Wow - What A Season this has been already! Week Nine is upon us and the Southwest Prairie Conference will feature two huge showdowns and a third game that could possibly derail another team's chances from reaching the IHSA State Playoffs. I will have to agree with one of my friend's when he said that "here we are, it's Week Nine and we actually have multiple teams with something to play for at the end of the season. I love it." Well Adam - I Love It Too My Friend!
In addition to Oswego hosting Minooka in a "Winner-Take-All" Conference Championship Game - we also have two other games with probable playoff berths at stake. The other "Winner-Take-All" game will have the Plainfield NorthTigers (4-4-0, 3-3-0 SPC) traveling to the "Southside of Town" to meet their district rivals, the Plainfield South Cougars (4-4-0, 3-3-0 SPC). Both teams had to win their "must win games" on Friday Night to set up this showdown and not only did they accomplish that - they did it in a manner we expected all year. If that carries over then this will be one heck of a high-octane game. Of course there should be some extra incentive for South in this game and that could be the difference in this game. The Tigers spoiled the Cougars chances at an undefeated season last year and I am sure some of those players from last season's squad will be looking for a measure of revenge.
In the other big game of the conference, the Plainfield Central Wildcats (5-3-0, 3-3-0 SPC) must defeat the Romeoville Spartans (2-6-0, 1-5-0 SPC) in an away game to assure themselves of a guaranteed IHSA Playoff Spot after they lost 20-6 to Oswego on Friday Night. And after a few "dry years" at Central, I am sure Coach Jackson will be stressing the importance of this game all week long. Even though the Wildcats should be favored here, there is the possibility of an upset!
As for the Conference Championship, this game will feature the two teams I thought were the creams of the crop of the conference this season. If you recall, I also predicted that the possibility existed that both teams would start 0-2 and that they would have to show their resolve in their remaining conference games in order to win the conference if that happened. Well, they both started 0-2 but have come through the conference games in a very big way! Both of these teams did not to play "ducks" in order to get two quick victories like so many other teams do. Instead, they opted to schedule top flight opponents to challenge their squads and make them better.
Of course there are two schools of thought when it comes to the scheduling of preseason games. And for some teams, like Lemont, playing ducks early seems to work out well for them every year. However, that philosphy could just as easily come back and bite you in the butt too. Plainfield Central, for instance, has had a much better year than most would have predicted, however, they most certainly need 6 victories to get into the playoffs because their first 2 wins were also against weak opponents. Opponents who haven't earned them many of those precious points off of opposition victories. In the end, though, that is what is used to calculate who makes the playoffs. So, Plainfield Central must now more than likely have to win against a team that have suddenly become more competitive in their last two games. The way I see it, the Wildcats better watch out that they are not upset or they could very well become an "outside-looking-in" team so far as the playoffs go. I suspect, though, that the Wildcats will win this game if they play up to their capabilities.
Still, this will be an interesting final week in the SPC.
The most interesting will of course be the marquee game which pits the Minooka Indians (6-2-0, 6-0-0 SPC) against the Oswego Panthers (6-2-0, 6-0-0 SPC) in Oswego. No doubt this game will be played in front of a full house either as both teams have their legions of followers. This Conference Championship could very well become a instant classic too, given that both have explosive offenses. Both have the ability to light up the scoreboard like winning slot machines. Now, there is no question in my mind that Oswego's QB Ryan West is the best at his position right now, but, Indians QB Joe Carnagio has also had a solid year and could derail the Panthers. Carnagio may not be the flame-thrower that West is, but man does he have the smarts and the legs that could beat you. Still, Oswego's O-Line is big and strong, so they have protected Ryan West well all season long and that makes them dangerous. Ryan has an array of gifted receivers, notably Brett Wainright, Jack Kwiatkowski and Josh Mapalo. And I have to tell you folks, this is a one special group of receivers who can demolish most any opposing team if given the space to do so. Oswego also has a premier RB in Mickeel Stewart. He has great vision and the speed to blow through holes quickly. In addition to that he also catches the ball well! There is no doubt in my mind that Oswego will put up points in this game. The only question is how many because they will be challenged on every play by a very good defensive team.
I have to believe that in spite of Oswego's offensive firepower, a solid defense can create havoc with them. And that has been Minooka's strength this season. Luke Carey, Alex Hamilton, Walter Vesper, Jake Residori and Jake Petrovic have not only played at a very high level but at times seemed as if they were possessed out on that turf. This is one stoked unit and they will definitely put a lot of pressure on Ryan West and his teammates. So, if Oswego is seen as having any sort of an edge offensively, then it must also be said that Minooka has a big edge defensively.
And the way I see it - a great defense will usually neutralize a great offense.
By the way, though, Minooka's offensive unit cannot be overlooked here either. Like Oswego, they too have a cast of talented players and are not as one dimensional as some would think that they are. Yes - Kalvin Hill has been their monster and his conference leading 20 Touchdowns and 1200+ Rushing Yards would surely attest to that. Still, they have other runners like Josh Pullara, Nathan McGuire and even QB Joe Carnagio who can kill you with big gainers. In addition, the Indians also have some very able receivers in Luke Stovall and Max Brozovich.
However, the most overlooked aspect of the overall Indian game is their kicking. And when it comes to their punting game, well Steve Wittkamp has been burying teams deep in their own territory all season. And that could very well be a factor in this game!
Minooka and Oswego are both very solid teams this season. However, in terms of all-around play, I have to believe that Minooka might have the advantage here. Their power running game is designed to keep opposing offenses off the field and they seem to do that better than anyone else in the conference this year. So, if Oswego has any expectations of beating them, first they will have to score often and then they will need to contain both Kalvin Hill and Joe Carnagio. As I said earlier, Carnagio is no flame-thrower, but he will beat you with his legs if you let him. He also sells the play-action fakes as well as Plainfield Central's Tim Blake and that puts more pressure on the D-Line to make quick reads so they can close down the running lanes and use their lateral speed down the line. If not, Kalvin Hill and Joe Carnagio will become the game changers they are. Oswego MUST devise a way to slow them down!
According to reports, Kalvin Hill left Friday Night's game with a sprained ankle. Although Coach Kooi says he will shake it off, no one really knows the extent of that sprain and I suspect the coaches will keep that as close to the vest as they can until game time. He is a gamer though and I expect him to be in the lineup for the finale.
A note on Minooka's 52-20 victory over Romeoville. The Spartans trailed the Indians 24-20 late in the 3rd Quarter before giving up 28 unanswered points in the 4th Quarter on miscues and turnovers. That allowed Minooka to operate from a short field and shut the door on them. Minooka did give up some huge chunks of yardage to a lesser talented team, though, and while that would suggest that Coach Kooi was probably using back-up players in an effort to not show his hand for next week - the reality is that if there is one weakness in the Indian defense - it is in their secondary. And I have to believe Ryan West will try and exploit that all night long.
As much as as I think Minooka should win this contest, my sensibilities tell me that it isn't that easy of a call. I think it will come down to whichever team controls the neutral zone and whichever team commits the fewest turnovers that will decide this contest! I will say this too - both of these teams are worthy of being the conference champion. And they will both go out and try to show that on Friday Night.
All I can say is Good Luck to all the teams and may the better one win!
Play Hard! Play Safe!
Filed under: Football, High School Football, Minooka High School, Oswego High School, Plainfield Central High School, Plainfield North High School, Plainfield South High School, Southwest Prairie Conference, Sports