High School: Wheaton Warrenville South
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ESPNChicago.com’s high school football reporters hand out their “Best of 2011” awards.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
BEST OVERALL PLAYER
FAVORITE PLAYER TO WATCH
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Wheaton Warrenville South never lost faith it was capable of winning a third consecutive state championship.
The Tigers weren’t phased when they graduated nearly every starter from last year’s title-winning team. They didn’t panic when they dropped three of their first four games this year. They didn’t give up when they were handed a No. 8 seed in the playoffs and were the underdogs against Lincoln-Way East, East St. Louis and St. Rita.
Even on Saturday in the Class 7A state championship, the Tigers had plenty of reasons to hang their heads early and hand over the crown to Rockford Boylan. But they didn’t.
It wasn’t until the clock finally showed all zeros Saturday that Wheaton Warrenville South accepted defeat. The Tigers’ improbable playoff run ended with a 21-14 loss to Boylan in the Class 7A championship.
“These kids have come through a tremendous challenge this year,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “I’m very proud of how they responded to the challenges and very proud they stood tall to the very end of this game.”
Boylan (14-0) looked to have Wheaton Warrenville South down for the count a number of times.
The Titans, winners of the Class 6A state title last year, jumped on Wheaton Warrenville South on their first play of scrimmage, scoring on a 72-yard run by quarterback Lamont Toney. They extended the lead to 13-0 by halftime with 27- and 24-yard field goals by Sean Slattery.
Wheaton Warrenville (10-4) found some life in the second half when Dan Vitale scored on a 24-yard touchdown run with 5:19 left in the third quarter. Like that, the Tigers were only down 13-7.
Boylan looked for another knockout punch when it went ahead 21-7 on a 79-yard pass from Toney to Jaxson Meister at 11:50 of the fourth quarter.
But the Tigers weren’t going away. Wheaton Warrenville South linebacker Adam Dansdill gave his team hope again when he stripped Boylan’s ball carrier, grabbed the ball and ran in for a touchdown with 5:49 remaining in the game.
On Boylan’s next possession, Dansdill came through again and blocked Boylan’s field-goal attempt.
“I was just playing for my teammates,” Dansdill said. “Everything we do out there is for one another. That’s how we’ve played all season. We just fight and scratch and claw for one another.”
That would be end of the Tigers’ magic. They turned the ball over on downs on the following drive, and Boylan took a knee to end the game.
“We had a chance,” Muhitch said. “We did it a lot of different ways this year than typical football. That blocked kick at the end
of the game is exactly what the Tigers have done every single week. Somehow a way to compete, some way to give them a chance to win a game.”
Vitale was disappointed in losing, but he felt Wheaton Warrenville South could be proud of its season.
“We proved a lot of people wrong,” Vitale said. “A lot of people doubted us. We showed we could be like every other team in South’s history. We wrote our own chapter as seniors. It didn’t turn out as we wanted to, but I think we’ll be remembered.”
Vitale rushed for 121 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.
Wheaton Warrenville South’s Brandon Peterson had game-high 12 tackles. Colin Schwerin had three sacks.
Thomas finished with 135 rushing yards for Boylan. Toney also had 86 rushing yards and a touchdown, and he was 6-of-9 passing for 133 yards and a touchdown.
Lyons (7-4) at No. 1 Loyola (11-0)
The story: On paper, Loyola should run away with this one. But after last week’s round of upsets, it’s easy to realize that there are no guarantees in the playoffs. The Ramblers haven’t been tested yet through two rounds. They outscored their first two opponents 64-0. Lyons has had some close calls, defeating Bartlett by three points in the opening round and then knocked off Glenbrook South by three points in overtime last week. The Lions’ strength the past three weeks has been putting up points. Their only games of scoring 30 or more points this season came in the last three weeks.
Lyons player to watch: Jaime Jones would have been a great fantasy running back last week. He rushed for five touchdowns on 25 carries.
Loyola player to watch: Wide receiver Peter Pujals is coming off a nine-reception, 181-yard performance against Dunbar.
Prediction: Loyola 31, Lyons 13
No. 12 Downers Grove South (10-1) at No. 2 Bolingbrook (10-1)
When:6 p.m. Saturday
The story: Some of the best football games of the previous four years were Bolingbrook-Downers Grove South matchups. Last season, Bolingbrook won 28-21. In 2009, Bolingbrook won 16-14 in a regular-season matchup, and Downers Grove South won 22-20 in the playoffs. In 2008, Bolingbrook pulled out a 21-20 win. In 2007, Downers Grove South won 10-7. This was the first season their non-conferences meetings ceased, so it’s only fitting they square off in the Class 8A quarterfinals. This could be another classic.
Downers Grove South player to watch: Kaylon Miller is one of the many offensive weapons for the Mustangs.
Bolingbrook player to watch: Offensive lineman Robbie Bain is often responsible for the holes created for Aaron Bailey.
Prediction: Bolingbrook 26, Downers Grove South 24
No. 3 St. Rita (9-2) at O’Fallon (10-1)When:7 p.m. Friday
The story: St. Rita will be making the long drive to the St. Louis area again. The Mustangs made a similar trip in Week 2 when they went to play an out-of-state opponent in East St. Louis. St. Rita is hoping for a better outcome this time after losing that game. O’Fallon has pulled out a couple close wins this season. It narrowly defeated Pekin 34-31 last week. The Panthers’ offense has scored on a consistent basis. St. Rita’s defense will be looking forward to that challenge.
St. Rita player to watch: Max Kurucar had a key interception in last week’s win over Andrew.
O’Fallon player to watch: Running back Ejay Johnson rushed for six touchdowns in the first round.
Prediction: St. Rita 30, O’Fallon 17
No. 4 Stevenson (9-2) at No. 17 Glenbard North (8-3)
When:3 p.m. Saturday
The story: According to the seeding, Stevenson and Glenbard North should not be playing in the quarterfinals. Glenbard North overcame Barrington and Palatine to get here. Stevenson pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs with last week’s win over three-time defending Class 8A state champs Maine South. Stevenson has the been king of close games this season. The Patriots have won six games by a touchdown or less. Glenbard North fell on the wrong side of a couple close games during the regular season, but has been finishing strong late in the season.
Stevenson player to watch: Matt Morrissey is among the capable wide receivers for the Patriots.
Glenbard North player to watch: Phil Jackson makes his presence known on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Stevenson 24, Glenbard North 21
No. 5 Wheaton Warrenville South (8-3) at East St. Louis (9-2)
The story: This is the game everyone had hoped to see last season, but it wasn't to be after East St. Louis was removed from the playoffs due to an ineligible player. Neither team is as talented as it was a year ago, but this should still be an entertaining game. East St. Louis’s defense overwhelmed Oswego with its speed in last week’s win. Its offense also has its share of athletes. Wheaton Warrenville South has been getting by on its defense. The Tigers pulled out a 7-0 win over Lincoln-Way East last week.
Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: Jack Lipinsky is a threat to get to the quarterback on any play.
East St. Louis player to watch: Natereace Strong is no ordinary freshman running back. He ran for 146 yards and a touchdown against Oswego.
Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 17, East St. Louis 13
Elk Grove (10-1) at No. 6 Lake Zurich (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Lake Zurich put together a defensive masterpiece against Glenbard West. If the Bears are playing that well, there are few teams who will be able to beat them. Elk Grove has flown around the radar this season without any wins over ranked teams, but all it has been doing is winning. The Grenadiers are riding a nine-game winning streak into this game. They’ve scored 35-plus points in their two playoff games.
Elk Grove player to watch: Fernando Lozana scored three touchdowns in last week’s victory.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Mike Shield scored the lone touchdown in last week’s win over Glenbard West.
Prediction: Lake Zurich 21, Elk Grove 13
Hubbard (9-2) at No. 7 Lemont (11-0)
When:6 p.m. Saturday
The story: Hubbard is the lone Chicago Public League team to reach the quarterfinals in any class. The Greyhounds’ defense has come up big in the playoffs. It hasn’t allowed more than 13 points. Lemont will be a huge test for Hubbard. The Indians haven’t scored less than 35 points since September. Lemont is also one of the state’s premier defensive teams. It has allowed only two teams more than 14 points.
Hubbard player to watch: Quarterback Quincy Skanes ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Richards.
Lemont player to watch: Kyle Krull is one of the defensive stars for the Indians.
Prediction: Lemont 38, Hubbard 17
No. 8 Batavia (11-0) at Lakes (9-2)
When:5 p.m. Saturday
The story: Batavia again looked like one of the area’s best in last week’s win over Lake Forest. The Bulldogs’ run defense especially emerged in the win. That defense will have another challenge this week against Lakes and its bruising running back Direll Clark, who has been one of the biggest stars of the playoffs. He ran for 200-plus yards in last week’s win over Grant.
Batavia player to watch: Alec Lyons had a sack and two tackles for loss in last week’s win over Lake Forest.
Lakes player to watch: Andre Spencer had seven receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown last week.
Prediction: Batavia 38, Lakes 24
No. 9 Nazareth (10-1) at No. 15 Prairie Ridge (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: This game has a state championship feel. Either team could take this game and go onto the win the Class 6A title. Nazareth was expected to be good this season, but no one could have imaged it would be this good. The Roadrunners ran through the gauntlet of the East Suburban Catholic for the league title and has been nearly perfect in the playoffs. Prairie Ridge went through a similarly difficult schedule in the Fox Valley and has cruised in its two playoff games. Both teams have strong run games and can put up points.
Prairie Ridge player to watch: Jordan Getzelman only needed five carries to run for 108 yards and two touchdowns last week.
strong>Nazareth player to watch: Aenas White caught a 56-yard touchdown pass in last week’s win over Cary-Grove.
Prediction: Nazareth 31, Prairie Ridge 21
No. 14 Marian Central (11-0) at No.10 Montini (8-3)
When:2 p.m. Saturday
The story: This is the quarterfinal matchup everyone was waiting for in Class 5A. Marian Central defeated Montini 21-20 when they met in Week 4. The question is whether Marian Central can repeat the feat now that Montini quarterback John Rhode has returned from injury. Rhode missed the first game. He’s thrown 28 touchdowns in his six games back. It’s not as if Marian Central pulled off a fluke win, though. No opponent has come within 15 points of the Hurricanes since their win over Montini.
Marian Central player to watch: Wide receiver Scott Stochal had eight receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown last week.
Montini player to watch: There may not be a better player in the state at any position than wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.
Prediction: Montini 35, Marian Central 28
Rockford Boylan (11-0) at No. 11 Crystal Lake South (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Like Nazareth-Prairie Ridge, this game could have been a state championship game. Boylan and Crystal Lake South have been two of the state’s premier teams all season. Boylan, which won last year’s Class 6A title, has won all of its games by 14 or more points and has held 10 of its opponents to less than 10 points. Crystal Lake South’s defense has been just as spectacular. The Gators have allowed only one opponent more than 14 points this season. This game could come down to inches.
Rockford Boylan player to watch: Defensive lineman Dean Lowry is a Northwestern recruit.
strong>Crystal Lake South player to watch: Reese Dziedzic rushed for 127 yards in last week’s win over Carmel.
Prediction: Crystal Lake South 20, Boylan 14
No. 15 Joliet Catholic (9-2) at Washington (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Joliet Catholic had its season ended unexpectedly by Peoria Richwoods in the Class 5A quarterfinals last season. The Hilltoppers are looking to take another step this season. Joliet Catholic defeated Washington 49-7 in the opening round last season. This is an improved Washington team, though. The Panthers have been especially impressive defensively this year.
Joliet Catholic player to watch: Running back Ty Isaac added to his memorable season with five touchdowns last week.
strong>Washington player to watch: Dakota Bullard returned the opening kick 87 yards in last week’s win over Rich East.
Prediction: Joliet Catholic 38, Washington 24
No. 18 Homewood-Flossmoor (8-3) at No. 19 Naperville Central (8-3)
When:7 p.m. Friday
The story: Homewood-Flossmoor and Naperville Central have been two of the most dominant teams through two rounds of the playoffs. Both teams have scored 40-plus points in both of their wins. Naperville Central’s defense has been more consistent that the Vikings’ defense this season. In Naperville Central’s three losses, it didn’t allow its opponent more than 21 points. In Homewood-Flossmoor’s three losses, it allowed 30-plus points in each game. Homewood-Flossmoor likely has the edge on offense between the two teams.
Homewood-Flossmoor player to watch: Tim Williams has continued to be one of the top quarterbacks in the area.
Naperville Central player to watch: Quarterback Ian Lewandowski ran for two touchdowns and threw for one in last week’s win.
Prediction: Naperville Central 38, Homewood-Flossmoor 28
No. 20 Kaneland (11-0) at Rochelle (8-3)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: The saying “a win is a win” is most apt for the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how you survive, as long you survive. Kaneland and Rochelle are well aware of this. Kaneland got by Belvidere with a 51-45 win the first round and edged St. Francis 31-28 in the second round. Rochelle defeated Urban Prep Charter 43-41 in the first round and Sycamore 21-16 in the second round. The two teams met in the regular season, and Kaneland defeated Rochelle 35-14 in Week 5.
Kaneland player to watch: Cornerback Jacob Razo intercepted his ninth pass of the season last week.
Rochelle player to watch: Quarterback Nick Moore had a 91-yard touchdown run in last week’s win.
Prediction: Kaneland 28, Rochelle 17
Grant (6-3) at Antioch (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
The story: Grant and Antioch didn’t have to get familiarized with each other’s game tape when the Class 6A pairings were released. The two teams met in Week 8 with Grant pulling out a 22-14 upset win, the Sequoits’ only regular-season defeat. Antioch had trouble holding on to the ball in the first meeting and will look to correct that. Grant scored 22 points in the second half for the win.
Grant player to watch: Kyle Whitman was the game’s hero the first time around. He scored on an 8-yard touchdown run with 45.7 seconds remaining.
Antioch player to watch: Running back Austin Klotter is coming off a four-touchdown game against North Chicago.
Prediction: Antioch 31, Grant 24
Carmel (6-3) at No. 14 Addison Trail (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
The story: Addison Trail caught everyone’s attention by upsetting Downers Grove South last week. The Blazers are for real, and their defense is among the state’s best. They haven’t allowed an opponent more than 14 points this season, and their schedule also included Glenbard West. On the other hand, Carmel’s offense hasn’t been contained this season. The Corsairs haven’t scored less than 27 points and have averaged 40 points a game. Something will have to give in this Class 7A matchup.
Carmel player to watch: Running back Jordan Kos became the school’s all-time leading rusher last week.
Addison Trail player to watch: Defensive lineman Tom Caputo is among the team’s defensive stars. He returned an interception for a touchdown in last week’s win.
Prediction: Addison Trail 21, Carmel 20
Providence (6-3) at Wheaton Warrenville South (6-3)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
The story: Wheaton Warrenville South’s rocky regular season put itself on a difficult playoff path. The Tigers will be tested every week if they’re going to make another state championship run. That starts with Providence. The Celtics have returned to the playoffs after going 2-7 last season. It was their first absence from the playoffs since 1990. Providence is hot right now, too, after upsetting Mount Carmel last week.
Providence player to watch: Running back Brandon Price scored two touchdowns in last week’s win over Mount Carmel.
Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: Linebacker Daniel Roadman returned an interception for a touchdown in last week’s win over Wheaton North.
Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 24, Providence 13
York (6-3) at Stevenson (7-2)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
The story: Stevenson has been living on the edge this season. Six of the Patriots’ games have been decided by seven points or less, and they won four of those games. York has been involved in two tight games and lost both. The Dukes have been up and down all season. They are at their best when their passing game is producing. After losing to Lyons and Glenbard West, they did close out the regular season with a strong game against Hinsdale Central.
York player to watch: Quarterback Joe Lucca threw five touchdowns in last week’s over Hinsdale Central.
Stevenson player to watch: Running back Mike Ling ran for a career-high 109 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win.
Prediction: Stevenson 27, York 21
Geneva (7-2) at Lake Zurich (7-2)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Geneva and Lake Zurich were highly ranked at various points of the regular season. Lake Zurich is led by its defense. The Bears have allowed only opponent more than 14 points this year. Their two losses were decided by a total of six points. Geneva’s offense is its strength. The Vikings have averaged 37.9 points a game. Geneva coach Rob Wicinski thought the game felt like a second- or third-round matchup.
Geneva player to watch: Bobby Hess is dangerous in the return game and in the backfield for the Vikings.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Quarterback Zach Till rushed for five touchdowns last week.
Prediction: Lake Zurich 24, Geneva 20
Jacobs (7-2) at Wheaton North (7-2)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
The story: Jacobs and Wheaton North have been solid throughout the season. They both have won and lost to quality teams. Jacobs has lost twice in its last three games. The Golden Eagles’ offense struggled against Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake South. Wheaton North’s offense is coming off its worst game of the season. The Falcons scored 13 points against Wheaton Warrenville South.
Jacobs player to watch: Senior quarterback Jason Judson has the arm to beat defenses deep.
Wheaton North player to watch: Quarterback John Peltz will look to rebound from a rough game against Wheaton Warrenville South.
Prediction: Wheaton North 24, Jacobs 17
Homewood-Flossmoor (6-3) at No. 17 Marist (7-2)
When:7 p.m. Friday
The story: The scoreboard could be lighting up all night with these teams going at it. Marist has put up 37.9 points a game this season and gone over 50 points the last two weeks. Homewood-Flossmoor is averaging 43.2 points a game and has gone over 50 points three times this season. Marist is one of the state’s hottest teams with back-to-back wins over Carmel and Joliet Catholic. Homewood-Flossmoor lost to Sandburg last week.
Homewood-Flossmoor player to watch: Quarterback Tim Williams is the engine to the Vikings’ offense.
Marist player to watch: Wide receiver Nic Weisher is quickly becoming a star.
Prediction: Marist 62, Homewood-Flossmoor 54
Glenbard North (6-3) at Barrington (7-2)
When:6 p.m. Saturday
The story: Barrington and Glenbard North began the season ranked, but didn’t remain there. Barrington dropped out quickly after losing its season opener to Libertyville. The Broncos also fell to Palatine later on. They are currently on a three-game winning streak. Glenbard North won its first five games, but then went on a three-game skid during its conference season. Their problem during that stretch was getting consistent offense. It should be a physical game. Both teams play smash-mouth football.
Glenbard North player to watch: Defensive back Nicholas Maxwell intercepted a pass in last week’s win over Naperville North.
Barrington player to watch: Dan Voltz is considered one of the top offensive linemen in the country. He’s headed to Wisconsin.
Prediction: Barrington 17, Glenbard North 14
Lockport (6-3) at Simeon (7-2)
When:7:30 p.m. Friday at Gately Stadium
The story: Simeon again appears to be the lone Chicago Public League team with a chance at making a state playoff run. The Wolverines have rolled over their opponents since dropping their first two games of the year. Lockport will be a step up the competition ladder. The Porters’ defense has had trouble stopping elite offenses. This will be another test for them.
Lockport player to watch: Rich Galvin had a 56-yard touchdown run in last week’s loss to Bolingbrook.
Simeon player to watch: Quarterback Robert Gregory is among the area’s best and is headed to Arkansas.
Prediction: Simeon 34, Lockport 24
New Trier (6-3) at Glenbrook South (7-2)
When:7 p.m. Friday
The story: Glenbrook South topped New Trier 21-10 when the two teams met in a Week 6 Central Suburban South matchup. Glenbrook South’s defense was the difference in the win. The Titans didn’t allow New Trier a first down after its first drive. Glenbrook South has won the team’s last five meetings.
New Trier player to watch: Quarterback Jack Nykaza can run or the pass the ball to get his offense going.
Glenbrook South to watch: Running back Kevin Schroeder ran for 143 yards and three touchdown in the win over New Trier.
Prediction: Glenbrook South 20, New Trier 17
Muhitch thought he could line Vitale all over the field. He could get some carries at running back. He could catch passes at wide receiver. The hope was to use him in a varsity of ways, so defenses wouldn’t know where Vitale would hit them next.
That wasn’t to be.
It wasn’t the ideal situation, but Vitale has made the best of it. He has shown the type of athleticism that convinced Northwestern’s coaches he was someone they needed on their team despite not knowing exactly what position he’ll play in the future.
Vitale has scored five of the Tigers’ nine touchdowns, rushed for 455 yards and caught 21 passes for 126 yards this season.
“He does everything we ask of him as a player, including carry the ball 25 times for us, which is a completely different role than last year,” Muhitch said. “To be the leading running back, I was hoping not to have to use him there. He’s my featured back, my lead guy.”
Vitale hasn’t minded. If he’s on the field, getting touches and helping the team, he’s content.
“Oh, yeah, I love it,” the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Vitale said.
Vitale has always had that team-player mentality. Last year, he was asked to play fullback even though he had never played there, and he just shook his head in agreement and did it.
“I just want to play football,” Vitale said. “Last year, I definitely tried to fill the gap the team needed. I knew that was going to be the best team to come through in the team’s history. I wanted to be a part of that. I thought I added to the team even though I wasn’t in 100 percent of the plays.”
Vitale was a role player on last year’s state championship team, but he did have his share of larger contributions. His highlight tape was enough to catch the attention of Northwestern and a variety of other schools.
With Vitale’s grandfather being a longtime Northwestern fan, it was a school he already thought highly of. After the Wildcats saw Vitale’s athleticism up close at a summer camp, they offered him, and he committed right on the spot in June.
“They were impressed in him as an athlete,” Muhitch said. “That was the biggest thing that sold them on him as a player. I can tell you [Northwestern coach] Pat Fitzgerald called me personally and said, ‘This, coach, is a great talent, and we really think he has a bright future.’”
Vitale has been told he could play linebacker or superback for the Wildcats. He’ll know more next year.
But before Vitale makes that next step, he still has some unfinished business at the high school level. Wheaton Warrenville South has struggled at times this season and is now 2-3 overall, but Vitale is hopeful he and his teammates are turning that around.
“Losing is never fun,” Vitale said. “If you’re OK with it, there’s something wrong with you. I was definitely frustrated. I know our team could be a lot better than we were showing. It wasn’t the fact we were losing, but I thought we should be showing better. I think those days are over.”
No. 1 Maine South (5-0) at Niles West (2-3)
When: Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
The story: Maine South showed it wasn’t invincible last week by trailing New Trier until the second half. The Trevians’ offense got going in the final two quarters and kept their 10-year conference winning streak alive. Maine South will be looking to end this week’s game early. Niles West has lost its last two games.
Maine South player to watch:Linebacker Luke Lenti has been a key defensive player this season.
Niles West player to watch:Wide receiver Jeremiah Jordan can be a threat.
Prediction:Maine South 49, Niles West 7
Proviso West (3-2) at No. 2 Glenbard West (5-0)When: Saturday at 1 p.m.
The story: Glenbard West looks more impressive every week. The Panthers have out-scored their opponents 187-30 this season. Quarterback Justice Odom has continued to improve for the Hilltoppers. Proviso West lost to York 31-8 last week. The Panthers weren’t able to score many points in their two losses.
Proviso West player to watch: Running back Jamaal Payton scored his team’s lone touchdown last week.
Glenbard West player to watch: Tight end Nathan Marcus had two touchdowns in last week’s win.
Prediction: Glenbard West 42, Proviso West 10
No. 3 Lincoln-Way East (5-0) at No. 12 Bolingbrook (5-0)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: All eyes will be on this game on Friday. Both teams have shown few flaws this season, and both took care of Homewood-Flossmoor to set up this undefeated matchup. The game will have plenty of star power. Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey and Lincoln-Way East quarterback Blake Winkler are two of the area’s best. Lincoln-Way East wide receiver Jason Robertson is headed to Illinois, and Bolingbrook linebacker Antonio Morrison is committed to Florida. This game may come down to which team makes the fewest mistakes.
Lincoln-Way East player to watch: Justin Corbett is one of the Griffins’ many receiving targets.
Bolingbrook player to watch: Omar Stover rushed for 118 yards in last week’s win over Homewood-Flossmoor.
Prediction: Lincoln-Way East 45, Bolingbrook 42
No. 4 Mount Carmel (5-0) at No. 6 Loyola (5-0)When: Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
The story: Loyola, Mount Carmel and St. Rita are all in position to make a run for the Catholic League Blue title again. They shared it last season with one loss each. One of the reasons that happened was Mount Carmel defeated Loyola 31-24 in overtime at Gately Stadium. Now, they meet again at Loyola. Both teams have played well on both sides of the ball. Mount Carmel looks to keep the ball on the ground, and Loyola looks to pass it.
Mount Carmel player to watch: This is one of the biggest games of junior quarterback Don Butkus’ young varsity career.
Loyola player to watch: Wide receiver Charlie Dowdle had two touchdowns in last year’s meeting.
Prediction: Mount Carmel 31, Loyola 28
Nazareth (4-1) at No. 5 Joliet Catholic (5-0)When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: Joliet Catholic hasn’t been challenged since Week 1, and this could be its toughest game since then. The Hilltoppers are the lone remaining undefeated team in the East Suburban Catholic Conference. Nazareth is 4-1 in conference with its lone loss to Carmel. Nazareth’s defense will have to find a way to stop Joliet Catholic’s run game. Nazareth has scored 30 or more points in its last three games.
Nazareth player to watch: Rudy Romagnano is capable of breaking a run any time he touches the ball.
Joliet Catholic player to watch: Quarterback Craig Slowik has thrown the ball well when needed to this season.
Prediction: Joliet Catholic 42, Nazareth 17
No. 7 St. Rita (4-1) at Hales (3-2)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: St. Rita gets a break from the Catholic League Blue for the next two weeks. If everything goes according to plan, the Mustangs should be 6-1 headed into their final games against Loyola and Mount Carmel. St. Rita’s defense was stellar again in last week’s 19-0 win over Providence. Hales has scored 44 points in each of its past two games. The problem has been containing opponents. Hales allowed 80 total points in those same games.
St. Rita player to watch: Ryan Leonard and Max Kurucar each returned interceptions for touchdowns last week.
Hales player to watch: Joe Morrow is Hales’ primary offensive weapon.
Prediction: St. Rita 42, Hales 14
No. 8 Downers Grove South (5-0) at Willowbrook (0-5)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: Downers Grove South’s win over rival Downers Grove North wasn’t as pretty as it would have liked. A fumble at the goal line and a couple late touchdowns ruined Downers Grove South’s day. The Mustangs look for a cleaner game against winless Willowbrook. The Warriors have allowed 221 points this season.
Downers Grove South player to watch: Scott Daly is committed to Notre Dame as a long snapper, but he also plays tight end for the Mustangs.
Willowbrook player to watch: Dom Battaglia has been Willowbrook’s main offensive threat. He’s scored in most games this season.
Prediction: Downers Grove South 49, Willowbrook 7
No. 9 Glenbard North (5-0) at Naperville Central (3-2)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: Glenbard North’s schedule isn’t easy the rest of the way. Naperville Central could easily be 4-1 if it weren’t for last week’s narrow 14-7 loss to Wheaton Warrenville South. Naperville Central’s offense has struggled in its two losses. Glenbard North’s defense is among the area’s best. The Panthers have shut out three opponents this season.
Glenbard North player to watch: Collin Hansen returned an interception for a touchdown in last week’s win.
Naperville Central player to watch: Running back Matt Randolph looks to bounce back from last week’s 60-yard game. He has rushed for 762 yards this season.
Prediction: Glenbard North 28, Naperville Central 14
No. 10 Prairie Ridge (5-0) at No. 16 Crystal Lake South (5-0)When: Friday at 7:15 p.m.
The story: No one has been able to stop Prairie Ridge yet. The Wolves have out-scored their opponents 224-14 this season. This will be their greatest test to date. Crystal Lake South’s defense is also among the area’s best. The Gators have allowed 31 points this season, and no one has scored more than 12 points in a game. Something will have to give in this one.
Prairie Ridge player to watch: Running back Connor Greenwald is normally good for at least a touchdown a game.
Crystal Lake South player to watch: Brad Walovitch is one of the state’s most versatile players. For the Gators to have a chance, he’ll need to come through in some way.
Prediction: Prairie Ridge 21, Crystal Lake South 14
No. 11 Lake Zurich (4-1) at Libertyville (3-2)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: Lake Zurich’s schedule picks up from here. If the Bears are going to win the conference, the next three weeks will decide that with games against Libertyville, Stevenson and Lake Forest. Lake Zurich has looked good on both sides of the ball the last few weeks. Libertyville lost to Stevenson 13-0 last week. It was the second time this year the Wildcats had been shutout. Their offense will have to step up against Lake Zurich, which hasn’t allowed more than 14 points this season.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Jack Lynn may be going to Minnesota to be a linebacker, but he can catch the ball, too. He had four receptions for 106 yards last week.
Libertyville player to watch: Wide receiver Austin Williams is a consistent target for the team’s quarterbacks.
Prediction: Lake Zurich 24, Libertyville 10
No. 13 Carmel (3-2) at St. Patrick (3-2)When: Friday at 8 p.m.
The story: Carmel is coming off a loss to a top team from Minnesota. The Corsairs are still in the East Suburban Catholic race with one loss. They’ll need Joliet Catholic to eventually lose, but they can only control themselves right now. They could be in for an offensive shootout against St. Patrick. The Shamrocks have put up 30-plus points in four of their five games. They’ve lost the last two weeks by a combined 10 points.
Carmel player to watch: Tyler Lees is one of the area’s top linebackers.
St. Patrick player to watch: Guy DiBalsamo is a threat rushing or catching the ball for the Shamrocks.
Prediction: Carmel 45, St. Patrick 31
No. 18 Batavia (5-0) at No. 14 Geneva (5-0)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: Week 6 is definitely not short of marquee matchups. This should be another good one. Geneva had a couple close calls early, but has taken care of business the past few weeks with lopsided wins. Batavia hasn’t had a close game yet this season -- its smallest margin of victory has been 22 points. No opponent has scored more than 13 points against it. This game could very well decide the conference title.
Batavia player to watch: Quarterback Noel Gaspari threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win.
Geneva player to watch: Senior Matt Williams is one of the area’s best quarterbacks.
Prediction: Geneva 27, Batavia 21
Bloom (1-4) at No. 15 Crete-Monee (5-0)When: Friday at 6 p.m.
The story: Crete-Monee hasn’t been troubled yet this season, and that will likely be the case again this week. The Warriors have been steamrolling teams through five weeks. Their offense and defense have been dominant. Bloom has been in some tight games this season, including last week’s 6-2 loss to Rich South, but will have to play at a whole other level to compete with Crete-Monee.
Bloom player to watch: Wide receiver Jason Mendez can make plays.
Crete-Monee player to watch: Linebacker John Fasel recovered two fumbles in last week’s win over Kankakee.
Prediction: Crete-Monee 42, Bloom 7
No. 17 Lemont (5-0) at Bremen (5-0)When: Friday at 7 p.m.
The story: This game will likely decide the South Suburban Blue. Both teams enter undefeated. Lemont has been more impressive in its wins, but Bremen can’t be overlooked. Bremen hasn’t allowed an opponent more than 13 points this season, and its offense is led by all-area candidate running back David Smith. Lemont was challenged last week by previously-undefeated Tinley Park, but prevailed 49-20. It was the most points the Indians’ defense had given up this season.
Lemont player to watch: Quarterback Damon Aleman was 7-of-10 for 150 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win.
Bremen player to watch: Davis Smith is one of the area’s top running backs. He has a several Division I schools after him.
Prediction: Lemont 24, Bremen 13
Jacobs (5-0) at Huntley (1-4)When: Friday at 7:15 p.m.
The story: Jacobs proved it was legit with last week’s win over Cary-Grove. It will have a chance to further show that with upcoming games against Crystal Lake South and Prairie Ridge. For now, it should be able to remain undefeated for one more week as its travel to Huntley. Jacobs coach Bill Mitz has quickly turned the program around in two years. Huntley dropped its first four games and defeated Dundee-Crown last week.
Jacobs player to watch: Quarterback Jason Judson has the Golden Eagles’ offense averaging more than 30 points a game. He’s had a long touchdown pass in almost every game.
Huntley player to watch: Junior Ethan Connor rushed for four touchdown in last week’s win.
Prediction: Jacobs 38, Huntley 10
No. 20 Antioch (5-0) at Lakes (4-1)When: Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The story: Antioch hasn’t been the most dominating undefeated team in the area, but the Sequoits have found a way to get it done every week. They haven’t scored more than 28 points in a game, but they haven’t allowed more than 12 points. They’ve also prevailed in tight games with a two-point win over Lake Forest Academy and a three-point victory over Vernon Hills. Lakes could present a similar type of game. Lakes has a loss to Lake Zurich, but is undefeated in the North Suburban Prairie. The winner of this game will likely win the division.
Antioch player to watch: Danny Arden has rushed for 100-plus yards in every game this season. He had 121 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over Wauconda.
Lakes player to watch: Andrew Spencer returned a punt for an 80-yard touchdown, which proved the difference in Lakes’ 7-6 win over Vernon Hills.
Prediction: Antioch 23, Lakes 14
Here are five players who stood out during Week 3 and received our first weekly ESPNChicago.com helmet stickers.
Plano’s Joseph Jones: Jones is the first of two Northwestern recruits to receive a sticker this week. Jones was the difference in Plano’s 38-20 win over Manteno this past week. He rushed for 192 yards and four touchdowns on 15 carries.
Aurora Christian’s Anthony Maddie: However Maddie touched the ball, Chicago Christian didn’t seem to have an answer for him last week. Maddie, a Western Michigan recruit, was 14-of-23 passing for 326 yards and five touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown in the 54-7 win.
Glenbrook South’s Kevin Schroeder: Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South don’t get together that often, so when they do, it means a whole lot. Schroeder, a senior running back, took advantage of his opportunity against Glenbrook North this past week, rushing for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the Titans’ 28-14 win.
Wheaton Warrenville South’s Dan Vitale: Wheaton Warrenville South’s offense had struggled throughout its first two games. In Week 3, Vitale made sure that didn’t happen again. Vitale, a Northwestern recruit, carried the ball 24 times for 179 yards and accounted for all three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 20-6 win over West Aurora.
Crystal Lake South’s Brad Walovitch: Few people have been able to celebrate their 18th birthday like Walovitch did against Cary-Grove. Aside from handing punting and kickoff duties, catching passes as a wide receiver, carrying the ball as a running back and breaking up passes and making tackles as a defensive back, Walovitch also kicked a game-winning 51-yard field goal in the final seconds to beat rival Cary-Grove.
Season ahead: Trying to replace 19 starters from last year's Class 7A state championship team made for an interesting offseason for Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch and his staff.
"Our coaching staff is very tired," Muhitch said. "It's been a long summer. It's been a long doubles. They've worked hard to catch up the kids and get them experience. That was our goal to catch up this group, so it can be a top-shelf football program. Their 2011 year is now in their hands."
Coming off back-to-back state championships, the Tigers' expectations haven't changed. They're still out to win another DuPage Valley title and then repeat as state champs. What has altered, through, has been Muhitch's approach with this season's group.
"I'm a little more mellower this year," Muhitch said. "I will tell you because I'm trying to stay a little more patient with the leadership process. We're picking up the intensity a lot this week. I think that will be a big deal."
Despite Wheaton Warrenville South's youthfulness and inexperience, the Tigers do possess talent. The offensive line has good size with everyone standing taller than six feet and weighing in the mid-250s. Quarterback Thaddeus Armstrong has a strong arm and is 6-6. Running backs Patrick Garner and Dan Vitale, a Northwestern recruit, are both around 6-2 and 225 and have speed. Wide receiver Zach Zlabis is 6-4 and athletic. Defensively, the Tigers return four experienced players in linebackers Brandon Peterson and Adam Dansdill, defensive end Jack Lipinsky and safety Mike Shelton and surround them with a number of talented newcomers.
And as Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet put it, "They're still Wheaton South. I think until you beat them, they're still the team to beat."
Star power: Unlike a lot of past Wheaton Warrenville South teams, this one doesn't possess much star power. Senior athlete and Northwestern recruit Dan Vitale is the closest player to that, but even he didn't see a whole lot of playing time last season. Vitale will play at nearly every possible offensive position this year. "He'll be all over the place," Muhitch said.
Breakout performer: Thaddeus Armstrong has the biggest shoes to fill this season. Reilly O'Toole, who is now at Illinois, led the Tigers to two consecutive state titles and the No. 1 ranking last year. Armstrong, who is a transfer from Ottawa, has a strong arm, has size at 6-6 and has quickly picked up the Tigers offense. "He's a great kid," Muhitch said. "He has a big arm and wants to do well. He wants to throw the ball. He has to be that offensive leader we need him to be."
Defensive difference-maker: Jack Lipinsky is the only defensive lineman returning from last year. He is expected to bring leadership and ability to the group. He had three tackles, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble in last year's state title game.
Newcomers to watch: The entire offensive line is new. The Tigers will be starting all juniors this season. The line will include right tackle Frank Garcia (6-3, 250 pounds), right guard Ryan McCarthy (6-2, 225), center Rich Metzger (6-1, 270), left guard Hollis Henry (6-3, 240) and left tackle Kyle Joyce (6-5, 240). Guard Joe Kirsch (5-11, 270) should also be in the mix. "Not only are they young, but they're inexperienced," Muhitch said. "They have talent and they're big. We think the future is right in front of us."
Schedule breakdown: Wheaton Warrenville South has the toughest schedule in the state. The Tigers will play four teams in the ESPNChicago.com preseason top-20 rankings. They open the season against No. 3 Glenbard West and follow that up by facing No. 1 Maine South. The DuPage Valley doesn't get any easier this season either. Glenbard North, Naperville North and Wheaton North are all among the area's best again, and Naperville Central is expected to bounce back from last year's rocky season.
Key game: Sept. 2 at Maine South -- Plenty of preseason polls have replaced Wheaton Warrenville South with Maine South as the state's top-ranked team. This will be the Tigers' chance to prove that's untrue. They took it to Maine South last season, winning 44-7 in Week 2. Maine South didn't lose a game the rest of the season.
What they're saying: "Win or lose, we'll be a better program," Muhitch said of facing Glenbard West and Maine South in the first two weeks.
The classic, which is a 7-on-7 competition, will include Class 5A state champions Montini, Class 7A state champions Wheaton Warrenville South, Class 8A state champions Maine South, Barrington, Glenbard West, New Trier, Wheaton North and York.
All eight team qualified for the playoffs in 2010 and combined for a 77-19 record.
“Nike asked me to run it,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “We decided to run it with a competitive tint to it, which is a lot different. You have three downs to get 15 yards. We’re keeping scoring, and there’s a tournament after pool play.”
Pool play begins at 8:30 a.m., and the tournament starts at 1:15 p.m.
Beginning next year, the winner of the classic will earn an automatic bid to the National Select 7 on 7 Championship in Hoover, Ala.
Wheaton Warrenville South Class of 2012 athlete Dan Vitale committed to Northwestern on Friday.
Vitale, a 6-4, 220-pounder, was offered a scholarship while attending Northwestern’s camp on Friday and committed on the spot.
“This was his perfect fit,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “That’s his dream school. Dan’s one of our prized student-athletes out of Wheaton Warrenville South from this upcoming class. I think he’s going to be everything Northwestern believes in as student-athlete. H’s just a great fit for them.”
Vitale has played a number of offensive positions for Wheaton Warrenville South, which won the Class 7A state title last season, and could play as a safety, linebacker or superback for Northwestern.
“They’re getting a versatile player,” Muhitch said. “He’s a big kid with great speed. Dan is open to doing both sides of the ball. I think [Northwestern coach] Pat [Fitzgerald] has elevated their play and made Northwestern a primary option for kids who have good grades instead of being a second thought for football.”
Northwestern now has six Class of 2012 recruits, including four in-state recruits.