We are already through seven weeks of the high school football season, with the IHSA playoffs right around the corner. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick high schools have fared so far, along with what I’d like to see from them the last two weeks. Both are still eligible for the playoffs.
OPRF stands at 4-3 after quarterback Jack Gooch (18-of-27, 256 yards) threw for six touchdown passes and ran for another score Oct. 7 as the Huskies rolled past visiting Proviso West 56-20.
Lemer Burnett had another nice offensive game for OPRF with 162 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns (one receiving, one rushing). Defensively, Mekhai Tate had a team-high seven tackles (three tackles for loss, including a sack). Matthew Poe and Jeremiah Williams each had sacks and Faris Dispensa an interception.
I’ve seen the Huskies in person three times and for the most part I like what they’ve shown. The line play on both sides of the ball has been solid, and there have been several two-way players faring well, like Burnett, Evans, Gray, Martin, Cole Robertson, Kole Sneed, and Tim Spillane.
My biggest concern is OPRF’s difficulty in finishing games. The 22-19 last-second loss at Hinsdale Central on Sept. 23 was especially tough. Had the Huskies won, they’d be at 5-2 and already eligible for the IHSA playoffs.
Playing all four quarters is an area OPRF coach John Hoerster wants to see improvement in down the stretch.
“I love this group,” he said. “If they can focus on the here and now every day, good things will happen. At this point, we can’t make any excuses; we’ve got to play four quarters of football.”
Even if they do, the Huskies have a challenging task ahead in picking up one more win for playoff eligibility. Their final two games are at Downers Grove North on Oct. 14 and home against York on Oct. 21. Downers North is tough enough at 5-2 and already playoff eligible, but York is another story. The Dukes are a powerhouse and boast a 7-0 record.
But I still like OPRF’s chances. The Huskies usually play both DGN and York tough and have won a majority of the games in recent seasons. If they play four quarters and make minimal mistakes, I think they’ll get It done.
Fenwick, after a rough start to the season getting trounced by OPRF, sits at 5-3, making them playoff eligible. On Oct. 7, quarterback E.J. Hosty threw for three touchdowns as the Friars defeated host St. Patrick 36-27 at Triton College.
Fenwick’s other two touchdowns came out of the wildcat formation from sophomore defensive end Nate Marshall, lining up at quarterback.
“Nate is a phenomenal athlete, probably one of the best in the state,” said Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia. “He gets the ball in his hands, he’s not easy to take down.”
The victory over St. Patrick is huge as it gives the Friars playoff eligibility, and Fenwick will receive a forfeit victory for Week 8 since no opponent could be found.
“It’s unfortunate that this week we don’t get to go out and compete in a game,” Battaglia said. “But they all understand the situation, and I know they’re excited about the opportunity that’s going to be coming up.”
I’ve seen the Friars in person twice. They’ve certainly improved since the 35-7 loss to OPRF in Week 1. This is a young team that was going to take a few lumps early on, but I also figured they’d get better as the season progressed, and that’s what happened.
As for the opportunity Battaglia was referring to? It’s a home game against St. Ignatius in Week 9 on Oct. 21. The Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference White Division championship will be on the line.
I think Fenwick, which defeated the host Wolfpack last year 28-21 in Week 9 to win the conference, has a good shot at defending the title. While the Friars are young, they have several players who played in last year’s game, like Mirko Jaksic, Aaron Johnson, and Conor Stetz. Their experience and leadership is vital going forward.
Given the strength of the CCL/ESCC, I feel the Friars should make the playoffs regardless of the outcome with St. Ignatius. But let’s not forget, they’ve defeated the Wolfpack and their tough triple-option offense two years in a row. If Fenwick plays a full four quarters, I like its chances of making it three consecutive seasons.