Plenty on the line heading into Week 9
Let's do a quick check of the Upstate Eight Conference in terms of the conference title race and the playoffs.
In terms of the UEC title, it's South Elgin's outright at 9-0 with a win Friday at Streamwood. A loss and a win by Glenbard East against Bartlett means South Elgin and Glenbard East both share at 8-1. Easy.
Playoff-wise, South Elgin, Glenbard East and Glenbard South are all in with six or more wins. South Elgin will host a first-round game. Glenbard East is looking good to host and Glenbard South can help its hosting and seeding chances with a win Friday against Elgin.
Larkin is playoff-eligible with 5 wins and can stamp an automatic spot with a win at home against West Chicago Friday. Bartlett has to beat Glenbard East to become eligible at 5-4.
In the FVC, Burlington Central (4-4) is in the same boat as Bartlett. The Rockets need a win against McHenry (3-5) to likely clinch a postseason berth. The Rockets haven't reached the playoffs since 2015.
Speaking of the Royals, Jalen Miller is coming off a 2-touchdown performance, including one that went for 80 yards, against Elgin.
"Jalen has run the ball well for us this season this season," Larkin coach Grant Dietz said.
Chavelle Clements and Robert Grant also have been turning heads of late. "Chevelle also has run the ball well and has played outstanding on defense and special teams," Dietz said. "Robert is improving every week. He had an interception and played very well on the defensive line (against Elgin)."
South Elgin update:
South Elgin continues to run roughshod through the UEC, having now won 23 conference games in a row. Coach Dragan Teonic tipped his hat this week to three coaches on his staff, in particular.
Teonic lauded offensive line coach Scott Smith, whose unit has helped the Storm average 307 rushing yards per game. Tight ends coach Dan Sanders also was praised for his work. "We have broken in a sophomore tight end and he is playing really well," Teonic said.
Defensive coordinator Steve Szpejnowski leads a defensive unit that has allowed 14 or less points in five of the team's 8 games so far. "We have played good defense for our fifth straight season, Teonic said. "Steve has been an integral part of that."
But Teonic cautions there is still improvements to be made for the 8-0 Storm.
"Lots of things to still work on," he said, "ball security, pad level, tackling and special teams play."
Matt Lawson was a key bright spot for the Maroons against Larkin last week. He had more than 200 all-purpose yards, 5 tackles and 1 interception on defense.
Maroons coach Anthony Mason also has seen big progress from sophomore linebacker Fabian Ramirez.
"Fabian has stepped up in only his eighth football game of his life," he said.
Streamwood's youth movement has been spurred this season by the play of junior Oscar Villapando, sophomore Juan Cortez and sophomore Alex Flores.
"These kids show up every week ready to play," Streamwood coach Keith McMaster said. "They are younger, but they play with heart and passion. The three of them are in the top five in tackles (48, 38 and 47, respectively) for the team. Oscar defends the opponents' top receivers and Juan also runs the ball."
Cortez has 201 rushing yards this season on 59 carries.
St. Edward update:
The injury bus has fully egressed for the Green Wave, who will have a full 25-man roster for the season finale and retiring coach Mike Rolando's St. Edward finale Friday in Elmwood Park.
Timmy Warner and Nolan Pomeroy will be back after missing last week's game against Aurora Christian, while Chris Andrews returned last week after missing five weeks. Luciano Rolando also is back to 100% after missing half of Week 5 and Week 6.
"Our kids are eager to get last week out of their minds by playing a sharp game Friday, playing the way they know they are capable and playing a game that they can be proud of to end the season for our 10 seniors," Rolando said.
Senior Carson Busto and junior Jack Cozzi played well against Aurora Christian last week, Rolando noted. Busto caught 6 passes for 88 yards and a score and also made 5 tackles on defense. Cozzi made 11 tackles, forced a fumble and also had a fumble recovery.
West Aurora update:
If the playoffs were determined by playoff points alone, West Aurora would be in and asking for change back. The Blackhawks have 42 playoff points already (the sum of their opponents' wins) through eight weeks, meaning they have played a strong schedule this season.
West Aurora coach Nate Eimer likes the way Malcolm Smith has been playing in the trenches. "Malcolm has been starting on the offensive and defensive line the past three weeks and is doing well," he said.
Eimer noted Amir Greene was injured in the preseason and returned for the first time last week against unbeaten Plainfield North.
"Amir had a nice game rushing with his first career touchdown," Eimer said.
Aurora Christian update:
The Eagles already are playoff eligible at 5-3 and can earn an automatic berth with a Metro Suburban Conference crossover win at 7-1 Wheaton Academy Friday. With 34 playoff points and more to be added after this week, Aurora Christian appears to be in solid shape playoff-wise.
"We have grown a lot as a team this year, something these kids should be proud of," Aurora Christian coach David Beebe said. "We started very young and have grown up, something that will be key in the postseason."
Two Hawks players who have made strides this season have been lineman Damian Alba and running back-defensive back Dontain Williams.
"Damian has been our starting left tackle since the summer began and he continues to be a stalwart there," Bartlett coach Milan Vuckovich said. "He has improved week in and week out. He's one of those quiet kids who carries a big stick and does his job. He puts his hard hat on every day and goes to work."
Vuckovich noted Williams is a big play threat each time he has the ball "and can cover just about any receiver we ask him to," he said. "When tasked with blocking for our other backs, Dontain relishes in that roll to help his brothers gain positive yards. He is a special player who continues to make plays for us when we need them the most."
St. Charles North controls its own destiny.
And for a North Stars program that missed the previous two postseasons, it arguably doesn't need that reminder with perhaps the most stout test of the season on the line Friday.
Batavia (6-2, 5-1), the DuKane Conference champions in 2018, 2019 and 2021, stands in its way.
St. Charles North, riding a seven-game win streak, has zero conference losses on the season. A win secures the title outright.
"We've had no problem finding motivation all season long on our 'Revenge Tour' in the DuKane," North Stars sophomore quarterback Ethan Plumb said.
The North Stars and Batavia are no strangers to photo finishes. In 2018, the Bulldogs outlasted the North Stars in the final seconds 27-24.
The following season, Batavia running back Art Taylor's third touchdown capped off a fourth quarter comeback with 62 seconds left for a stunning 27-26 final.
In 2021, Batavia prevailed in a wild 36-29 double overtime victory on Jacob Hohmann's 2-yard touchdown to win it.
"And we all remember the [double overtime] loss to Batavia which ended our season last year," Plumb said. "The key to victory for us will be staying in the moment and taking care of unfinished business."
St. Charles North's offense features a lethal rushing attack headlined by Drew Surges and his 433 total rushing yards and 5.8 yards per carry. The receiving corps is a balanced mix of five receivers with at least 100 yards receiving on the season.
Linebackers Aidan Zocher and Surges lead in tackles and headline a resurgent unit that has yet to surrender more than 21 points all season.
Establishing Surges early and often figures to be a key component to success.
"I think that offensively it will be important to establish our physicality," Plumb said. "It's important that we bring the fight to them and let them know early that they are in for a battle.
Batavia, meanwhile, will be ready for whatever comes their way.
"We're just laser-focused [this] week of practice," junior linebacker Ben Fiegel said. "A laser-focus on Friday; waking up in the morning [knowing] we have one thing on our mind: Beating St. Charles North."
The Bulldogs are on a five-game winning streak of their own.
"Our locker room, we're focused but we're also clicking," Fiegel said. "We're getting to a point in the season where everything just feels right and we're moving nicely."
The Bulldogs surrender 86 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry.
"[Surges] is all over the ball on both sides of the field," Fiegel said. "We don't want to play a defense that isn't ours. We're going to play our defense and we should be fine. I feel like some teams get caught up doing too much for a guy, but if we just play our game, we'll be fine."
Geneva (5-3, 3-3) is coning off two straight losses. Last week's 20-13 loss to Wheaton North stung a bit, but senior kicker JT Frieders and the Vikings have another opportunity against Lake Park to close the regular season.
"I certainly had the feeling of frustration on Friday because I left my heart on the field," said Frieders, who had two made field goals in the loss. "That feeling of frustration was gone today when watching film. As a team, we are moving forward with a positive feeling about this week."
Perhaps some of those tough moments can prove to be useful in hindsight in a likely playoff run.
"I have learned our team can be competitive against anyone we face. As long as we stay focused and work together we remain a threat," Frieders said.
Friders has been a steady consistency for the Vikings this season, going 27 for 28 on extra points and 3 for 5 on field goals.
"I want to start by saying my success is based around my team's support. Main contributors to that would be my long snapper Mason Luker and holder Charlie Morrison," Frieders said. "I remain focused by isolating myself on the sidelines, so when the moment arises, I am ready to perform. When running out on the field, I repeat to myself 'I am going to make this.' Blocking out the noise around me keeps me calm and ready to help my team in big moments."