While I covered two IHSA football state playoff games this weekend, a big part of me was wishing at least one of them would involve OPRF or Fenwick.
Instead, for the first time since 2011, neither the Friars nor the Huskies are in postseason play, whether it’s the state tournament or the Prep Bowl playoffs.
Entering the season, I thought both schools had a decent chance of playing in Week 10 despite each having challenging schedules. But both endured lengthy losing streaks to end the year: OPRF lost its last six games to finish 1-8, and Fenwick, which started 4-1 and looked in good shape, dropped their final four to end 4-5.
So where did things go awry? Let’s start with the Friars, whom I felt were the more likely of the locals to reach postseason.
Yes, Fenwick had a brutal slate this fall, with seven of its nine opponents reaching the state playoffs the previous year, including three state champions (IC Catholic Prep, Mount Carmel, and Nazareth Academy), a state runner-up (Providence Catholic), and two state semifinalists (St. Ignatius, Wheaton St. Francis). I felt the Friars had the ability to be competitive with those schools, and it turned out they were, defeating St. Ignatius and St. Francis and losing close contests to Mount Carmel, Nazareth, and Providence.
IC was the only school to dominate Fenwick with a 42-9 rout on Oct. 20, which ended the Friars’ postseason hopes. But in my opinion, it was the 44-43 double overtime loss at DePaul Prep (who also missed the state playoffs) the previous week that cost Fenwick. That’s a game I know coach Matt Battaglia, his staff, and his players would love to do over for a different outcome. Alas, it was a loss.
It also wasn’t meant to be for OPRF. The Huskies figured to have a challenge with just five players with significant varsity experience, but I felt they would gradually improve as their young players seasoned.
Ultimately, though, OPRF’s only victory came in Week 3, 33-14 at Proviso West, which went 0-9. Playing in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division, one of the state’s premier leagues, is generally unforgiving to young, developing teams like this year’s Huskies; with the exception of a 56-28 loss at York in Week 4, every WSC Silver loss ended with a running clock. By season’s end, 17 underclassmen were in the lineup.
Where do OPRF and Fenwick go from here? Call me a homer, but I still believe in both programs. There’s a lot of good young talent there, and I feel Battaglia along with OPRF coach John Hoerster are the right guys to turn things around. Each has experienced success at their respective schools: Battaglia led the Friars to the 2021 Class 5A championship, the first state title in program history; and Hoerster had the Huskies in the state playoffs for seven consecutive seasons (2012 through 2018).
I wouldn’t give up on the local high school football programs. Both OPRF and Fenwick have rich football traditions, and have bounced back from down years before. I anticipate the Huskies and Friars rebounding and contending for the state playoffs again in 2024.