2021 fall preview: Scouting the Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight Blue

Harvard

2021 spring record: 1-5

Coach: Sean Saylor

Worth noting: The Hornets avoided a winless spring with a 27-14 victory over Johnsburg in Week 6. Bailey Livdahl had a big play in the opening moments of the second half in that game, returning a fumble recovery 45 yards for a score. ... Harvard’s last winning season came in 2013 with a 11-1 record under Tim Haak in his last year at Harvard. Saylor helped lead the Hornets to a 4-5 record in 2019. ... QB Jacob Stanley, who graduated, was second among Northwest Herald-area players in the COVID-19-shortened spring with 568 rushing yards, along with four touchdowns. Only Prairie Ridge’s Carter Evans had more rushing yards (651). ... Harvard had 19 juniors on the spring roster, by far its largest class. ... Saylor likes the way his offensive line is shaping up, with OT-DT Will Harter, OL-DL Nathan Rosas and OL-DL Luis Gomez all returning. ... Consistency with tackling and sustaining blocks are two of the areas that Saylor would like to see improvement. ... QB-S Lee Galarza, RB-LB Eddie Flores, WR-LB Allan Flores and Livdahl, who plays running back and linebacker, each return at the skill positions.

Johnsburg

2021 spring record: 1-5

Coach: Sam Lesniak

Worth noting: The Skyhawks will be strong up front with Jacob Welch, Wyatt Brock, Jack Kelly and Jake Gebis all returning on the offensive line, along with center Braeden Hess. Welch has received a lot of college attention since the end of the spring. … LB-FB Forest Hull and QB-LB Luke Conroy missed significant time in the spring with injuries and should provide a big boost. ... Cade Piggott led the team with 19 receptions, 364 yards and two TDs. Jake Metze had eight catches, 73 yards and a TD and can also play running back. Ian Boal led the Skyhawks with 669 passing yards. … Lesniak is excited to see how his senior class, led by Hull, Conroy, LB-TE Owen Harker, Brock, Kelly, Gebis, CB Joe Wolff and Hess, take the lead after a difficult spring. The Skyhawks suffered their second straight losing season after a string of five consecutive postseason appearances. … “We had a great summer camp,” Lesniak said. “It will be great to get back to a routine.”

Marengo

2021 spring record: 4-2

Coach: Paul Forsythe

Worth noting: Josh Holst was impressive in the spring, passing for 1,083 yards, 12 TDs and four INTs, while completing 64.5% of his passes. He added a team-high 350 yards and four scores as a runner. … The Indians will miss the leadership and production of OL-DL Jonah Pace (Central Michigan), WR-DB Cole Davis (North Dakota), WR-DB Mitch Kunde, LB Landon Oine (Wisconsin-La Crosse) and WR-LB Eli Garza. Pace was voted co-KRC Defensive Player of the Year. Kunde led the team with 465 rushing yards and was a playmaker on defense. … LB-TE Jack Heinberg and OL-DL Michael Macias both were named to the All-KRC team. … Macias, Jack Schirmer and Brock Adamson will anchor Marengo’s defensive front. WR-DB Collin Aubry will anchor the secondary and see an expanded role on offense. Owen Lohff is making a switch from cornerback to strong safety and outside linebacker. … Dylan Stolz, who ran for 295 yards and two scores, returns in the backfield and at linebacker … DB-WR Logan Miller, LB Hunter Smith and WR Exzavier Meyer are a few new players to look out for. ... Injuries and low numbers in the spring forced many underclassmen into expanded roles. ... “Looking forward to a nine-game season, along with kids playing one sport in the fall season,” Forsythe said.

Plano

2021 spring record: 1-4

Coach: Rick Ponx

Worth noting: The Reapers, a combined 3-11 the past two seasons, look to make progress in Year 3 under Ponx. Numbers look good at the freshman and sophomore levels, with six sophomores slated to play up on varsity this fall. Four of the five starters on the offensive line – Ireland Dye, Alex Diaz, Ivan Galvan and Bryan Delabra – return, and Ponx said that group is bigger across the board. Couple that with speed coming from the younger classes, and Ponx is hopeful for a breakthrough offensively. Plano rotated three underclassmen quarterbacks in the spring. Two of those – Carson Gill and Sam Sifuentes – should split time again with Ray Jones moving to running back. Defensively, all-conference pick Nemo Denton is back on the line, but a big question is who will plug the hole in the middle left by graduated nose guard Eddie Sanchez.

Richmond-Burton

2021 spring record: 6-0

Coach: Mike Noll

Worth noting: The Rockets enter the fall as one of three teams in the state with 20 straight wins (with 2019 Class 8A champion Lincoln-Way East and Class 3A champ Williamsville). R-B will have to replace a handful of talented players who graduated, including OL Luke Eckardt (now at Arizona), RB-LB-K Nick Legnaioli (Carroll College), DL Jacob Petersen (Holy Cross) and QB Jacob Huber. … Senior FB-LB Brock Wood returns after rushing for a team-high 561 yards and 10 touchdowns. Wood, who won a Class 1A state championship in wrestling in June, also recorded 79 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and 11 tackles for loss on a defense that had three shutouts and allowed only 21 points in six games. Wood will be joined in the backfield by fullback Steven Siegel (190 yards, two touchdowns), along with wing backs Landon Jacoby, Nick Falasca and Jack Martens. … Joe Miller, who got some reps during the spring, will take over at quarterback for Huber, a three-year starter. … Enzo Martinez, a two-way lineman, enters his fourth year on varsity. Stephen Tower made a position switch from defensive back to linebacker during the spring and will be a key contributor on defense.

Rochelle

2021 spring record: 2-4

Coach: Kyle Kissack

Worth noting: The Hubs suffered their second losing season in a row after three straight postseason appearances. Rochelle’s two wins were against Sandwich, 13-12, and Ottawa, 39-38, in overtime. … Senior Josh Lloyd returns at quarterback after taking the reins in the spring. ... The Hubs’ trio of All-Interstate 8 first-team members – OL-DL Noah Messer (19 tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack) RB-LB Ben Harvey and TE-DE Ethan Albers (23 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one fumble recovery, one interception) – all graduated. ... Harvey led the team with 442 rushing yards, four TDs and 42 tackles. ... Rochelle also returns RB-LB Garrett Gensler, OL-DL Jaden Cook, OL-DL Brodie Nantz, OL-DL Ethan Wells, OL-DL Braden Alfano, WR-LB Tanner Lager and WR-CB Nathan Burdin along with newcomer RB-LB Trey Taft. ... “The spring, although short, allowed us to grow and develop our younger athletes and put them in situations to develop their consistency,” Kissack said. “Our biggest strength has been, and remains, being physical at the point of attack and playing sound fundamental defense.”

Sandwich

2021 spring record: 1-4

Coach: Kris Cassie

Worth noting: Sandwich last made the playoffs in 2013, but the program appears to be growing under fourth-year coach Cassie – who is excited to dive into the revamped conference schedule. ... Numbers are low at the varsity level with the lack of normalcy from COVID-19 perhaps a factor in players stepping away from football, but participation looks better at the lower levels. ... Seven Tornga, a team captain and all-conference pick as a sophomore, is back at fullback and linebacker. Cainan Hack should start at wingback with Doug Taxis providing a speed element. A transfer to watch is 6-foot-5, 280-pound Theo Arnold, who slides in at left tackle with Danny Reedy, the strongest player in the program, moving from center to tackle. Caden Gustafson, one of five team captains, will be starting at right tackle and linebacker. Cassie said this is the third year running the same defense, and the players’ understanding of it appears to be much better. Depth has been an issue in past years, but Cassie is hopeful that changes in the near future.

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Josh Holst, Marengo, jr., QB: Holst (6-4, 180) was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team pick at quarterback after helping the Indians to a 4-2 spring. He had one of the most accurate arms in the area with a 64.5% completion rate and was third in the area with 1,083 passing yards, throwing 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Holst also added 350 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He received honorable mention on the IHSFCA Class 4A All-State team.

Enzo Martinez, Richmond-Burton, sr., OL-DL: The Rockets lost a lot on the offensive line because of graduation, most notably Luke Eckardt (now at Arizona), but Martinez, a four-year varsity player, returns for an R-B team that should be considered one of the favorites to earn another conference championship.

Seven Tornga, Sandwich, jr., RB-LB: Tornga (5-10, 175) emerged as the leader of a crowded backfield in the spring, earning All-I-8 Conference first-team honors as a sophomore and running for 249 yards and four touchdowns. Tornga, who added 28 tackles on defense, likely will see his role expanded as a junior. He rushed for 139 yards and two scores in his varsity debut.

Jacob Welch, Johnsburg, jr., OL-DL: Welch (6-6, 285) was a Northwest Herald All-Area honorable mention selection as a sophomore and has been receiving a lot of recruiting interest since the end of the spring. The Skyhawks struggled to a 1-5 record, but coach Sam Lesniak is excited about the future of Welch on the offensive line. “He has the potential for a big year up front,” Lesniak said.

Brock Wood, Richmond-Burton, sr., FB-LB: Wood (6-1, 210) stepped in at fullback and middle linebacker and helped extend the Rockets’ winning streak to 20 games with a 6-0 spring. Wood was a force no matter where he played, recording 79 tackles (44 solo, 36 assists), one sack, two forced numbers and 11 tackles for losses. On offense, he was fourth in the area with 561 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Wood was a Northwest Herald All-Area first-team pick at linebacker and received honorable mention on the IHSFCA Class 4A All-State team.

SCHEDULES

HarvardJohnsburgMarengoPlanoRichmond-BurtonRochelleSandwich
Week 1vs. Lisle; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Marian Central; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Wilmington; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Aurora Central Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Urban Prep/Bronzeville; 7:30 p.m., Aug. 27at Woodstock; 7 p.m., Aug. 27vs. Ottawa; 7 p.m., Aug. 27
Week 2vs. Woodstock North; 7 p.m., Sept. 3at Wilmington; 7 p.m., Sept. 3vs. Canton; 7 p.m., Sept. 3at Manteno; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3at Aurora Central Catholic; 7:30 p.m., Sept. 3vs. Herscher; 7 p.m., Sept. 3at Geneseo; 7 p.m., Sept. 3
Week 3at Woodstock; 7 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Marengo; 7 p.m., Sept. 10at Johnsburg; 7 p.m., Sept. 10at Sandwich; 7 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Rochelle; 7 p.m., Sept. 10at Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Sept. 10vs. Plano; 7 p.m., Sept. 10
Week 4at Marengo; 7 p.m., Sept. 17at Rochelle; 7 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Harvard; 7 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Sept. 17at Plano; 7 p.m., Sept. 17vs. Johnsburg; 7 p.m., Sept. 17at LaSalle-Peru; 7 p.m., Sept. 17
Week 5vs. Rochelle; 7 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Plano; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 24at Morris; 7 p.m., Sept. 24at Johnsburg; 7:15 p.m., Sept. 24vs. Sandwich; 7 p.m., Sept. 24at Harvard; 7 p.m., Sept. 24at Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Sept. 24
Week 6at Plano; 7:15 p.m., Oct. 1at Sandwich; 7 p.m., Oct. 1at Rochelle; 7 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Harvard; 7:15 p.m., Oct. 1at Sycamore; 7 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Marengo; 7 p.m., Oct. 1vs. Johnsburg; 7 p.m., Oct. 1
Week 7vs. Sandwich; 7 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Oct. 8vs. Plano; 7:15 p.m., Oct. 8at Marengo; 7:15 p.m., Oct. 8at Johnsburg; 7 p.m.at Kaneland; 7 p.m., Oct. 8at Harvard; 7 p.m., Oct. 8
Week 8at Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Oct. 15at Woodstock North; 7 p.m., Oct. 15at Sandwich; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Rochelle; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Harvard; 7 p.m., Oct. 15at Plano; 7 p.m., Oct. 15vs. Marengo; 7 p.m., Oct. 15
Week 9vs. Johnsburg; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Harvard; 7 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Richmond-Burton; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Ottawa; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Marengo; 7 p.m., Oct. 22vs. Sandwich; 7 p.m., Oct. 22at Rochelle; 7 p.m., Oct. 22

FIVE CAN’T MISS MATCHUPS

Week 1 – Marian Central at Johnsburg: These two teams have been locked in some tight nonconference battles to start the season in recent years. More of the same is expected this time around.

Week 2 – Woodstock North at Harvard: Harvard and Woodstock North exchanged kickoff returns for touchdowns 27 seconds into the game when they met Week 2 in the spring. North came back for a thrilling 31-28 victory after it falling behind 21-7 in the second quarter, scoring 17 points in the final 2:58 of the half.

Week 3 – Plano at Sandwich: The spring meeting was canceled because of COVID-19 issues, so these two will be eager to renew acquaintances in the 111th edition of the “War on Rt. 34.” Sandwich leads the series, 55-51-4, and won the last game in 2019, with the teams trading wins from 2017 to 2019. Both the Reapers and Indians will be looking to re-establish bragging roots and look to give their playoffs hopes an early boost.

Week 9 – Richmond-Burton at Marengo: R-B and Marengo have finished first and second, respectively, in the KRC in each of the past three seasons and should be considered among the top contenders in the KRC/I-8 Blue Division yet again. The Rockets rolled over the Indians, 50-7, in their 2021 spring finale.

Week 9 – Sandwich at Rochelle: The Hubs stunned the Indians for a come-from-behind 13-12 win when the teams met last in the spring. Sandwich led, 12-0, in the fourth, before Rochelle rallied and scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes.

STEVE SOUCIE’S PREDICTED FINISH

TeamRecord
Richmond-Burton8-1
Marengo5-4
Johnsburg4-5
Rochelle4-5
Sandwich3-6
Plano2-7
Harvard0-9
Alex Kantecki

Alex Kantecki

Alex is a sports writer for the Northwest Herald with a focus on preps. He has been with Shaw Media since 2014.

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.