Features | Friday Night Drive

Suburban Life football notes: Surprise Riverside-Brookfield set for huge test in hosting IC Catholic Prep

Junior guard Jackson Ramos and the Riverside-Brookfield football team are off to a 5-1 start with a big game this Friday against IC Catholic Prep.

Six games into the 2022 season, Riverside-Brookfield has equaled its win total from last season. The Bulldogs (5-1, 4-0 Metro Suburban Red) are one of the surprise breakout teams in the state this season. Under first-year coach Sam Styler, the Bulldogs are perched atop the conference standings after winning five games last season.

The Bulldogs, who lost to undefeated Wauconda in Week 2, face their biggest conference test of the season when they host IC Catholic Prep (5-1) on Friday. The Knights, under coach Bill Krefft, have a habit of crushing teams with issues on the offensive and defensive lines. The Knights have scored 53, 55, 75 and 42 points in their past four games since dropping a 23-22 decision to Joliet Catholic in Week 2.

Riverside-Brookfield junior guard Jackson Ramos can attest to the Knights’ strength and athleticism on their defensive line. Ramos said last season’s 55-14 loss to the Knights is seared into his memory.

“Everyone was upset after last season’s game,” Ramos said. “We didn’t play our best football and our team’s mindset wasn’t there. This is one of those games you circle on your calendar that you want to win. Ever since we took that tough loss last year, this game has been in the back of my mind.”

Ramos said Friday’s game is big for several factors, not only for the short term but also the long term.

“This game is huge for us to really make a statement,” Ramos said. “One of the major things as a team that’s been a goal for us is to change the culture around R-B football. This is the game to do that. With a win Friday, we can turn some heads.”

Ramos, a third-year varsity player, said the Bulldogs’ O-line must win the line of scrimmage battle to help maintain drives to keep the Knights’ offense off the field. Ramos said the offensive line is more experienced and battle-tested than last year.

“This offensive line has been together for a long time,” Ramos said. “It’s a really strong part of the team. We’re very well-coached. We’re going to stick to our fundamentals and be the more physical team.”

Defensively, Riverside-Brookfield linebacker Drew Swiatek said the Knights have a big-play team filled with talented players.

“We’ve seen what kind of team IC Catholic is, so we know if we don’t do our jobs, the game can get away from us,” he said. “We have to work on stopping the run and staying over the top in the pass game. This season has been something special. We have a football team and not just football players. There’s a greater sense of family than ever before.”

Styler said the Knights are a big test for his developing program.

“They’ve had our number over the last several years,” Styler said. “We have to play R-B team football. IC Catholic is big, strong and fast and very well-coached. We have to match their physicality.”

York's Matt Vezza (9) runs the ball during the boys varsity football game between York and Glenbard West on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022 in Elmhurst, IL.

Vezza a big hit

York senior quarterback Matt Vezza added several more members to his fan club Sept. 30. Vezza directed the game-winning drive, hitting Charlie Specht for a 43-yard touchdown pass, to propel the Dukes to a 17-13 victory over Glenbard West in a key West Suburban Silver Conference game.

The Dukes (6-0, 4-0) moved into the driver’s seat in the conference by knocking off the Hilltoppers (5-1, 2-1) for the second consecutive season. Vezza, who also led the Dukes to a victory at Glenbard West last season, is one of the top players in the conference. His toughness, big-game moxie, leadership and passing and running ability has helped lift the Dukes to new heights in their program history.

York, which plays at Hinsdale Central on Friday, has won 14 of its past 16 games dating to last season under the direction of Vezza. York coach Mike Fitzgerald said Vezza deserves more attention from another group – college coaches.

At 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, Vezza doesn’t have eye-catching size but he brings a set of intangibles that any college coach would love, Fitzgerald said. Vezza has an offer from Drake. Fitzgerald said New Hampshire attended the Sept. 30 game.

“Matt is a special kid,” Fitzgerald said. “Somebody is going to get a great quarterback. He ran a 4.48 (40) at North Central, broad-jumped a 9-10. He’s a great athlete. He’s not an athlete playing quarterback. He’s a quarterback who happens to be a really good athlete. He’s got all the intangibles you want from a quarterback. He’s a winner, is confident and can make all the throws and brings that extra guy into the run game.”

St. Francis’ ‘Pink Out’

St. Francis also is one of the few remaining undefeated teams in the Chicago area. The Spartans (6-0, 3-0) are just behind Riverside-Brookfield in the Metro Suburban Red standings. The Spartans, who have outscored their opponents 257-59 this season, host Bishop McNamara on Friday in a game billed as “Pink Out.”