Celebrations for weeks: When two Woodstock schools brought home state championships

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Most members of Woodstock’s football team sat at home the Friday after Thanksgiving in 1983, listening to radio accounts of the Class 2A state championship game between crosstown Marian Central and Bloomington Central Catholic.

The Blue Streaks, who were to meet Washington for the Class 4A state title the next day, were pulling for Marian. Many of the players had crossed paths in youth sports at some point, either as teammates or opponents. There was a mutual admiration, with some competitiveness sprinkled in, although the two schools did not play each other in football.

“It was a good relationship and a positive rivalry,” former Woodstock coach Bob Bradshaw said. “We would support each other. Who would have ever thought the town of Woodstock would ever have two champions in the same year?”

When Marian took care of BCC, 34-14, in the Class 2A game that evening, Woodstock felt a little extra pressure to bring home another state championship trophy.

“There was really a lot of excitement, for sure,” said Greg Bradshaw, the coach’s son and Blue Streaks quarterback. “We were focused on winning it anyway, but it did add a little more incentive to play well.”

In Saturday’s Class 4A state championship game, the Streaks handled Washington, 41-28, taking a commanding 35-7 lead at halftime. Most of Marian’s players were in the stands at Illinois State University’s Hancock Stadium to cheer on the Streaks to victory.

“We stayed there overnight for their game,” said former Marian linebacker Darren Fortin, who now is the Hurricanes' head coach. “We enjoyed their win and then drove back. We were rooting for them to win. That was a phenomenal time.”

It was the first state football championships in McHenry County history. The celebrations lasted for weeks.

“It was an unforgettable time,” Marian fullback-linebacker Andy Hartlieb said. “There’s so many great memories from that year because it was the first time. It’s like anything else in life if it’s the first time. First time we’d been to the playoffs, first time we won conference. We went into the title game and had a lot of adversity in the first half, and the way we responded in the second half was just great.”

SOME SIMILARITIES

Marian (13-0) and Woodstock (11-2) took different routes to their state championships, although they were alike in many ways.

Both had future Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame coaches: Marian’s Don Penza and Woodstock’s Bradshaw.

Both had future Big Ten Conference quarterbacks: Marian’s Chuck Hartlieb (Iowa) and Woodstock’s Bradshaw (Northwestern). They even started a college game against one another a few years later.

Penza, a former All-American end at Notre Dame, still is revered by those who played for him. His Marian teams were 79-17 with three 2A state championships in his eight seasons as coach.

Penza was a master motivator and slightly unconventional. He let his quarterbacks call the offensive plays and linebackers call the defense.

“Who would do that?” Andy Hartlieb said. “It’s such an unorthodox way of going about it. When you say ‘Old school,’ he was an old-school leader. He knew how to challenge. He got so much out of me because he challenged me. The motivating influence he had, to get guys to play their best, was, by far, his greatest attribute.”

Penza died at age 57 in April 1989, and eight months later the Hurricanes added a fourth state title under new coach Steve Patton. Everyone agreed, even Patton, that it still was Penza’s team.

“When he walked through the door our sophomore year, he was grooming everybody for life,” Fortin said. “He was definitely a players’ coach. To this day, what he taught us is still instilled in most of us. If there was anyone who ever did everything in their life, it was coach Penza.”

Legendary Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy considered Penza, a captain on the 1953 team that went 9-0-1, one of the greatest captains he ever had. Penza later played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, coached high school football in Wisconsin, was mayor of Wisconsin Rapids for 10 years, ran a shopping mall, owned a dairy farm and then came back to coach at Marian.

Bradshaw finished his 33-year head coaching career at 201-107-1. He coached 25 seasons at Woodstock and another eight at Johnsburg, taking the Skyhawks to the playoffs for the first time in 1996 and getting them their first postseason win the next year.

Bradshaw finally retired from coaching as an assistant in 2014, at age 75, after working two years as the Streaks' defensive coordinator. Former coach Steve Beard, a 1992 Woodstock graduate, was happy to have his old coach rejoin him on the sideline.

ROUGH ROAD

The Hurricanes had little trouble reaching the playoffs. Their closest game of the season came in Week 9, a 17-14 Northwest Suburban Conference victory over Lake Zurich.

Woodstock was not as fortunate. The Streaks lost to Riverside-Brookfield, 28-27, in Week 2, then fell to Dundee-Crown, 20-18, in Week 4, making them 2-2. Only 96 teams around the state made the playoffs at that time (16 teams in each of six classes). If a team did not win its conference, there were only a handful of at-large berths to get in.

Bob Bradshaw said they were looking at a strong D-C team – in the first year of the merger of Dundee and Crown high schools – that would have to lose twice for the Streaks to make the postseason. Then, McHenry beat D-C the next week, and the Chargers’ season took a downturn. They did not win another game.

“We thought there was no way they would lose,” Greg Bradshaw said. “We were really discouraged.”

The Streaks gained momentum with a 21-12 victory the next week over Marian Catholic, a highly ranked Class 5A team, and finished the regular season at 7-2.

MORE DRAMA FOR WOODSTOCK

In the first round of the Class 4A playoffs, Woodstock, the largest school in the class, faced St. Edward, the smallest school in the class.

“They had two Division I players who were really good,” Greg Bradshaw said. “We came in a little bit overconfident.”

The Streaks were down, 14-6, with less than two minutes remaining in the game and were 70 yards away from the end zone. Greg Bradshaw directed the two-minute offense masterfully, eventually hitting Dean Albrecht with a 30-yard pass to the 1.

Woodstock scored on a run, then Bradshaw hit Albrecht for the two-point conversion. The Streaks actually should have won in regulation after they recovered a fumble, but they dropped a pass in the end zone. They won, 20-14, in overtime.

“Dean was a fantastic receiver,” Greg Bradshaw said. “He didn’t play at all his junior year, but the summer leading into our senior season, he worked with me all summer. We threw every day. He got to be so good. For years, he was the season leader in receptions for Woodstock football. He went from not playing at all to being one of the greatest receivers in the history of the school.”

HURRICANE WARNING

In 1982, Marian finished 4-5 in the West Suburban Catholic before switching to the Northwest Suburban. Andy Hartlieb feels the Hurricanes’ dedication in the summer of 1983 was crucial.

“We made a commitment to go to practice and go to camps like we had never done before,” Hartlieb said. “Marian had never invested that kind of time in the offseason. Chuck had gone to a bunch of quarterback camps, but we got into a bunch of team camps and competed with a lot of teams around Chicago, and we had success there.

“That gave us confidence going into the season. We had some skill players who could catch, and Chuck could sling it pretty good. Not only did those camps get our timing down, but it got our confidence where it needed to be.”

After the close call in Week 9 against Lake Zurich, the Hurricanes beat Hampshire, 61-35, in the first round, then shut out Ottawa Marquette, 33-0, and Polo, 26-0, to reach the title game.

“Realistically, at that point, we were just enjoying the ride,” Fortin said. “We were enjoying working together, seeing all our hard work pay off. Overall, for the two teams, what an experience. You can’t say too many towns ever experienced something like that. We, of course, wanted to win the state championship and wished Woodstock well, but you always have that competition in your head that you’re better than them.”

Naturally, folks around Woodstock began to wonder which of the two state champion teams was better.

“There was a lot of talk at the end of the season, ‘Is there any way the two teams could play?’ ” Andy Hartlieb said. “It was super fun to talk about, but it was never going to happen.

“[Woodstock] had a heck of a team that year. That would have been really interesting. I think the [betting] line would have been even. I’m not sure anybody would have been favored.”

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.