On Aug. 27 at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, an event 33 years in the making will take place.

For the first time since 1989, Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick high schools will meet on the football field. It goes without saying that there’s been plenty of excitement in the community since the matchup was announced in the spring.

“I know in other sports we have the opportunity to play Fenwick, and it’s nice to have the rivalry continue on the football field,” said OPRF coach John Hoerster.

“It’s a great rivalry, and I’m proud that I can be a part of it on the football end,” said Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia. “I hadn’t been alive the last time these two schools played each other, so it’s an honor to be the head coach leading the Friars into this matchup.”

With the game finally upon us, this week’s Tate’s Take will break down each team and offer a prediction.

The Huskies (4-5 in 2021) have plenty of spots to fill in the offensive backfield and at wide receiver.

But the most important position is in good hands as senior Jack Gooch enters his third season as a varsity starting quarterback. Last year, Gooch threw for 1,674 yards, 15 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.

“Jack is like having another coach on the field,” Hoerster said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve been around.”

Senior Ryan Martin (26 receptions, 374 yards, 5 TD) is OPRF’s top returning wide receiver and will be counted on to step up. Also, look for senior Cam Crape to make an impact.

At running back, juniors Lemer Burnett and Sam Gray and seniors Amaurie Carter and Eric Evans should get the reps.

The linemen on both sides of the ball are the Huskies’ strength.

“We’re coming well together. We’ve got some pieces to work with,” said OPRF two-way lineman Cole Robertson, in his fourth season as a varsity starter.

Junior Kaden Garland and seniors Joey Daschbach and Kole Sneed are other key OPRF linemen. Evans, Gray, and senior Timmy Spillane make up the Huskies’ linebacker corps, while juniors Jacob Bickhem and Khalil Nichols along with Crape and Martin man the secondary.

In addition, OPRF has a pair of reliable kickers in seniors Gavin Johnson and Nolan Vitale. The left-footed Johnson drilled a game-winning field goal last year against Downers Grove North.

Last season was special for the Friars (12-2 in 2021) as they won the IHSA Class 5A title, the first-ever state championship in the school’s illustrious football history.

But with 30 players — including 14 starters — from last year having graduated, Fenwick has already turned the page.

“[Battaglia] told us he didn’t want to hear anything about last season,” said senior defensive lineman Mirko Jaksic. “This season is a new team. It’s a new year, and we’ve got to achieve greatness again.”

Three-year starting quarterback Kaden Cobb, now at Ball State University, will be missed. Senior E.J. Hosty and junior Marek Hill are vying for the job.

While Hosty does have previous experience as a starter, filling in for an injured Cobb for three games during the pandemic-abbreviated season of spring 2021, it doesn’t guarantee anything according to Battaglia.

“Whoever shows the most consistency, that’s who the team is going to rely on,” he said.

Whoever starts on Saturday will do so with an inexperienced group of skill-position players around him. Fenwick needs to replace its top two running backs and top three wide receivers. Senior tight end Pat Durkin and senior offensive Aaron Johnson are the only seasoned returnees. Look for junior Donnell French and senior Dennis Moore to play key roles offensively for the Friars.

There’s just as much retooling on the defensive side of the ball for Fenwick. There’s a new coordinator as Nick Halkias replaced Titcus Pettigrew, who’s now at Bolingbrook. Moreover, the Friars need to replace their top three tacklers from 2021.

However, there are some key returnees in the front seven. Jaksic and senior linebacker Conor Stetz are disruptors, while sophomore Nate Marshall gave Fenwick a boost in last year’s playoffs at defensive end.

Junior Luis Avalos takes over the kicking and punting duties from Iain Ramage.

I have gone back-and-forth this week with my game prediction. To me, both OPRF and Fenwick have plenty of good, young talent who are largely inexperienced, so it would appear to be an evenly matched contest.

But it’s long been my opinion that in a tossup football game, quarterback play often makes the difference. Make no mistake, the Friars have a pair of quality options in Hill and Hosty. However, I don’t know who will start, and whoever gets the nod doesn’t possess the experience Gooch does. Gooch is a proven competitor, and that’s a huge advantage for the Huskies at the most important position.

Then there’s special teams. If the game is close like I feel it will be, I’d give the edge to OPRF due to their kickers, who have more varsity experience (this is Avalos’ first varsity season).

Lastly, while admittedly I’m not a fan of the neutral site along with the early morning kickoff (9:30 a.m.), there’s no doubt this contest will be intense. It usually is whenever OPRF and Fenwick meet in athletic competition, but football takes things to another level, and it very well could be the team that controls its emotions better will prevail.

In the final analysis, I believe Fenwick will be really good by the end of the year. But I’m going with OPRF in this one because Gooch’s experience and the Huskies’ kicking game will make the difference in a tight game.

TATE’S TAKE: OPRF 24, Fenwick 21

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