We are rapidly approaching the mid-point of the 2011-2012 Prep Football Season and there have already been a few surprises. However - the mid-point is a time when teams are looking to position themselves to achieve the first goal of any program - which is making the State Playoffs! After all, a team must try and achieve six wins to avoid the agony of being on the "5-4 playoff eligible bubble list." I don't know about you, but, I have seen many a program have their hearts broken after being edged-out at the end of the season by another bubble team. Matter-of-fact, the team I follow regularly has been there twice in the last three years. It can hurt!
The Southwest Prairie Conference will have all its' teams playing Friday Night and some of them are in need of a big win. Don't get me wrong here though - every team is still very much in the hunt for the conference championship. But some of these games will have bigger ramifications than others.
Oswego East will be facing their crosstown rivals, Oswego. The Oswego East Wolves began the season by winning their first two games, which was a first for that program. Most importantly, though, those two victories put them into a very good position to make the state playoffs. Naturally that goal can only be met if they can tack on another 3 or 4 wins at the expense of their conference foes.
Oswego East, I believe, probably felt pretty confident going into their conference home-opener versus the Plainfield South Cougars last week, since the Cougars had been struggling in the early going. Unfortunately for the Wolves, though, the Cougars were more than ready for their match-up and South took a hard-fought 34-27 victory. I also think what hurt the Wolves most in that game was the fact that they were able to tie the score at 27, and then seeing their defense give up a long gainer down to the two yard line. The Cougars then scored the game-winner on the next play. Although the Wolves had another shot at the end of the game, they couldn't prevent the Cougar defense from shutting them down. That was a tough loss that could come back and haunt them.
Now, when it comes to talking about a likely state playoff contender coming out of the Town of Oswego - that honor usually goes to the Oswego Panthers (1-2-0, 1-0-0). Of course, the Oswego East Wolves (2-1-0, 0-1-0) do not have quite the same history as their district rival, either. Even though the Oswego Panthers have had a number of quality playoff teams in their history, Oswego East is fast making a name for itself. They are a good up and coming team. And I have been lucky enough to see many of their current Varsity players develop on the last two Sophomore Teams. I have to admit too, that I had a feeling some of those players would play well when they made to the Varsity Level.
And here we are! The Oswego Crosstown Classic is upon us and I bet it will probably bring out darn near the whole town. There will be a buzz in the air tonight because this game will not just be for the usual bragging rights. This game is one of those mid-season "must games." Oswego, you see, had lost their first two games, albeit to two very good teams, but they should have at least won one of them. And their season-opening 47-41 loss to Marian Central Catholic was the one! The Panthers appeared to have the game under control until the Panther Defense imploded and couldn't hold the lead. Making matters worse, that same Panther Defense was exploited once again the following week when Waubonsie Valley defeated them 34-14. So the pressure is really on the Panthers since they were expected to battle for at least a share of the Conference Championship this season.
Even though Oswego was able to score a 25-14 Victory over the Romeoville Spartans, the win wasn't an easy one. As a matter of fact, it could have gone either way had the Spartans recovered a Panther fumble. The fumble came right after the Spartans had taken their 14-13 lead and they were kicking-off. Fortunately for the Panthers - they were able to recover that fumble and still keep their composure. Never-the-less - this week's game is a REALLY BIG ONE for the Oswego Panthers! It could even make or break their season.
This game is just as equally important for the Oswego East Wolves. I expect this game to go right down to the wire as both teams will be extra pumped-up and hitting a little harder this week in front of a big local crowd. Oswego East will no doubt be using QB Dakota Skenandore to set up the run for RB Chris Cooper, but, we shouldn't overlook the pass-catching abilities of WR Chase Skenandore, WR Scooter Smith and TE Ryan Kossakowski. The Wolves definitely have weapons!
Oswego will again rely heavily on the passing arm of their MVP QB Ryan West. West threw for 271 Yds and 2 TD passes versus Romeoville. So there is no doubt in my mind that West will be seeking out his favorite target from last week, Josh Mapalo, as well as Brett Wainwright. The Panthers, though, can also add an effective ground game to their attack with RB Mickeel Stewart coming out of the backfield. But let's face it, QB Ryan West probably checks down better than any QB in the conference and, as a result, he really knows how to stretch the field and will be throwing more than not. Ryan West is a game-changer!
Still, it won't be a slam dunk. Oswego tends to score fast, and as such, their defense may wind up on the field for some longer stretches than they would like. Especially if Oswego East can get a good running game established. And if they do, then this game could live up to being a true Crosstown Classic. But, the Panthers will be looking to take this on their field. After all, a 2-0 Conference Record would look good for the Panthers after those two early losses.
Oswego will also be at home the following week against Plainfield East and a win tonight could give them some momentum. The Plainfield East Bengals (1-2-0, 1-0-0) are riding a high after last week's huge 38-12 upset of the Plainfield North Tigers but will have their hands full this week versus the Minooka Indians. Although the Bengals are improving, I would still think that the Indians and the Panthers would rate as the favorites the next two weeks. Oswego East, meanwhile, will have to meet an improving Plainfield Central Wildcats on the road next week. A word of caution, though, I would not view the Wildcats 52-20 loss to the Minooka in Week 3 as any sort of barometer on how good or not the Plainfield Central Wildcats are. They will give teams fits this season.
The Minooka Indians (1-2-0, 1-0-0) totally dominated the Plainfield Central Wildcats, but I think that was sort of expected given the fact that their two early losses could just as easily been wins. Chalk those losses up to a bad case of "Fumblitis." The Indians gave up their lead late in Week One's 27-21 Loss to Morris and they just couldn't punch home a TD after effectively moving the ball against Providence Catholic. That game resulted in a 7-0 Loss in Week Two. What's that saying about "if it weren't for bad luck? Well that seems to have been the story for Minooka in the early going. But - Minooka is still the cream of the crop in the SPC until someone proves otherwise.
Naturally I am not saying that that couldn't happen, but as of right now - I am not so sure. The Indians are beginning to click and a lot of that has to do with the week by week maturation of QB Joe Carnagio. Of course, having RB Kalvin Hill in their backfield doesn't hurt them either. The Bengal Defense will be hard-pressed to keep the Indian Offensive Line from opening up running lanes for Hill and/or from getting receivers open out into the flat. As we have seen before, Max Brozovich can be awfully dangerous when left unchecked. Still, we cannot count out the Bengals either. Plainfield East has some darn good athletes and if Minooka is looking beyond Friday's game, then they too could get upset. Bengals QB Robert Zamora is pretty confident right now and he has some formidable weapons in Myles Walters and Juwan Straughter. In addition to his receivers, Zamora also has a rocket in his backfield. RB Shekeal Taylor can rack up some serious yardage if the defense isn't careful.
As it is, though, Minooka should have a pretty good advantage. They are playing their next two games at home and after this week, the Indians will host the Plainfield South Cougars in the latest edition of the Ridge Road Rivalry. And let us not forget something - the Cougars will have an extra incentive too. They will be attempting to avenge a narrow 2nd Round IHSA Playoff Loss especially after South had defeated Minooka in last season's Week 5 regular season meeting. The Minooka - Plainfield South Rivalry is a big one and is considered "THE GAME" for both teams!
One thing is certain, though, the Plainfield South Cougars (2-1-0, 1-0-0) are improving each and every week under Coach Bublitz. So the next two games will not only be interesting, but they will also give Cougar fans a good idea of where the Bublitz Era is at. As for this Friday's game, I am hoping that the Cougars aren't looking any further ahead than the Romeoville Spartans (1-2-0, 0-1-0). Romeoville has some talent on both sides of the ball and will probably surprise a few teams this season. Thus, it is important that South remain 150% focused on this game because Romeoville Head Coach Kuna will have his squad ready to compete!
The Cougars will again be led by QB Austin Howarth and he has an array of offensive weapons. As I have said many times before - these Cougars are deep in talent. Just knowing that Plainfield South has players like Dantrell Wright, Josh Harris, Jason Ochoa, Ryan Turk, Ricky Luna, Jonathan Kosirog, Tyler Butler, Kwanez Gibson, Jalen Bonner, Joshua Richardson and Jimmy Strauss - well that just makes me giddy! This team has one heck of an arsenal! But then again, the Cougars are talent deep in other areas as well. The problem, it seems, is getting more of those players into the games so that they don't lose interest. So that has to be a challenge for the coaching staff. Between you and I, I just don't know if that is a good problem to have or not. However, from everything I have seen, this is a tight team. They are all committed to the programs goals and they want to win! And I believe they have a legitimate shot this year.
The Plainfield North Tigers (1-2-0, 0-1-0), meanwhile, will be hosting the Plainfield Central Wildcats (2-1-0, 0-1-0). This game has to also be considered a REALLY BIG GAME for both sides. Plainfield North was expected to vie for a share of the conference this season and they definately have the talent to accomplish that. They opened opened their season versus the Bradley-Bourbonnais Boilermaker's and came away with a 36-20 victory before losing 28-21 to the Lockport Porters in Week Two. But it was Week Three that caught everyone by surprise as Plainfield North suffered a 38-12 upset loss at Plainfield East. The Bengals were able to capitalize on 7 Plainfield North turnovers (4 Interceptions, 3 Fumbles) and perhaps earned the biggest win in their football program's short history. Exactly how Plainfield North will fare against another spirited district rival is anyone's guess. But I suppose, at least on paper, Plainfield North would have to be favored over the Plainfield Central Wildcats. But we also know that anything can happen on any given day.
As I recall from my own playing days, it was always easier to shake off a lop-sided loss as opposed to a close hard-fought battle. But, we will just have to see how QB Kurt Palendech (4 Interceptions) and his team (3 Fumbles Lost) bounce back from last week's mistakes. And even though this game will feature two good QB's, North's Palendech and Central's Tim Blake, I get the feeling that this game will be decided by whichever team can establish their running game best. So? Will it be the Tigers' Jay Roberts or will it be the Wildcats' Jordan Ellingwood? I just don't know, but one thing I do know is that the Plainfield North Offensive Line rates an edge over Central's and that could very well be the difference here.
Whatever the results - this will be a good week to watch your favorite Southwest Prairie Conference Team in action. Besides, I am not kidding when I say that there are some REALLY BIG GAMES in the conference this week. So be a sport - go watch the game of your choice.
Just Don't Forget To Hang On To Your Hats!