Entering the season having lost 30 players from the 2021 IHSA Class 5A champion due to graduation, the Fenwick High School football team figured to take a few lumps early on.

But after getting trounced by neighboring Oak Park and River Forest High School 35-7 in Week 1, the Friars have made steady improvement and find themselves in good position to defend their Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference White Division championship in Week 9.

However, a repeat won’t be easy as Fenwick welcomes St. Ignatius to Triton College Oct. 21. The Friars prevailed in last year’s title game 28-20, and the Wolfpack is eager for revenge.

Here’s how the teams look entering this showdown, which will be televised live locally on The U (WCIU) at 7:30 p.m.

The Friars sport a 5-3 record and are eligible for the IHSA playoffs. A victory over Ignatius would clinch a playoff berth.

Fenwick is led on offense by senior quarterback E.J. Hosty, who served as Kaden Cobb’s understudy the past two seasons. He’s got a strong arm and isn’t afraid to use his feet as well to gain yardage.

Sophomores Ameer Ninos and Brian Timpone handle the bulk of the duties at running back. The Friars will also employ the wildcat formation at times. Will Gladden was the feature back in that formation earlier in the year, but in Fenwick’s 36-27 victory over St. Patrick on Oct. 7, sophomore defensive end Nate Marshall took the snaps and scored a pair of touchdowns.

“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.”

When Hosty throws the ball, juniors Elijah Romeus and Jamal Williams and seniors Dennis Moore and Rowan White are all capable of making big plays. On the line, Aaron Johnson leads a group that’s gotten better as the season has progressed.

Defensively, seniors Mirko Jaksic, Conor Stetz and Marshall are constant disruptors. Junior Luke D’Alise leads a solid linebacker corps and Gladden and junior Donnell French head a good secondary.

The Fenwick defense will need to be at its best against St. Ignatius (6-2), which runs the triple-option offense, one that is now rare at the high school level. Senior Vinny Rugai became the Wolfpack’s all-time leading rusher and also set a single-game record for rushing yards in a game with 225 at De La Salle on Sept. 30. If opposing defenses focus on stopping the run, senior quarterback Jake Petrow is capable of making them pay with accurate throws.

St. Ignatius tends to chew up plenty of clock whenever it has the ball, so it will be imperative for Fenwick to maximize their possessions. The Friars must take care of the ball and can’t have many three-and-outs. Ninos and Timpone need to have solid games in order to take pressure off Hosty and his receivers. It wouldn’t surprise me if Marshall runs out of the wildcat a little more if Fenwick needs an offensive spark.

Defensively, the Friars need to be sure tacklers. Rugai has a tendency to turn short runs into longer runs because he breaks so many tackles. Moreover, Fenwick needs to create turnovers. In each of the last two meetings with the Wolfpack, both wins, the Friars forced and recovered multiple fumbles, which loomed large in the outcomes.

This is going to be a barn-burner, a game that likely won’t get decided until the very end. The Wolfpack remember Fenwick celebrating on their field last fall, and I’m sure they’d like payback. Ignatius has plenty of experienced players, something that can’t be overlooked.

When most experts stack Fenwick and Ignatius side-by-side, they’ll pick the Wolfpack to win. But I have a gut feeling the Friars are up to the challenge.

Then there’s this: Fenwick is coming off an open week as no opponent could be found for Week 8, which means the defense has had extra time to prepare for the Wolfpack’s triple-option, and that could be a huge plus.

Ignatius will be tough to beat, but I think the Friars prevail for the third consecutive season and claim the CCL/ESCC White title again.

Tate’s take: Fenwick 27, St. Ignatius 20

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