Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Last year, during Week Six, I was...

...faced with a choice: Loyola (4-1) at Mt. Carmel (5-0) or Bolingbrook (5-0) at Lincoln-Way East (5-0). Arguably, the two Games of the Year were being played on the same night.

So what was a high school football junkie like me to do? There was a lot to consider.

Loyola, the defending 8A runner-up, was traveling down to Gately to take on its undefeated Catholic League Blue rival, Mount Carmel. Bolingbrook, the defending 8A champ, would be visiting Frankfort to avenge its lone defeat at the hands of the Griffins during the previous season. Mount Carmel, in turn, had been eliminated from the playoffs in 2011 by, yes, Bolingbrook. And Lincoln-Way East had been unbeaten in the previous year's regular season. There were a lot of cross-currents going on.

But, fortunately for me (or not), a deus ex machina appeared: the Loyola - Mount Carmel game would be televised! I would simply have to record it and then beg all of my friends and relatives not to disclose the outcome until after I had had a chance to see it. Brilliant! (Although, I have to admit, when asked not to reveal the result most people would look at me as if to say, "What on earth are you talking about?")

I was reminded of this on the second play of the Wheaton Warrenville South - Glenbard North game on Friday night. As you may recall, I struggled with my decision to attend this match-up rather than the Kaneland - Sycamore contest right up to the last minute. (Did I make the right choice? More on that in a sec.)

But first, a flashback: On the second play from scrimmage in that Bolingbrook - Lincoln-Way East game, Aaron Bailey, the star quarterback for the Raiders, left the game with an injured MCL. My biggest reason for attending the game was now on the bench. Great, I thought. But the universe took pity on me that night: I was treated, instead, to a show by the second-best quarterback in the state, the Griffins' Tom Fuessel. It was more than worth it.

(Lincoln-Way East went on to win, 42-18. And that other game? Loyola defeated Mount Carmel, 30-27, in overtime. But I got to watch it on TV, remember?)

Now back to that second play on Friday night: Glenbard North's star running back (and the main reason I chose this game), Justin Jackson, tackled a Wheaton South receiver so hard it knocked the wind out of him (Jackson, not the receiver). For a few tense moments I thought the Northwestern commit might have to leave the game. Great, I thought. But Jackson, as I said, only had the wind knocked out of him and returned to carry the ball 41 times for 349 yards and three touchdowns in only three quarters. Wow.

So was it worth it to finally see the best running back in the state run all over a defense that had previously allowed fewer than 11 points a game? Yes, but.

But, what?, you're probably thinking.

Well, in hindsight, I kind of wish I'd made the trek out to Sycamore to see the Spartans end Kaneland's 35-game regular-season winning streak. It's exciting when undefeated teams get beat.

Earlier in the week I had read Rick Armstrong's excellent piece in the Sun-Times and felt better about not going -- I hadn't realized Kaneland's star running back, Jesse Balluff, was out for the season with a knee injury. And when I saw later on Twitter that Sycamore quarterback Devin Mottet left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury I really thought I had picked the right game.

But, as it turned out, Wheaton South's star running back Isaiah Campos was also out with an injury and the Tigers were just not the same team I had seen against Wheaton North and Naperville Central. Glenbard North, as I'm sure you know, totally dominated the contest en route to a 37-21 victory. In Sycamore, meanwhile, the Spartans came from behind to defeat Kaneland, 31-21. It was the better game.

(And even though I like to watch the Best Game Between the Best Teams, I also like to see new schools and visit stadiums I've never been before. Bottom line: go to the game you want, not the game you think you should.)

But I did get to finally see Jackson and Glenbard North this year. And I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them go as deep in the playoffs as last year. Also, as an added bonus, I got to watch a 5'4", 158-pound freshman named Victor Tricase run 76 yards for a touchdown. That was pretty cool. (Anybody remember Paul Preston from Maine South a few years ago?) Oh, and one last thing: I also got a sneak peek at Wheaton South's likely quarterback for next year, junior Josh Prueter, who came in for the fourth quarter and did a really good job.

So what game is on for this week? Lake Zurich at Stevenson? Loyola at St. Rita? Or Glenbard North (again) at Wheaton North? I'll give you a hint: When my gambler friends go to Las Vegas they always look for the hot table.

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