuck Manson sounds a lot easier on the ears than his given name – Charles Manson.

This year, I saw a couple of names pop up in the world of high school basketball from a couple of players who probably enjoyed their names a lot more than they do now.

In Libertyville, there is an emerging star named Drew Peterson.

At Morgan Park Academy, one of the top scorers is Isis Rodriquez.

Tough times to have those names.

 Players of the Year revealed

Is football finally over?

OK, now we can finally run our fall athletic Player of the Year stories. Anthony Nasella and I have been busy getting these bad boys together and we are recognizing the best of the best in nine sports including eight that we’ve never given postseason recognition to.

We have four on our front page this week.

Next week, look for our Player of the Year winners in boys cross country, girls cross country and girls swimming.

Finally, on Dec. 24 we will run our girls volleyball and football Player of the Year stories.

And I am already digging into the vaults for our top 10 sports stories of the year for 2015, which will run Dec. 31, and have gotten through June and already nine stories have jumped out at me. A lot has happened since then so it’s going to be a year in which it’s going to be hard to choose.

That’s what makes it frustrating.

And that’s what makes it fun. 

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Loyola had scrambled a lot of good teams this year

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Columnsig924

 

DeKALB -- “Screw em’.’’

That was what one of the Marist assistant football coaches told his troops after the RedHawks were soundly beaten 41-0 at the hands of Loyola in the IHSA Class 8A state championship game Saturday night.

The coach was referring to the attitude to take from any criticism that the players may receive for their poor performance in the title game after putting up such a great effort to get to that game.

I won’t sugarcoat it. The RedHawks laid something on the Huskie Stadium field that could be fried, boiled, scrambled or turned into an omelet.

This was the first time under coach Pat Dunne’s watch that the team has been shut out. The team was last blanked in the fourth week of the 2007 season, 55-0 by Joliet Catholic, and ran off 96 straight games of scoring at least seven points before this game.

The trouble is that there were thousands of people all across the state watching this game on television and they saw the worst of Marist against a team that has been making good teams look bad all year.

Ever hear of Milwaukee Marquette? That team finished 10-3 this year and made it to the state semifinals in Division 1 in Wisconsin. Not a bad team. The Ramblers beat Marquette 35-0 to open the season.

Maine South is traditionally a state power. The Ramblers gave the Hawks their worst beating of the year, 49-8 in the second game of the season.

Brother Rice was up next. The Crusaders came into the game whipping Michigan power Brother Rice of Bloomfield Hills, 56-20 and Crete Monee (which finished second in Class 6A) 49-21 in the first two games of the season. Loyola beat the Crusaders 28-0 for Brother Rice’s worst loss of the season.

Notice a trend here? This wasn’t some cream puff the RedHawks were playing.

Loyola was beating the stuffing out off almost everyone it played including a 49-21 win over Mt. Carmel and a 56-14 win over St. Rita, which admittedly had a down year but it’s still St. Rita.

It appeared maybe there would be a chink in the Rambers’ armor when they barely beat one of the strongest teams in the state, Homewood-Flossmoor, 34-28 in the quarterfinals on Nov. 14 and survived Palatine, 24-22 in the snowy semifinals on Nov. 21.

But on Saturday, the familiar Ramblers were back and Marist was on the receiving end of another Rambler pounding.

Those who only saw Marist play in this game did not see the whole picture.

The RedHawks made it to the playoffs with a 5-4 regular season mark and paid for their sins by drawing the 23rd seed out of 32 teams.

They first knocked off East Suburban Catholic Conference champ and 10th seed Niles Notre Dame for the second time this season, 17-14.

Then they beat seventh-seeded Barrington, 59-56 in the highest scoring Class 8A playoff game in history. It wasn’t a very fundamentally sound football game but few games could match it for its excitement and quarterback Brendan Skalitzky accounted for 633 rushing/passing yards and the team needed every one of them.

In the quarterfinals, it was another rollercoaster ride on the road with 15th-seeded Oswego and it took a Rob Topps III interception with 40 seconds left to preserve a 38-35 victory.

The semifinals saw another upstart team, 30th-seeded Waubonsie Valley, come to town and the RedHawks pulled off a 31-16 win and the players celebrated by jumping into snow drifts.

Those four games are unforgettable for anyone who saw them.

Those four games showed what Marist was made of this year.

And for anyone who squawks at the RedHawks for getting embarrassed to a team that humiliated the likes of Maine South, Mt. Carmel, Brother Rice, St. Rita and others…

That assistant coach had two words that said it best.

Painful from the start

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

The first play of the game went wrong for Marist as Darshon McCullough injured his right ankle during a kickoff scrum and, after missing the first offensive series, said the injury affected his running during a 41-0 loss to Loyola in the Class 8A state championship game.

 

DeKALB -- The Marist crowd was fired up.

The players were yelling.

The coaches were hollering and gesturing.

The big game was ready to go.

It was show time.

The IHSA Class 8A State Football Championship was about to begin with underdog Marist, seeded 23rd taking on No. 1 Loyola. The RedHawks were ready to receive the kickoff and try to establish things early. But on the kickoff return, 10 Redhawks came out of the scrum and one, senior Darshon McCullough, collapsed on the frozen Huskie Stadium turf with an ankle injury that kept the running back/receiver out of the lineup for the first series – a quick three-and-out.

The rowdy crowd got quiet for a few minutes while their star back was prone. That wasn’t the way the RedHawks wanted to start. The tone was set and bad things kept happening to Marist all night in the 41-0 setback Saturday night. The RedHawks had gone 96 straight games without being shut out until that contest.

McCullough played in the game and put up some good receiving numbers (six catches for 113 yards) but only ran the ball once for a seven-yard gain as the RedHawks were held to minus-two yards of rushing on the night.

Would a 100 percent healthy McCullough have made a difference? That’s debatable but his tender right ankle and the Ramblers’ Fort Knox-like first-string defense made life miserable for the RedHawks in the title game.

“I’m not sure what happened – I think somebody bumped into me and I just landed wrong on my ankle,” said McCullough, who entered the game with 607 yards rushing and 1,003 yards receiving. “It did affect me, but I had to have a mental toughness.

When I first hurt it, I thought it was worse than I expected.’’ The usually high-octane Marist offense was held to 174 yards and 116 of them came on the final two drives of the game during the running clock after Loyola (14-0) took a 41-0 lead.

Meanwhile the Marist defense had fits with the balanced Ramblers attack as Loyola had 208 yards on the ground and 195 in the air. Quarterback Emmett Clifford threw for 195 yards and a touchdown and added a rushing touchdown. Dara Laja, who entered the game with 1,702 yards for the Ramblers, ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jack Marwede carried the ball two times for three yards resulting in two touchdowns.

Marist (8-5) upset No. 10 Niles Notre Dame, No. 7 Barrington and No. 15 Oswego to get to the 8A semis and beat 30th-seed Waubonsie Valley to get to DeKalb. Few thought the team would get this far.

“The last five weeks sums up this group of seniors,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “What they’ve done and how they’ve done it showed resilience, perseverance and determination. That will not only help them this year but throughout their career. This is a special group that will be successful throughout their lives. “It hurts now, but they learned some life lessons.’’

Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky was bottled up most of the night as he was sacked five times. He was 13 of 32 for 176 yards and an interception. He ran 13 times for 17 yards. On the season, he finished with 3,705 yards passing and 1,084 yards rushing for 4,789 total and accounted for 47 touchdowns.

“They were fast and that was the best defense we’ve seen,” the senior signal caller said. “This was a season I will never forget. I’m proud of our guys and we never gave up. We made it to the state championship. “We didn’t get the ultimate goal but I’m still proud of our team.’’

Marist ready for Loyola in state title game

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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photo by Jeff Vorva

Marist senior defensive lineman John Carmody was honest.

The kid is a part of the Class of 2016, which had a losing record as freshman, a losing record as sophomores and last year’s 4-5 mark on the varsity.

The seniors also experienced a season in which they were 5-4 and lost their last two regular season games to Nazareth and Joliet Catholic. Out of 526 teams to ever play in a state title game, only four had four losses.

Other Redhawks players and coaches were saying they believed in themselves and were not surprised they got this far. But Carmody stood on a frozen Marist field after his team qualified for the Class 8A state title game with a 31-16 victory over Waubonsie Valley  with a big smile and when he was asked if he thought he would ever see this day, he was frank.

“No, never!” Carmody said. “I never even imagined it. It’s unbelievable when you think about it.”

It’s believable and a reality and now the task at hand is to try to beat unbeaten Loyola in the state title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.

It’s just the second time the Redhawks (9-4) have made it to the state championship game and both came under coach Pat Dunne’s watch. In 2009, Maine South ended the RedHawks run with a 41-17 win in Champaign. That team was a bit of a surprise to make it that far but the 2015 squad is even more unlikely as it pulled it off from the 23rd seed out of 32 teams.

“Nothing is a surprise about this team,” Dunne said. “They have believed and I’m telling you, their attitude has never ever changed. They believe in each other. They are such a great family together and without a doubt, I believe in these guys more than anyone.’’

To get to Saturday’s semifinal, the RedHawks had nailbiting three-point wins over Niles Notre Dame (17-14), Barrington (59-56 in the highest scoring Class 8A playoff game in history) and Oswego, 38-35.

Waubonsie, seeded 30th and coming in with an 8-4 record, wasn’t an easy team but the RedHawks were able to have some breathing room most of the night.

Quarterback Brendan Skalitzky continued his statistical assault with 103 yards and two touchdowns in the air and 186 yards on the ground including a 71-yard scoring dash that gave the RedHawks a 24-9 lead. He now has more than 3,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

The Warriors tightened things up in the fourth quarter and Marist nursed a 24-16 lead when Carmody came up with a sack to stall a potential game-tying drive. Darshon McCullough’s 18-yard run iced the game on the icy night.

Receiver Liam Keffer caught two touchdown passes including the first score of the night where he caught the ball at the right side of the end zone with his feet dangerously close to the out-of-bounds line. Waubonsie players signaled he was out of bounds but the only arms that mattered – the referee’s – signaled a touchdown.

After the game, the players met with fans in the stands and jumped into a snowbank past the north end zone courtesy of an afternoon storm that dumped 11 inches of snow in some suburbs.

“You always dream of playing in the snow,” Carmody said.

“The weather wasn’t an issue, we know we can score points,” Skalitzky said. “If everyone does their job, we can score on anybody. It might have been pretty rough to play in the afternoon (during the blizzard). I was watching some of those games.

“But I would have played in whatever conditions there were.’’

 

JEFF VORVA'S EXTRA POINT: Big games and bad weather bring out goofiness in football players

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Nazareth lineman Gavin Smith was one of a handful of Roadrunners who did snow angels after beating St. Laurence to get to the Class 5A title game.

 

There is something about Mother Nature colliding with a big game that brings out the goofball in some football players.

A few years ago, I covered the final regular-season game of a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs in ages and after it won its game to qualify on a very rainy night, some big players found a mud puddle to jump into and frolic and scream.

The coach of that team went ballistics and did some screaming of his own.

He was not happy.

That bring us to Saturday. You may have heard the rumor that it snowed that day.

The snow and cold weather were the hot topics during Semifinal Saturday.

This was the day that 32 Illinois High School Association teams faced a situation in which they either experience the joy of going to this week’s state championship game or were zapped off the face of the playoff Earth.

And it was cold and/or snowy at all 16 games.

I could call this column the “Whine Guy” and spend the rest of it complaining about my misadventures with trying to take photos at the Nazareth-St. Laurence game in the heavy wet snow in Burbank, but I won’t. I have just one thing to say. Even though I covered the camera with two layers of plastic, I am praying that not wet stuff got into the guts of the company camera. Please pray along with me…

The players had to play in that stuff and when it was over and Naz pulled off a 34-0 victory to advance to the Class 5A title game, some of the Roadrunners players blew off some steam by getting down on the ground and making snow angels.

Like with the mud puddle scene a few years ago, I was amused, especially when big linemen types were acting like little kids.

Hours later, Marist punched its ticket to DeKalb and the Class 8A state championship contest with a 31-16 victory over Waubonsie Valley.

It was cold, but by then it stopped snowing and the Marist athletic department and administration had the field in great shape.

But the snow had to go somewhere.

It was pushed into big piles at  the north and south fences, a few feet from the end zones.

After the game, several relieved RedHawks jumped onto those piles past the north end zone and hooted and hollered for a little while.  

In an age where high school kids think they are too cool to show any emotion, I like the fact that these big guys can let loose a little and have some unbridled fun. They put in a lot of hard work starting under the hot August sun and to finally get to a point like this…

Now, if one of these guys gets really sick because they exposed their sweaty bodies to the freezing snow -- that may be a problem.

But, heck, this was all unscripted merriment and hopefully no one fell ill because of it.

Look out DeKalb – if there is any snow around Huskie Stadium and either of these teams win, they will find it.

(subhead) Player of Year honors coming

With Marist’s football team playing deep into November, we had to push our fall sports Players of the Year stories back. Next week, we will carve out some space for the Redhawks on the front page and after that, get the best of the best stories rolling.

So, on Dec. 10, 17 and 24 we will announce our top players for boys and girls golf, girls tennis, boys soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming, girls volleyball and football and that takes us to Dec. 31, where we will have our top 10 area sports stories of the year.

Happy New Year, er, Happy Thanksgiving