October 27, 2021

Steve Soucie: Kickoff week doesn't look like a breeze

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There used to be a assumption that teams would prefer to open the regular season with relatively moderate competition.

It's always been a delicate balance between scheduling a quality enough team to see what you are made of, but not so difficult that you'll put yourself in a early hole in a quest to reach the playoff win threshold.

But it appears this year, almost more than ever, some of the top programs had a problem filling that bill and had to go far and wide to find an opponent.

Just consider how Saturday night's showdown between Batavia and East St. Louis came together.

"We were looking far and wide for a game," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said earlier this summer. "So we were calling everybody, we called East St. Louis and they called back within like 15 minutes and were like, "Sure, we'll come up!" And then it was like, oh boy, here we go."

East St. Louis has a long history of not backing down from pretty much anyone who wants to line it up and proof positive of that can be provided be the team's voluntary election to play in Class 7A for the postseason, something its conference, the Southwestern, is no longer going to allow them to do.

And while East St. Louis and Batavia is the high profile game in Week 1 in what has emerged as an incredible Saturday lineup with top teams traveling and hosting teams from around the Midwest.

Two long-standing Illinois rivals also highlights the Week 1 calendar. Maine South will travel to Glenbard West to kick off the season. Maine South has clearly gotten the better of the fierce rivalry over the past few seasons, but both programs have a lot of question marks that need answering. Some of them will be answered here, but regardless of the outcome both teams will be heard from as the season goes along.

The 8A state champion from Loyola will host St. Ignatius from Cleveland in its opener. Although St. Ignatius isn't considered one of the top Ohio programs they are certainly solid enough to give the Ramblers an early season.

SImeon is going to get familiar with the road traveling to Michigan to open the season in what appears to be a manageable game to help them prepare for another road trip in Week 2 that may not be manageable. The Wolverines will travel to Baltimore to play St. Frances Academy at that point. St. Frances is a nationally ranked program that features a trio of defensive lineman already committed to top SEC schools and probably more will be added to that list.

Another CPL power, Phillips, will travel to Michigan to play Detroit-based Cass Technical. The Technicians are typically one of the better teams in Detroit and there's no reason to believe that will change.

Nazareth and its high-powered offense under quarterback J.J. McCarthy will roll out the welcome wagon for a team from Missouri. Cardinal Ritter. But if the Roadrunners aren't sharp they might regret extending the invitation to the Lions, a 14-game winner last season that racked up over 600 points who lost to powerhouse Trinity Catholic in the state title game.

All of the above games are being contested on Saturday, but that's not to say that the Friday slate completely lacks intrigue.

Lincoln-Way East will host traditional power Stevenson, while the Brother Rice and Hillcrest matchup certainly looks intriguing on paper.

A nonconference matchup between two Catholic League rivals in Joliet Catholic and St. Rita will certainly help answers about both programs, while an unorthodox matchup of Willowbrook and Providence Catholic is one where both squads are looking to make a big splash early.

All in all, the first week of the football season answers a lot of questions for the 514 teams in Illinois striving to win a state championship. And it looks like this Week 1 might answer more than usual.

Steve Soucie

Steve Soucie

Steve Soucie has been the Sports Editor at the Joliet Herald News since August of 2018. Prior to that, Soucie worked at the Kankakee Daily Journal and for Pro Football Weekly.