Faced with the longest delay between seasons in IHSA football history, it was hard to know what would be unearthed when the whistles finally blew around the state for the first time since late November 2019.
Conventional wisdom would have said things will likely be very similar to what they’ve always been. Think picking chalk in your NCAA Tournament bracket, which I likely would have done myself had I not forgotten to pick a bracket because I was so consumed with the return of high school football.
But choosing chalk was a pretty safe way to go in Week 1 as the usual suspects rose to the top. That’s not to say there weren’t some surprises along the way, but for the most part the top teams were pretty much who we thought they were.
Let’s dig a little deeper into Week 1:
East St. Louis scored 64 first-half points: That’s not a typo. 64. Sure, East St. Louis lost some key players to graduation (both natural and early varieties), but this program still is loaded. And unfortunately, because of the scheduling situation, the Flyers’ typical tradition of loading up the nonconference schedule isn’t available to them. Expect to see more outbursts like this one as we go along.
Lincoln-Way East knows how to put the pieces of the puzzle together: On paper, it looked like the Griffins had some voids to fill, especially on defense. But from the start East coach Rob Zvonar believed he had players ready to step in, and he was confident some position switches would work.
Flash forward to Week 1, where one of the position changes by Sevren Stuckey from wide receiver to cornerback netted three interceptions in a win over Bolingbrook. Stuckey quipped after the game that he’d play offensive line if that’s what the team needed. Odds are the Griffins would find a way to make that work too, if need be.
The CCL/ESCC is going to be brutal: Loyola and St. Rita tussled in a game that was 3-0 in favor of St. Rita for most of the game, before Loyola scored a late touchdown to secure a narrow 7-3 win. It became pretty clear what I suspected might be the case.
This league is going to be brutal.
Mount Carmel played well but didn’t easily shake off a pesky Montini team, and Marist inched away from Notre Dame. We don’t even know what Nazareth has in the bag after its Week 1 matchup against Fenwick, because that game was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.
The heavyweight bouts keep coming in this league, too, with Mount Carmel and Loyola locking horns, and one of the fiercer rivalries around takes place as Brother Rice and Marist grapple. And we’re only heading into Week 2.
One team that didn’t struggle was Joliet Catholic, which dominated St. Laurence in its win. The Hilltoppers will hope to keep their impressive attack in tune against the aforementioned Fenwick team, which features arguably the state’s best underclassman quarterback in Kaden Cobb. Another oddity is that this game time has been pushed to a Sunday evening slot to be played at Fenwick’s home venue, Triton College.
Who made statements? Naperville Central struggled through a rare season in 2019 that ended without a playoff berth. The Redhawks clearly have talent and seem determined to the demonstrate that 2019 was a fluke. There are challenges coming down the road, but their 47-0 win over Waubonsie Valley was a great first step.
Another DuPage Valley team apparently playing with a chip on its shoulder is DeKalb, which is striving to show 2019′s successful debut in a league full of Class 8A strongholds is something the Barbs are preparing to make a pattern.
Lake Forest continues to make strides, toppling Lake Zurich is another one of those steps. Unfortunately, this season likely isn’t going to provide a true measure of how far the Scouts have come as the new kings of the North Suburban Conference, Warren, is the only league opponent Lake Forest won’t play this season.
There were plenty of impressive things about Hersey’s win Saturday, particularly the 326 yards of total offense from Ben Clawson. Probably the most impressive thing was the opponent it defeated in Rolling Meadows. Rolling Meadows hadn’t lost a regular season game since 2017.
A tip of the cap doesn’t usually go to a team that didn’t win, but I’m giving one to Kankakee anyway. The Kays hosted a strong Sacred Heart Griffin team Saturday and the outcome was very much in doubt into the fourth quarter. Kankakee’s got some pieces in place, maybe not enough to dethrone the recognized leader of the pack in the Southland Conference, Crete-Monee, but the Week 6 matchup between the two certainly has some intrigue.