Features | Friday Night Drive

Herald-News Football Notebook: Providence makes sizable strides despite loss to Joliet Catholic

Providence swung with all its might Friday night and almost pulled off what would have been a substantial upset against Joliet Catholic.

The Celtics just didn’t have quite enough might to finish things off ... yet.

Providence carried a 41-28 lead into the fourth quarter after a fumble return touchdown seemed to give the Celtics a truckload of momentum. But the Hilltoppers answered with force, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to secure a 49-41 win.

“[Joliet Catholic’s response] was a testament to the rivalry, testament to their team. They didn’t flinch,” Providence coach Tyler Plantz said. “They were like, ‘Giddy up, let’s go.’ That’s what makes this rivalry fun. That’s what makes playing here fun. That’s what Catholic League play is about. You make one play, we’re going to respond with one more.

“I just wish we would have been the ones that responded with one more.”

The loss was a disappointing end to a stretch of three consecutive games in which the Celtics had to lock horns with defending state champions Wheaton North (Class 7A), Fenwick (Class 5A) and Joliet Catholic (4A). The stretch left Providence with a 2-2 record (after a season-opening win over Lake Central, Indiana) and still more of a schedule gauntlet to run in trying to get the Celtics back into the playoff field after a rare miss in 2020.

“We’re just going to keep our heads up and keep working,” Plantz said. “The biggest thing, these guys up front are working their butts off. They are all about, ‘How do we get better, and how do we improve?’ That’s always been a staple of this place, and it’s what we are trying to get back to.”

JCA offense in process of defining itself

During Joliet Catholic’s run to last season’s state championship, if a pivotal play was on the table, there was a clear pecking order as to where the football likely was headed.

Those players, however, have departed the program via graduation.

So the new order of Hilltoppers has taken over and is filling the void. But to say there’s still a clear pecking order would not be accurate.

The Hilltoppers had four running backs eclipse 50 rushing yards Friday in Brett Mouw, HJ Grigsby, Aaron Harvey and Hunter Powell, and the carries were fairly evenly distributed among those ball carriers. And while the passing game seems to be taking on a little bit larger role, new quarterback TJ Schlageter also has a variety of players to choose from on the outside, most notably Justin Bonsu and Kivlin Van Tassel.

“I feel like we have some guys that are definitely getting more comfortable at some spots,” Schlageter said. “At the end of the day, we’re still a young team, but at the end of games like this and against IC Catholic, it’s a great experience for us. And come playoff time, we’re going to be glad for it.”

SPC East welcomes this year’s end to crossovers

Since the Southwest Prairie Conference broke into two six-team divisions in 2019, the league has mandated crossover contests between its two divisions.

Before this season, the league had four rounds of the crossovers before the five-week in-division schedule to close out the season. Beginning this year, SPC schools were locked into only two crossover games. Some have played more than two, either voluntarily or out of necessity.

One thing has remained consistent: The West Division has dominated the East Division in head-to-head matchups.

SPC East teams won only three of the 19 matchups in crossover games this season. It’s actually an improvement over previous seasons.

None of the teams in the SPC East has more than one win at this point, basically meaning the playoff-hopeful teams in the division either have to run the table or go 4-1 in their remaining five games to become playoff eligible.

There’s one less-than-ideal out for one team if no one manages to do that. Someone has to earn the automatic playoff bid from the SPC East, so if a team were to finish with a 4-5 record but still win the conference race, it still would qualify for the postseason. Through a tiebreaker scenario, that is how Joliet West went to the playoffs in 2019.