The 2016 high school football season is in the books. Once again, both Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick put together good seasons.

First, let’s talk about OPRF. John Hoerster’s squad finished with a 7-3 record and school-record fifth consecutive playoff berth.

The Huskies received stellar efforts from quarterback Jeremy Hunt, wide receiver Jared Scott, linebacker Ryan Molina and defensive back Keyon Blankenbaker among many others.

OPRF even had a shot at sharing the West Suburban Silver title, which would have been the Huskies’ first since 1998. Unfortunately in the last regular-season game the visiting Huskies came up short, losing 21-12 to eventual conference champion Hinsdale Central.

Kicking issues along with some questionable decision-making by the coaches cost OPRF its last two games, including a 23-20 overtime loss at Edwardsville in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.

Speaking of losses, the Huskies will part ways with Hunt, Scott, Molina, Blankenbaker and many other key seniors due to graduation. There are some promising returners in running backs Michael Houston and Terrance Roundy, wide receiver Craig Shelton and linebacker Cedric Cheatham. Additionally, reinforcements will be coming from a sophomore squad that went 8-1 this season.

Hoerster has to find a quarterback and fill several holes on defense for the 2017 season. He also has to find a way to start getting the Huskies deeper into the playoffs.

Yes, 8A is always a beast, but if you want to be known as a program that is a perennial power, you have to make deeper playoff runs (which means getting past the second round). Hoerster has done a fine job restoring a winning tradition at OPRF, but it’s time to ask for more, especially given that Fenwick has set the bar high.

Speaking of the Friars, what a terrific campaign! This was a fun, exciting team to watch. With 17 returners, I figured Fenwick would bounce back from a 3-6 mark in 2015.

The Friars started the season by rallying to defeat defending 4A champion Phillips at their new home at Triton College in River Grove. They also defeated defending 6A champion Montini, and gave defending 8A champion Loyola Academy a good battle before succumbing in the second half.

Their loss to the Ramblers was the Friars’ lone blemish on a scintillating 8-1 regular season, in which the Friars won the Catholic League Green.

Quarterback Jacob Keller, running back Conner Lillig, wide receivers Michael O’Laughlin and Sherman Martin and tight end Jack Henige led a potent offense. The Friars also had an underrated defense led by Brett Moorman, Ellis Taylor, Marty Stein, Jason Ivery, and the Blakeney twins – Lorenzano and Lorente. Kicker Conor Hendzel also contributed greatly to the Friars’ success.

Fenwick started the 7A playoffs with a 31-10 win against Rockton Hononegah, followed by a nail-biting 20-14 win against traditional powerhouse Lake Zurich. Then the Friars traveled to Jacobs and prevailed 28-21 thanks to a game-winning 64-yard TD run by Lillig late in the game.

For just the third time in school history, the Friars made the semifinals of the state playoffs.

Then, the “Travesty at Triton” struck. Fenwick had won the semifinal game 10-7 against Plainfield North when the game officials grossly misapplied a rule and gave Plainfield North an untimed down and a free play when in actuality it shouldn’t have gotten one. The Tigers took full advantage and kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime, which Plainfield North ultimately won 18-17.

Fenwick appealed to the IHSA, but the IHSA refused to hear it and claimed that its by-laws would not allow a reversal of the outcome. Fenwick then sued the IHSA and went to court in an effort to get the team into the finals, but it failed.

So though the official record is 11-2, in my mind the Friars finished 12-1 and weren’t allowed to play in the 7A title game.

Despite an unjust ending for Fenwick, this season was the most fun I’ve had – and not only because of the play of both teams.

I have gotten to make new friends with parents on both teams. From the Hunts, Scotts, Molinas, Jonna Borgdorff, and Eugene White at OPRF to the Lilligs, Kellers, Hendzels, and Kulhaneks at Fenwick, I have made new friends that will last a lifetime. The energy and passion these families displayed rubbed off on me and made me even more of a passionate high school sports fan than I already was.

And I also want to thank both Marty Farmer and Lauren Recchia for doing a wonderful job covering both schools. I am looking forward to 2017 and see what the future holds.

In the meantime I am going to enjoy watching the OPRF and Fenwick basketball teams in action. I saw the Huskies and Friars square off on the court Friday night and though the Friars won in overtime, I think both teams are capable of special things this season.

So, I’ll end with this: FRIAR UP! IT’S A GREAT DAY!

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