What we learned in Week 3: 100 schools move forward without a loss

Usual suspects are on the list, newcomers also emerge

Downers Grove North's Charlie Cruse (11) reacts after making an interception during a game against Glenbard West on Sep. 9, 2023 at Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn.
Jon Cunningham for Shaw Local News Network

100 teams got through the first three weeks of the IHSA football season without a loss.

This isn’t a number that’s out of the ordinary, but what is out of the ordinary is some of the combatants that ended up on the list.

There’s a healthy chunk of the teams on the list that you have come to expect, such as Mount Carmel, Loyola, Prairie Ridge, Byron and Lena-Winslow, but there’s a whole list of teams that find themselves unexpectedly in that same group.

A few of the more intriguing upstarts are:

Downers Grove North: North was certainly perceived as a playoff-caliber team heading into the season, but its inclusion on the list is more a nod to the early-season schedule the Trojans had to navigate. North has claimed wins over Wheaton St. Francis, crosstown rival Downers Grove South and Glenbard West. The Trojans had not toppled Glenbard West in their last 16 meetings.

Lincoln-Way Central: The Knights are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2017. There weren’t a lot of indicators that would be on the horizon. Dave Woodburn was given his first varsity head coaching position in the offseason and wisely has decided to co-opt many of the lessons he learned as a long-time assistant at Lincoln-Way East. The Knights claimed an impressive nonconference win over O’Fallon in Week 3 as its stifling defense led the way. Lincoln-Way Central has allowed just 16 points all season.

• T.F. North: The Meteors were just 1-7 last season but have powered out of the gates this season. Although the competition level hasn’t been the best, T.F. North has stacked up 106 points in its first three games and won all of them comfortably.

Sandwich: The biggest question surrounding Sandwich’s program this season was how it would adapt to having not played varsity football last season. Pretty well seems to be the answer as Sandwich hasn’t been seriously pushed in any of its first three games.

Mundelein: The Mustangs haven’t had a winning season since 2004 and the program has never won a playoff game. But like many of the teams on this list, defense has carried them in the early going. They have given up just 24 points through three games.

Christ the King: This is the most surprising name on the list. The Gladiators have been playing varsity football for six seasons compiling a program record of 7-37 during that time. Prior to this they’ve never put together a three-game winning streak, that’s because they’ve never won three games in a season.

Uphill climbs

249 teams find themselves below the .500 mark which is exactly half of the IHSA playoff-eligible teams.

That’s an early indicator that we very well may need four-win teams to fill out a 256-team playoff field, but that’s a discussion we’ll get deeper into in a few weeks.

What those 249 teams now face is an uphill climb to try to get themselves into the playoff field at all. There’s some real program stalwarts on the list of 1-2 teams, which includes East St. Louis, which got a rude introduction to Texas football in a 43-13 loss to Atoscocita, and other programs of note such as Glenbard West, Marist, Simeon and Warren.

There are 92 winless programs in Illinois on that list, including two defending state champions in St. Teresa (Class 2A) and Nazareth (Class 5A).

Fantastic finishes

Montini coach Mike Bukovsky has been around the game for a long time.

But he’ll readily admit he hasn’t seen anything like the ending that Friday night’s game with Nazareth provided.

The game hinged on not one, but two blocked kicks in the final moments of the game.

With Montini clinging to a 24-23 lead it was forced into a punting situation deep in its own territory, Nazareth promptly blocked the Broncos punt and got the ball back on the 15-yard line with four seconds to play.

Nazareth lined up to attempt a game-winning field goal where Montini returned the favor by swatting down the game winner to secure the victory and move the Broncos to 3-0 on the season.

“It was pretty chaotic at the end,” Bukovsky said. “The kids were running around and I felt like I had to tell them to tone it down and act like they’d been there before. But one of the coaches reminded me after the game that this group of seniors has missed the playoffs the last two years and then the COVID year, they really hadn’t been here before.”

Some other fantastic finishes:

Lockport looked destined to take a three-point loss to Naperville Central after relinquishing possession with just over two minutes to play. But the Redhawks weren’t able to bleed out the rest of the clock and the Porters got the ball back with just enough time to get their strong-legged kicker Nate Blazewski a shot from long range.

Blazewski converted a 48-yard field goal with 0.7 seconds to play in the game to tie it, then the Porters won it 31-24 by scoring a touchdown in overtime.

Bolingbrook appeared to be on the verge of claiming a win over Naperville North by converted a two-point conversion with 44.5 seconds to play to take a one-point lead over the Huskies.

But the Raiders gave the Huskies too much time to respond as they found even more success with its running attack (Huskies running back Cole Arl ran for 314 yards in the game) and Tyler Duewel booted a 20-yard field goal to send the Huskies home with a 51-49 win.