Monday, September 28, 2015

Over the weekend I saw...

...the most exciting player and the most exciting game so far this year.

The player was quarterback Riley Lees, above, who led Libertyville to a 35-7 statement victory over defending 8A champ Stevenson up in Lincolnshire. And the game was on Saturday morning, as the Eagles of Lindblom came from behind to defeat conference rival Agriculture Science, 22-14. (More on those two contests in a minute.)

The loss for Stevenson dropped the Patriots from Mike Helfgot's top ten rankings in the Tribune in favor of Oak Park River Forest, which downed Downers Grove North, 44-20. The Huskies host perennial power Glenbard West in two weeks. (You're going to want to be there.)

The big victory for Libertyville vaulted the Wildcats up 12 spots to the No. 3 ranking in MaxPreps. Batavia also cracked the website's top ten with its 48-28 win over St. Charles North. If you live out west you may have to take in that Naperville Central (4-1) at Batavia game this Friday. It could be a barn burner.

Finally, Huntley (who?) upended Cary-Grove, 29-8, in what must surely have been the Upset of the Week. Are the Red Raiders for real? We may find out this week when they host Jacobs in a battle of the undefeateds in the Fox Valley (Valley) Conference.

This week's rankings had only a few changes, while Beth Long's top ten at the Sun-Times had none at all. (Teams are undefeated unless otherwise noted.)

Chicago Tribune

1. Homewood-Flossmoor 
2. Loyola
3. Mount Carmel
4. Glenbard West
5. Montini
6. Joliet Catholic
7. Phillips
8. Libertyville
9. Hinsdale Central
10. Oak Park River Forest

Chicago Sun-Times  

1. Homewood-Flossmoor
2. Glenbard West
3. Loyola 
4. Libertyville 
5. Montini
6. Phillips 
7. Mount Carmel
8. Joliet Catholic
9. Hinsdale Central  
10. Nazareth (4-1)


1. Loyola
2. Joliet Catholic
3. Libertyville 
4. Glenbard West 
5. Montini
6. Rochester 
7. Homewood-Flossmoor 
8. Batavia
9. Phillips 
10. Sacred Heart-Griffin

Now, back to the two games I watched over the weekend. 

In the first, depending on which paper you read, Lees rushed for anywhere from 257 (Sun-Times) to 278 (Tribune) yards, the vast majority in the first half. The Northwestern commit ran for four touchdowns before intermission and threw for a fifth in the third quarter. It was a truly bravura performance reminiscent of Bolingbrook's Aaron Bailey and Lincoln-Way East's Tom Fuessel.

I had the good fortune Friday of sitting next to a guy who had played quarterback in high school and defensive back for Mike White at Illinois. He also had three sons who all played for Carmel High School during the Corsairs' heyday a few years ago. He knew Riley Lees' father as the Libertyville quarterback's three older brothers had played with his sons at Carmel. (Why didn't Riley follow them to Carmel? Good question.) One of his sons, who now plays for Western Michigan, told his dad he had to come out to the game to see Lees play. He wasn't sorry.

On the very first play from scrimmage Lees sprinted 80 yards, untouched, for the Wildcats' first touchdown. The Stevenson side went dead-silent. I looked at the guy next to me. Whoa!, we both thought.

The senior signal-caller added three more TD runs, of 61, 78 and four (four?) yards to lead Libertyville to its first victory over Stevenson since 2008. 

If you live up north, the Wildcats will be hosting Lake Zurich this Friday and you can see just what I mean. Mr. Helfgot wrote after Week One, "Do yourself a favor and go see Rees play." He's right; as I tweeted at halftime, This kid is every bit as good as you've heard.

The second contest, between the visiting Cyclones of Agriculture Science and Lindblom, took place at Amos A. Stagg Stadium in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of the city. It was a little different setting from the night before in leafy Lincolnshire, but the freight trains that passed in the background lent the field its own unique charm.

I had to drag myself out of bed for this one as kickoff was at 9:30 sharp. But it was worth it. Saturday was a beautiful day and the game, after a scoreless first quarter, turned out to be quite thrilling.

Both teams, but especially Ag Science, were plagued by offside penalties throughout the morning. (I wonder if the outcome would have been any different if the over-eager Cyclones had just waited for the ball to be snapped!) Coach Justin Pressley of Lindblom called a more conservative game, I thought, than the one I had seen the week before against Douglass. In that tilt he had the Eagles attempting onside kicks, going for it on fourth down and throwing the home run ball on occasion. Maybe Pressley felt he needed to be more careful with a stronger opponent. (Or maybe I'm just wrong.)

At any rate, running back Ryan Weatherspoon, who seems to be the workhorse for Lindblom, scored a touchdown and Makhi Cochran converted for two to give the Eagles an 8-0 lead with three minutes remaining in the first half. But the celebration on the Lindblom side was short-lived as Kyle Fulkerson, who did practically everything for Ag Science, ran back the ensuing kickoff about 75 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, however, and the score was 8-6 when the two teams went into their respective locker rooms at halftime.

During the break I moved over to the visiting side; its bleachers extended farther and, with the sun at my back, made it easier to watch the action.

And there was plenty of action!

At the end of three the Cyclones had taken a 14-8 lead and seemed to have the momentum. But wide receiver Joshua Bufkin scored for the Eagles to tie the game at 14 with only three minutes left.

Were we headed for OT? No.

With less than a minute remaining, quarterback Bryce Walker (who had another solid performance) hit wide receiver Carlton Rutherford with a long pass to set up a Dimitri Gary score on the next play. (At least I think it was the next play.) The two-point conversion was good and the score was now Lindblom 22, Ag Science 14.

Game over? Not exactly. The Cyclones fought back valiantly in the final seconds, but an incomplete Hail Mary pass in the end zone ended the contest.

Lindblom, now 4-1 and in sole possession of first place in the Great Lakes Conference, will meet TEAM Englewood at Stagg Stadium this Saturday at 12:45. You could do a lot worse than watch that game.

By the way, Walker, Bufkin, Rutherford and Cochran are all sophomores. And Coach Pressley, once again, is in his first year at the helm of the West Englewood squad. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself and say these guys are the next Phillips, but they certainly bear watching. Based on their schedule, the Eagles could very well finish the regular season at 8-1 with an enviable seed in the 5A bracket. Don't wait 'til then; get on the bandwagon now!

P. S. Coaches, I know you don't want opposing teams to read your players' numbers while scouting them from the stands, but it's really hard for us fans to tell who is who from those bogus stenciled numerals on the jerseys. It seems like almost half the schools I watch now (and I'm not exaggerating) have those and the scouts just bring binoculars to compensate for them. So you're not fooling anyone; you're just making it harder for the fans to appreciate the game. Please stop!

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