The Joliet Catholic Academy (4-0, 2-0) Hilltoppers are on the cusp of becoming playoff-eligible Friday Night when they meet the Chicago Marist Redhawks (3-1, 2-0). The fact that both teams are tied atop the East Suburban Catholic Conference (ESCC) shouldn't be much of a surprise to those watching play in this "tough-as-nails" group because both are well-coached and unafraid to meet the toughest available competition in a given season.
That is what makes this game a "must see" if you are a fan because it doesn't matter if JCA may be one of the most consistent winning programs in the IHSA, Chicago Marist invariably always play them tough. And no one knows this better than JCA as they lost to the Redhawks 27-24 last season. Marist, who was 8-2 in 2012-2013 , looked as if they would go deep last year but lost a 34-28 heart-breaker versus the Lyons Township Lions in the IHSA Playoffs. JCA, of course, lost a wild 40-37 Game to the Lombard Montini Broncos in the IHSA Semifinals.
So it is safe to assume that both of these teams will be trying to make a statement in this showdown. And let's not forget either that the Hilltoppers will be looking for a little revenge after last year's loss. Still, I have to think that Michael Ivlow will face his toughest test yet versus Marist because they are really good open field tacklers and have a reputation as being one of the hardest hitting. Then again, that's pretty much typical Catholic League play.
But Marist has played a little tougher schedule than JCA and despite a nail-biting 28-26 loss to Chicago St. Rita in Week One, they have pretty much clicked on all cylinders the entire season. But that is where it gets interesting too as the Redhawks were picked apart by another pretty good inside runner, St. Rita QB Tommy Mister. Mister basically did what Michael Ivlow has done all season and that is running to the inside and then turning on the after-burners.
Naturally that can only happen when a team has an Offensive Line that can open up the running lanes and JCA's Tyler Witt, J.B. Butler, Nick Chavez, Jalen Hansel and Justin Hunter have been opening up holes large enough for a Mack Truck to run through. And right now I have to believe that this Hilltoppers O-Line is one of the finest in the Southwest Suburbs. But you know, it takes good runners to take advantage of those holes too and Ivlow has done that superbly. Now Michael Ivlow has always been a good natural runner, even as a Freshman at Minooka, but I have to believe that his hard work during the off-season and his commitment to the team has made him a great runner. Hopefully the recruiters are looking long and hard at him because he has the stuff and the durability to play Division 1-AA easily in addition to his linemen.
Of course, JCA have other weapons on offense too as QB Nick Morrison,RB Nick Borgra, TE Zach Rezin and TE Jordan Jones have all elevated their games each week. So offensively, I think JCA is more than ready for the Redhawks. But I have a feeling that Defenders Jackson Shanklin and Kevin Jensen will be key in this game for their ability to make key interceptions because Chicago Marist QB Jack Donegan will be looking to find Flynn Nagel deep. Donegan's arm is the real deal and if he is allowed time to throw, well he can exploit the Hilltoppers.
This is one of Week Five's Games of the Week so if you are looking for a night of excitement at a very fair price then make it out to ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium. It'll be worth it!
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Tags: ATI Field at Joliet Memorial Stadium, Brian Jones, Brian Jones Photo and Video Productions, Chicago Marist, Chicago St. Rita, East Suburban Catholic Conference, Flynn Nagel, Football, High School Football, High School Sports, IHSA Football, IHSA Playoffs, IHSA Week Five Football, Jack Donegan, Jackson Shanklin, Jalen Hansel, JB Butler, JCA, JCA Hilltoppers, Joliet Catholic Academy, Joliet Illinois, Jordan Jones, Justin Hunter, Kevin Jensen, Lombard Montini, Marist Redhawks, Michael Ivlow, Nick Borgra, Nick Chavez, Nick Morrison, St. Rita, Tommy Mister, Tyler Witt, Zach Rezin