An inside look at sports happenings from the local scene to the professional ranks by the sports staff at The Courier News.

September 2008 Archives

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Chicago provided enough support to its two baseball teams that both reached the playoffs. The same can be said of Los Angeles.

As for the self-proclaimed "Capital of the World," New York won't have any playoff baseball coming through this year.

It's October and there will be plenty on the plate in the Chicago area the next few weeks. It can't get any better than this for an area baseball fan.

May the best team win.

FIRST STRING  
Bartlett  
Bartlett.gif Record: 5-0
Last week: Bartlett 21, St. Charles North 7
This week: vs. Elgin
Scouting report: Opponents learning quickly that running ball against Hawks defense is easier said than done.
Genoa-Kingston  
Genoa-Kingston copy.gif Record: 5-0
Last week: G-K 28, Winnebago 12
This week: vs. Rockford Lutheran
Scouting report: One more easy game for Cogs before playing BNC West titans Oregon and Stillman Valley.
Huntley  
Huntley.gif Record: 5-0
Last week: Huntley 41, Grayslake North 0
This week: at Grayslake Central
Scouting report: Tougher tests loom for Red Raiders, whose first five opponents have combined record of 5-20.

SECOND STRING
 
St. Charles East  
St_Charles_East.gif Record: 4-1
Last week: East 42, Lake Park 41 (2OT)
This week: at Neuqua Valley
Scouting report: After beating Neuqua for first time in seven years last season, Saints look to repeat feat this week.
St. Charles North  

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Record: 3-2
Last week: Bartlett 21, St. Charles North 7
This week: at South Elgin
Scouting report: North Stars need to shake off loss quickly with pesky Storm up next this Saturday.

St. Edward
 
St_Edward copy.gif Record: 3-2
Last week: Marian Central 28, St. Edward 7
This week: vs. Driscoll
Scouting report: Green Wave will be looking to snap 15-game losing streak against Driscoll that dates to 1994.
Dundee-Crown  
Dundee-Crown.gif Record: 3-2
Last week: Woodstock 31, D-C 14
This week: at Crystal Lake South
Scouting report: Chargers surrendered 420 yards of offense as three-game win streak comes to an end.
THIRD STRING  
Hampshire  

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Record: 2-3
Last week: Hampshire 21, Richmond-Burton 11
This week: vs. Harvard
Scouting report: Whip-Purs appear to be back on track, but huge BNC East showdown looms this Friday.
South Elgin  

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Record: 2-3
Last week: South Elgin 20, Thornton Fractional South 19
This week: vs. St. Charles North
Scouting report: Storm makes impressive statement beating perennial playoff team on road last week.
Larkin  
Larkin.gif Record: 2-3
Last week: Neuqua Valley 38, Larkin 12
This week: vs. Streamwood
Scouting report: Royals need at least three wins in final four weeks to reach playoff for first second time since 2003.
FOURTH STRING  
Burlington Central  
Burlington_Central copy.gif Record: 1-4
Last week: Central 41, North Boone 14
This week: at Richmond-Burton
Scouting report: Rockets know they have backs to wall for rest of season if they hope to reach playoffs fir eighth time in nine years.
Jacobs  

Jacobs.gif

Record: 1-4
Last week: Cary-Grove 41, Jacobs 0
This week: at McHenry
Scouting report: Golden Eagles outscored 91-6 in past three losses, which all came against teams that are currently unbeaten.
Streamwood  
Streamwood.gif Record: 1-4
Last week: Streamwood 40, East Aurora 21
This week: at Larkin
Scouting report: Sabres scored 20 points in second quarter of win after scoring only 19 points in first four weeks of season.

Elgin

 
Elgin.gif Record: 0-5
Last week: Waubonsie Valley 46, Elgin 21
This week: at Bartlett
Scouting report: No break in the schedule for Maroons as unbeaten powerhouse Bartlett is up next.

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Who said teams can't handle a quarterback carousel halfway through the year?

First St. Charles North's Sean McGushin started taking a majority of the snaps from fellow senior Nick Neari in Week 3. Then Larkin and Burlington Central followed suit last week.

Tim's Top 5

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Rankings shakeup: Bartlett jumped into the Top 5 this week, debuting at No. 4 in the volleyball rankings. The Hawks bumped out Huntley. Both are Class 4A schools in volleyball.

The top-3 teams remained the same, but some shakeup could occur next week after No. 2 Central and No. 3 Hampshire tangle in a BNC East match on Wednesday. St. Edward holds strong at No. 5 because of its school size (Class 2A).

On the soccer side, both No. 1 Larkin and No. 2 Streamwood suffered defeats to Neuqua Valley and stay put at the top of the rankings. No. 3 St. Charles North and No. 4 St. Charles East get together on Saturday for 80 minutes of fun.

By Brandon Mangia
For The Courier News

After starting out the season 0-3, Hampshire coach Dan Cavanaugh cited a lack of execution and costly turnovers as the main problem.

Problem solved.

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I'm guessing that White Sox and Cubs fans can agree on one thing when it comes to who they'd like to have doing play-by-play during the most important games of their teams' baseball seasons. Not Dick Stockton.

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Saturday's Upstate Eight Conference tilt between Bartlett and St. Charles North certainly proved wild. A seven-turnover third quarter had the momentum swinging back and forth between both teams before the Hawks were able to put together a lenghty drive and open the fourth quarter with a touchdown to go up 21-7.

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Here's a tidbit from my conversation last week with Harvard coach Tim Haak that didn't make it in the paper or the blog. Until now, that is.

Haak thought the two best teams in the Big Northern Conference East Division -- at least on paper -- were Hampshire and Richmond-Burton.

2 quarters to remember

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South Elgin's 20-19 victory on the road Friday against Thornton Fractional South was as impressive as it was shocking.

Forget the Storm's 2-hour and 40-minute bus ride to Lansing to play the Rebels on homecoming night.

Thornton Fractional South came into the game undefeated (4-0) and rich in history, having qualified for the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons.

Third-year South Elgin came into the game with four wins -- in program history (4-18).

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Five weeks into the season, Larkin made a quarterback change with one thing in mind: Reaching the playoffs.

Here are the Courier News High School Football Week 5 preview capsules. Don't forget to check out Erik Jacobsen's look ahead to Saturday's Game of the Week between Bartlett and St. Charles North. Sports Editor R.J. Gerber also examines how Hampshire and Burlington Central might fare in the Big Northern Conference East Division, which begins play tonight.

Football game day page

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Each week I produced a two-page spread complete with previews of all the area games, a game of the week feature and statistics. Here is an example.
2008_football_doubletruck.pdf

Week 5 Prep Football Outlook

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We're halfway through the high school football season, and things are really starting to heat up. For a video preview of Week 5, click here.

There's no doubt the area's biggest game will take place Saturday when St. Charles North travels to play Bartlett. While the Hawks will likely have plenty of support from their boisterous student section, Bartlett coach Tom Meaney might not have the support of his own family.

Elsewhere in the area, the future will be on display when a pair of talented sophomore quarterbacks square off out west. Also, three area teams might be able to pull off season-defining upsets this week.

2008 Area Football Stats

Don't just look at the area's leaders. Here's a comprehensive stats package through Week 4 of the high school football season:

Pepsi Showdown lowdown

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According to the Web site pepsishowdown.us, the championship game of the 32-team Pepsi Showdown boys soccer tournament -- between Larkin and Loyola -- is billed as a doubleheader with the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Oct. 5.

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Several area teams continue to get attention in the state rankings.

Bartlett moved up two notches to No. 5 in the Class 8A poll, and if the Hawks continue their strong play you'd assume they'll eventually get a few votes for the top spot.

St. Charles climbed up a spot to No. 7 in the Class 7A poll, while crosstown rival St. Charles North received a single vote. If the North Stars can upset Bartlett this weekend, expect that vote total to grow substantially.

FIRST STRING  
Bartlett  
Bartlett.gif Record: 4-0
Last week: Bartlett 30, Lake Park 7
This week: vs. St. Charles North
Scouting report: Talented Hawks face arguably their toughest Upstate Eight Conference test this Saturday.
Genoa-Kingston  
Genoa-Kingston copy.gif Record: 4-0
Last week: G-K 42, North Boone 9
This week: at Winnebago
Scouting report: Senior quarterback Chris Wilkins playing key role in Cogs' area-best offense that's averaging 38.8 ppg
Huntley  
Huntley.gif Record: 4-0
Last week: Huntley 36, Jacobs 0
This week: at Grayslake North
Scouting report: Red Raiders' high-powered ground attack averaging 357.5 yards per game and 7.7 yards per carry.

SECOND STRING
 
St. Charles North  
St_Charles_North.gif Record: 3-1
Last week: North 42, Thornton Fractional North 7
This week: at Bartlett
Scouting report: North Stars outscoring opponents 124-19 during current three-game win streak.
St. Charles East  
St_Charles_East.gif Record: 3-1
Last week: East 49, Streamwood 6
This week: vs. Lake Park
Scouting report: State-ranked Saints have good shot at contending for a second straight UEC title.

St. Edward
 
St_Edward copy.gif Record: 3-1
Last week: St. Edward 42, Aurora Central Catholic 7
This week: vs. Marian Central
Scouting report: Nothing will be easy rest of way, but Green Wave has legitimate shot at reaching five wins, earning playoff spot.
Dundee-Crown  
Dundee-Crown.gif Record: 3-1
Last week: D-C 28, Grayslake Central 12
This week: vs. Woodstock
Scouting report: Chargers on a roll, but task about to get much tougher as grueling FVC Valley stretch starts this week.
THIRD STRING  
Larkin  
Larkin.gif Record: 2-2
Last week: Larkin 38, East Aurora 20
This week: vs. Neuqua Valley
Scouting report: Royals have big opportunity this Friday when they welcome struggling Neuqua Valley team that's 1-3.
Hampshire  
Hampshire.gif Record: 1-3
Last week: Hampshire 20, Byron 6
This week: at Richmond-Burton
Scouting report: Despite slow start, Whip-Purs figure to contend for Big Northern Conference East Division title.
Jacobs  
Jacobs.gif Record: 1-3
Last week: Huntley 36, Jacobs 0
This week: vs. Cary-Grove
Scouting report: Snapping three-game losing streak won't be easy for Golden Eagles with state-ranked Trojans up next.
South Elgin  
South_Elgin.gif Record: 1-3
Last week: Elgin 42, South Elgin 28
This week: at Thornton Fractional South
Scouting report: Offense, defense both impress in second half of Storm's first victory of season.
FOURTH STRING  
Burlington Central  
Burlington_Central copy.gif Record: 0-4
Last week: Oregon 20, Burlington Central 7
This week: vs. North Boone
Scouting report: Rockets hoping to reverse fortunes with BNC East portion of schedule kicking off this week.
Elgin  
Elgin.gif Record: 0-4
Last week: South Elgin 42, Elgin 28
This week: at Waubonsie Valley
Scouting report: Defensive woes continue for Maroons, who haven't held an opponent below 40 points yet this year.
Streamwood  
Streamwood.gif Record: 0-4
Last week: St. Charles East 49, Streamwood 6
This week: vs. East Aurora
Scouting report: Sabres' only two wins in past two years came against this week's opponent.

Tim's Top 5

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Each Tuesday for the rest of the fall season I will rank the Top 5 area volleyball and soccer teams. As always, rankings are open for debate. So please, debate away.

The following teams are in the Courier News coverage area: Bartlett, Burlington Central, Dundee-Crown, Elgin, Elgin Academy, Genoa-Kingston, Hampshire, Huntley, Jacobs, Larkin, St. Charles East, St. Charles North, South Elgin, Streamwood, Westminster Christian.

Note: Rankings are based on performance against like-sized schools.

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL
1. St. Charles East (15-1): Saints only loss this season to powerful Naperville Central -- by a total of five points in 2 games.
2. Burlington Central (13-3):The countdown to the showdown with Hampshire can begin soon.
3. Hampshire (15-0): Like BC, Whips now have two DI players in their lineup (Wehrs sisters).
4. Huntley (9-5): Red Raiders don' t have big names like above teams, but they do have balance.
5. St. Edward (7-10): I'll take Katie Yohn on my team -- in any sport -- any day.
On the bench: St. Charles North (8-8), Bartlett (10-4), Dundee-Crown (6-3).

BOYS SOCCER
1. Larkin (8-0): Royals have to be the favorites to win the Upstate Eight Conference.
2. Streamwood (8-2-2): Although talent was in place, Sabres undoubtedly area's biggest surprise thus far.
3. St. Charles North (6-5-2): North Stars host Glenbard East in rare Friday night matchup.
4. Huntley (4-1-2): Red Raiders appear to be more balanced offensively this season.
5. Westminster Christian (4-4-1): Class A Warriors have plenty of talented underclassmen.
On the bench: Bartlett (4-3-2), Jacobs (3-2-3).

TOP RUSHERS

Player

School

Yards

TDs

Allen

SCE

225

1

Moore

Hamp

180

1

Mathisen

StEd

167

1

Wilkins

G-K

166

3

Huxtable

SCN

161

3

Neukirch

Hunt

151

3

Salvatini

D-C

148

1

Hoebbel

StEd

132

2

Wiebe

SCE

124

2

Cooks

Lark

116

2

 

TOP PASSERS

Player

School

Yards

TDs

Rae

SoElg

312

2

Roth

Elgin

282

2

Wilkins

G-K

198

2

Hasenberg

Bart

188

1

Kissack

D-C

175

3

McGushin

SCN

138

3

Luczak

Hunt

110

0

Maroder

BC

110

0

Russell

SCE

98

3

Brenner

Hamp

74

1

 

TOP RECEIVERS

Player

School

Yards

TDs

Smith

SoElg

171

2

Cook

Elgin

135

1

Holterhaus

G-K

108

2

Strzelczyk

D-C

83

1

VanNess

Bart

79

1

Lopez

G-K

73

0

Brown

Bart

70

0

Kawabata

SoElg

67

0

Newcombe

Elgin

66

1

Neukirch

Hunt

60

0

 


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It's always a treat to see a couple of squads airing it out like South Elgin and Elgin did on Friday night, but it does make my job as Courier Sports videographer a little harder. It's tough to keep track off all those in-flight balls with the ol' camera.

That being said, what a win for South Elgin. Check out the video highlights here.

With both teams coming in at 0-3, one would have the opportunity to breathe some life into its season. With monster efforts from Josh Smith, Pat Rae, Trevor Hansley and the offensive line in the second half, the Storm was able to inject some hope into its season.

For a while, Elgin was able to hang in the game. Tom Roth, Tim Newcombe and Jamal Cook were among the Maroons who excelled in the first half and had the game knotted up at 21 midway through the third. But the Storm simply had too many weapons and it was clear in the second half that some of Elgin's best were running out of gas from playing on both sides of the ball.

Also of note; you don't hear it often but late in the game Elgin's coaching staff was shouting at its defense to "Let them score!" And it was probably the right call. A South Elgin touchdown seemed likely and Elgin needed as much time as it could get on the clock to score...even if it was two touchdowns.

Stay tuned for next week's "Game of the Week." It should be a good one, as UEC powers Bartlett and St. Charles North lock horns.

Storm finally strikes

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Not being able to cross the goal line was a recurring problem for South Elgin during the first three weeks of the season.

That problem was solved Friday when the Storm scored six touchdowns in a 42-28 win against Elgin at Memorial Field.

The Storm came into the game without a touchdown since Week 1 and having scored only 13 points for the season, good for a 4.3 average. South Elgin exceeded that season total in the first quarter against the Maroons, scoring 14 points on a pair of rushing touchdowns by junior Trevor Hansley.

It was just a matter of time before the Storm's spread offense found its footing. Moving the ball hadn't been a problem through the first three games, but critical mistakes cost South Elgin scoring opportunities. Those mistakes were limited against Elgin, and the end result was an impressive performance.

Coach Dale Schabert's system ran like a well-oiled machine, with a lethal passing attack combining with an effective running game. Quarterback Pat Rae threw for 312 yards, and the Storm also racked up 170 rushing yards on 41 carries.

While there was little doubt that South Elgin was the better team on the field Friday, there was also little argument about who were the most talented players on the field. Those distinctions would go to South Elgin receiver Josh Smith and Elgin receiver Jamal Cook.

Every time those players touched the ball they were a threat to score. Smith finished with eight catches for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cook had five catches for 135 yards, good for an average of 27 yards per catch. Cook had a receiving touchdown and on defense stripped the ball from South Elgin running back Kelvin Ware and returned the fumble 80 yards for touchdown.

With the Storm and Maroons struggling early on this year, Smith and Cook sort of get lost in the shuffle. But make no mistake about it. These two players are two of the most exciting playmakers in the Upstate Eight Conference and their value to their respective teams can't be understated.

MOST IMPRESSIVE WIN
Narrowing down this category this week isn't easy, so I'm going to give credit to three teams.

St. Edward looked outstanding while running the ball for 487 yards in a 42-7 win against Aurora Central Catholic. The Wave showed a lot of character by bouncing back from a disappointing loss at Immaculate Conception in Week 3.

Another team showing character was Huntley. I figured the Red Raiders would beat Jacobs, but I didn't see it coming in the form of a 36-0 rout, especially after dealing with the District 158 teachers' strike earlier in the week. Jordan Neukirch continued to build his reputation as the top player in the area, running for 151 yards and three touchdowns.

I'll also give Hampshire a nod for most impressive win after beating Byron 20-6. It would have been easy for the Whip-Purs to become discouraged after their 0-3 start to the season. Instead, Hampshire took care of business and breathed some life into its hopes of reaching the playoffs with a key win in its final tuneup before the start of Big Northern Conference play next week.

SURPRISE OF THE WEEK
I can't say there were any huge surprises this week, but the one prediction I missed came in the game I covered between South Elgin and Elgin. I thought the Storm's offensive woes in the first three weeks would continue, but I was definitely wrong.

South Elgin had the look of a team that might catch some more talented opponents off guard in the second half of the season, while Elgin had the look of a team that might need to go back to the drawing board before picking up its first win of the year. The Maroons definitely have talent, but much of that talent plays every down on both sides of the ball, which can be a hard thing to overcome.

Week 4 Prep Football Outlook

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It's hard to believe we've already reached Week 4 of the high school football season. Time flies when you're having fun.

As we near the season's halfway point, there is plenty to keep an eye on this weekend. Big Northern Conference and Fox Valley Conference teams will be making their final tuneups before beginning league play next week. Meanwhile, three area teams will try to stay unbeaten and five area teams will be in search of their first wins.

Those teams looking to improve to 4-0 are Bartlett, Genoa-Kingston and Huntley. I think all three teams should be able to accomplish the feat. The Red Raiders might face the toughest test of the group in their game at Jacobs, but if these three squads continue the level of play they've displayed so far this year, they'll be tough for anyone to knock off.

Burlington Central, Hampshire, Elgin, South Elgin and Streamwood will all be looking to rebound from 0-3 starts. The Storm and Maroons play each other, so somebody will likely come away a winner. This looks like a pretty even match up, though, so I don't want to rule out the possibility of a tie.

Outside of the Elgin/South Elgin winner, Hampshire is the only other team in the bunch I expect to break through for a victory. The Whip-Purs traditionally haven't had much success against Byron, but I think a return home could help coach Dan Cavanaugh's club overcome three narrow losses and get on track.

Simply put, Central and Streamwood face stern challenges in their games against Oregon and St. Charles East, respectively. The first win of the season will have to wait until another week for these two local teams.

CONTINUED COVERAGE
For more insight into Week 4 of the season, check our weekly preview show Courier Prep Football Weekly. In depth game previews can be found in Friday's Courier News print edition and on our Courier sports web site. Check back throughout the weekend for scores, video highlights and game coverage. We'll also provide more analysis here on the All-Around E-Town blog as my fellow staff writers and I break down the weekend's action.

Lastly, feel free to join the conversation. Your comments on our stories and blog entries are always welcome and will only help bolster the discussion. If we miss something or if you have something to add, jump right in.

I STAND CORRECTED
Before I go, I want to clear up an error I reported on several occasions in last week's sports section. I erroneously reported that Dundee-Crown's current two-game win streak marked its first back-to-back victories since the 2002 season. It turns out that the Chargers won their final game of the 2004 season and first game of the 2005 campaign, so the 2002 win streak was merely the last time the school won two in a row in the same year.

I apologize for the error. I had our staff fact checkers make sure that I got the information right this week, and you can rest assured that D-C is going for its first three-game win streak since the 2000 season when it hosts winless Grayslake Central tonight.

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I haven't blogged about the Pale Hose since July 31, when the the Sox brought in Ken Griffey Jr. to upgrade their outfield and bench.

The ups and downs since then have been numerous and over time I've trained myself to avoid the knee-jerk reaction blog. 'This is the nature of baseball,' I would tell myself. 'No reason to get worked up when they can come out and just win tomorrow.' I even avoided writing when the then-MVP Carlos Quentin went down with a broken wrist.

Well here we go.

After another lackluster loss on Wednesday toa team that probably can't wait to just get the season over with, the Sox continue on an frustrating voyage (11-14 in their last 25) as they head towards October.

Luckily for the team and Sox fans, the Minnesota Twins are currently experiencing their own breakdown. A 10-16 stretch in that same period, culminating in Wednesday's three-game sweep at the hands of the once-mighty Cleveland Indians, has kept the Twinkies back 2.5 games.

Sox fans are all cognizant of the fact that nearly everyone in the bullpen has proved unreliable (We saw your last two outings, welcome to the club Scott Linebrink!) but it's even more disappointing that the team's top sluggers have all gone quiet in these, the most important games of the season.

Without Quentin, most fans' eyes turned to Jermaine Dye to pick up the slack. In his last 11 games, J.D. has hit .244 with four walks and six RBI's. Hardly the production one would hope from a potential MVP candidate down the stretch.

But wait there's more.

In his last 11 ballgames, Jim Thome has hit .184 with six walks and seven RBI's. I guess that infield shift has been working.

Everybody's favorite tough guy A.J. Pierzynski might have pulled the wool over the umps' eyes when the Sox played Tampa but he's been unable to muster much trickery when at the plate of late. In his last 11, Pierzynski has hit .191 with no walks and three RBI's.

Of course no one can match "Dirty 30" Nick Swisher. His season has gone from poor to rotten in the last month. In his last 11 contests, the fan favorite has hit .103 with two walks and two RBI's.

Only the bats of Paul Konerko, Alexei Ramirez, Juan Uribe and Dewayne Wise have provided much life as of late.

The fact of the matter is that if the Sox hitters and relievers were performing as expected the last couple of weeks, the Sox would be up at least six games in the division. Instead, they continue to play inconsistent ball, hoping Minnesota will lose and praying - down on their knees praying - that they will have a significant lead when they roll into the hellmouth that is the Metrodome next Tuesday.

It's a lousy way to head into October - if they even get there - and certainly doesn't give fans much hope that the Sox will win more than a game in the postseason.

Let's hope things change and change quickly - as in tomorrow. As the immortal Hawk Harrelson says, "It's time to cinch it up and hunker down."

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It's no secret Larkin football is kicking off against a perennially down-and-out program when it travels to East Aurora on Friday. The Tomcats are 5-61 since the start of the 2001 season.

But those same Tomcats are also coming off a win against South Elgin last week. Can East Aurora really put together a win streak?

So of course I had to look for the last time the Tomcats had won consecutive games. They haven't done it since finishing 2000 with wins against DeKalb (then led by current Elgin coach Dave Bierman) and Lake Park.

East Aurora finished 5-4 that year and missed the playoffs. The Tomcats haven't been to the postseason since 1982 and have had only five winning seasons since then.

Needless to say, a win against the Royals (1-2) would be a milestone for East Aurora. The kind of milestone Larkin doesn't want to be a part of.

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After Genoa-Kingston broke through to make the playoffs last year for the first time in more than a decade, the obvious question for skeptics was if the Cogs could do it again.

G-K looks like its on its way after a big 35-13 win against Harvard on Friday. There's still a lot of football left to play, and the Cogs will have to keep proving themselves. But a convincing win against the Hornets should have those skeptics believing the Cogs will be right in the thick of it near the end of the season.

Still need more evidence? Harvard coach Tim Haak says G-K is for real.

"They're much improved and they have some talented kids," Haak said Tuesday. "Give them credit. The players have worked hard at it. The coaches have worked hard at it. They've made themselves into a great team."

Haak still remembers the game between Harvard and Genoa-Kingston two years ago, when the Hornets thumped the Cogs 31-6. Harvard was on its way to the first of two straight appearances in the State quarterfinals.

He says the difference between G-K then and the Cogs now is evident.

"(G-K coach Bill McCarty) has changed the attitude around there," Haak said. "He's had success everywhere he's been. The strength program has made a difference you can clearly see. And he's got a great group of kids coming through right now."

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Milwaukee is the place where hysteria surrounding the Cubs goes to die.

When the Cubs visited the Brewers at Miller Park in late July, the sky was falling for Cubs fans because their team had just been caught for first place in the National League Central. What did the Cubs do? They promptly swept four games and regained command of the division for good.

Then the Cubs made the journey to Milwaukee on Sunday to play a pair of games against the Astros that were rescheduled due to Hurricane Ike. With the Cubs struggling through early September, whispers of an imminent collapse were growing louder leading up to the series. What did the Cubs do? They sent Carlos Zambrano and Ted Lilly to the mound, and the duo gave up one hit in two games as the Cubs reasserted themselves as the team to beat in the National League, and perhaps in all of baseball.

The Cubs have one more regular-season trip to Milwaukee on the last weekend of the season. If the trend continues, they might come out of that looking so good that any talk of curses will be put to rest, allowing a restless fan base to prepare for a coronation.

Zambrano's moment

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The Cubs have in recent history had their share of can't-miss, could-be-otherworldly pitching prospects.

Kerry Wood burst onto the scene with 20 strikeouts in 1998. Then he burst into a cloud of injuries and disappointments.

Mark Prior was they guy who fell to the Cubs with the No. 2 pick in the 2001 draft. The guy who made an immediate impact and would be a cornerstone for years with his flawless mechanics. At least until he broke down.

Carlos Zambrano was called up without anything resembling the same amount of hype of those other two guys. In fact, if my memory serves, he came up with less hype than Juan Cruz.

But there's no doubt he's the best pitcher the Cubs have developed since Greg Maddux, and is likely to carve his niche alongside names like Maddux and Fergie Jenkins as the best Cubs pitchers since the end of the dead-ball era.

But unlike Wood -- with the 20-K game -- Zambrano seemed to be missing his signature moment. And in Big Z's case, a moment that defined not just how great he could be, but how great he is.

I think he's found his moment.

Oh, no: 0-3

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Hampshire and Burlington Central are two area teams that are unaccustomed to losing. But after tough defeats on Friday, both are now 0-3 to start the year and looking at uphill battles to make the playoffs.

The Whip-Purs in particular know that it takes six wins to guarantee a postseason berth. They were left on the outside looking in last year with a 5-4 record. Both the Whips and the Rockets now must run the table, or sustain only one more loss to keep playing after Week 9.

The Whip-Purs are winless after Week 3 for the first time since 2002 after an 11-8 double-overtime loss to Oregon. Hampshire should be happy to have played so well against a team that's heavily favored to win the Big Northern Conference West Division.

But the schedule doesn't get a lot easier. The Whips still have to host strong Byron and Harvard teams while making road trips to Central and Richmond-Burton.

The Rockets, who fell 17-9 at Byron on Friday, are even farther removed from such a poor start. The last time Central began a season 0-3 was in 1993, and that team was on its way to an 0-9 record.

Central will have a better finish than that team '93 team, but like Hampshire has at least four tough ones left on the schedule. At least the Rockets get Oregon, Hampshire and Harvard at home. They've also got a long drive to Richmond ahead.

While 0-3 teams don't often have dreams of the playoffs, the Rockets and Whip-Purs can't be considered out of it because they can legitimately compete with and beat every team left on their scheds.

But it would be hard.

And while I'm entertaining postseason ideas, I'm sure Central coach Aaron Wichman and Hampshire coach Dan Cavanaugh aren't. Not because they don't think their teams can rally, but because both would probably say they're concentrating on just one game at a time.

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As the videographer for Courier Prep Football Weekly's "Game of the Week," I'm privileged to see some things on the sidelines that you won't see in the box score.

Check out the highlight-package here.

After the Hawks' 35-6 win over Larkin on Friday, many of Bartlett's coaches implored their players to keep working hard and to "keep their eyes on the prize." That "prize" being the Class 8A state title. Bartlett's first team on both sides of the ball played outstanding in the first half and quickly erased any doubt that Larkin would be able to beat them for the third time in a row.

For its part, Larkin continues to be a diligent group. Rather than hang their heads after being down 35-0 in the second quarter, the Royals hung with it and scrapped out a late touchdown. After seeing both the players and coaches in practice and at games the last two weeks, I find myself pulling for Larkin. The coaches stay positive and the players listen to the coaches and refrain from negativity on the sidelines.

On that note, something also has to be said about Bartlett. With the score lopsided early, the coaches were preaching "sportsmanship" and continued respect for their opponent. I didn't see any of the Hawks clowning around on the sidelines and they seemed to appreciate that Larkin had beaten them the last two years.

Stay tuned for next week's "Game of the Week."

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Three weeks down, 11 to go.

That was the message Bartlett offensive coordinator Mark Williams delivered to the Hawks after they manhandled Larkin 35-6 on Friday at Millennium Field in Streamwood.

After three impressive victories to start the season, Bartlett looks like a team that might just be able to make the 2008 season a 14-game campaign. If the Hawks do that, they'll be playing in the Class 8A state championship game come Thanksgiving weekend.

With a dominant defense and a high-powered offense that can mix the run and pass with equal efficiency, Bartlett looks completely deserving of the No. 7 ranking in the Class 8A state poll. But the Hawks aren't satisfied with being No. 7. They've got their sights set on the top spot currently occupied by Mt. Carmel.

Barring any additional injuries, a look at the schedule makes me think the Hawks will roll through the regular season without a loss. Some potential stumbling blocks remain, including a road matchup against an improved Lark Park team next week and a showdown with St. Charles North on Sept. 27. But the Hawks certainly appear to be the class of the Upstate Eight Conference, especially after perennial UEC title contender Neuqua Valley came up short Lake Park on Friday and slipped to 1-2.

Assuming Bartlett can run the table, its biggest challenge will be staying sharp and keeping the edge that helped spark big wins against Glenbard North and Oswego in the first two weeks of the season. With games against UEC bottom feeders like Elgin and East Aurora on tap in the final four weeks of the season, the Hawks must continue to challenge themselves to prepare for the caliber of play they'll likely see in the postseason.

The bottom line is that a ninth straight postseason appearance looks like a foregone conclusion for Bartlett. It's what the Hawks do in the playoffs that remains to be seen. They've lost in the first round in each of the past three years and the program is 2-8 all-time in the postseason. However, this team is different than its predecessors and should be able to write a lengthy new chapter in the school's playoff history if it continues to play at the level it has shown so far this year.

MOST IMPRESSIVE WIN
Huntley's triumph over McHenry and St. Charles East's easy win against Waubonsie Valley both turned heads, but Genoa-Kingston's 35-13 victory against Harvard is without a doubt the most impressive showing in Week 3.

Never mind that the Hornets have reached the state quarterfinals in each of the past two years and are expected to contend for the Big Northern Conference East Division title. None of that mattered to the Cogs, who jumped out to a big lead and proved that their success in 2007 wasn't just a one-year fluke. Coach Bill McCarty has this G-K team primed to not only make a run at the BNC West crown, but also a lengthy stay in the playoffs.

BIGGEST SURPRISE
I don't know what's more shocking; that South Elgin lost to East Aurora 6-3 or that the Storm's high-octane offense has produced only one touchdown in three games.

Regardless, I never saw South Elgin losing this game. The Tomcats were dealing with some team turmoil after a sideline altercation during last week's game led to two people being arrested. Perhaps South Elgin coach Dale Schabert's health problems that forced him to miss the game weighed heavily on his player's minds, but nonetheless this looked like a perfect time for the Storm to get on track.

That didn't happen, and now South Elgin will try to find its footing next Friday against an Elgin team that is coming off an equally disappointing 61-0 loss at home against Kankakee.

NOTEWORTHY


  • St. Charles North's 54-0 win against Streamwood marked the North Stars' biggest margin of victory in school history.

    • Huntley is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 2001.

      • Hampshire is 0-3 for the first time since 2002.

Courier Prep Football Weekly

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Each week during the high school football season, I joined my co-worker Andy Rohr in producing a webcast looking ahead at the weekend's games. We'd interview players and coaches and offer analysis of what to expect as a supplement to the content I'd provide in the paper.

Follow this link to watch one of our shows: CPFW Week 3

Follow this link for a catalog of all of our football webcasts: CPFW 2008

Blame it on Texas

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What's in the water down there in Austin, Texas?

First there was Ricky Williams going from stud running back in college to pot smoking has-been in the pros. Then Cedric Benson followed a somewhat similar path, going from standout running back to full-blown disaster here in Chicago. Now, Vince Young goes from being the hero of the Horns' national championship a few years back to being a mental mess with the Titans.

Off the top of my head I can't think of too many Texas products who have struck it big in the pros lately. So remind me to never let my future kid go play football for Mack Brown and the Longhorns. That is, unless I want that kid to some day get wrapped up in some bizarre episode off the field.

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On Friday afternoon, The Score's Terry Boers and Dan Bernstein set aside putting down their callers for a couple minutes.

And they actually went through an entire segment without loudly sighing into the microphones as a result of their listeners' stupidity.

Instead, the two took some time out to make this preposterous declaration: If a professional sports team does not win that league's championship, then they are not a success.

WSCR's drive-time duo made this black and white assessment while discussing the injuries that have fallen on Chicago's two baseball teams: Carlos Zambrano's arm troubles and Carlos Quentin's season-ending broken wrist. The dynamic duo then went on to ridicule a Cubs fan that called in, for believing that this season could still be success even if the Cubs failed to win the World Series.

"If you believe that, then you're part of the problem," angrily pronounced Bernstein, the same man who often chides callers for taking sports too seriously.

Sorry fellas, success is not determined only by who has the last champagne celebration of any given season. It's determined by fans.

By Boers and Bernstein's definition, out-of-nowhere teams like last year's NL Champion Colorado Rockies, the Illinois football team, and the Stephen Curry-led Davidson basketball team among others - were not successes.

The two curmudgeons also made it a point to rip any fans that look back fondly on non-Series winning years. Boers specifically faulted Cubs fans that look back with affection towards 1969 or 1984.

Sorry Terry, success is measured by meeting or surpassing expectations but also by moments and memories that last. It takes a pretty gloomy personality to deny the authenticity of taking happiness or pleasure from such moments.

The current White Sox season would be a success as long as the team is able to squeak into the playoffs.

For Cubs fans, judging this season may be a little different but it's hard to imagine many fans calling the season unsuccessful if the Cubs were to make but lose in the World Series.

It's too bad. I wonder if Boers and Bernstein consider themselves failures after getting hammered in this quarter's ratings by the only competition they have, WMVP's mediocre but "happy" trio of Mac, Jurko and Harry.

I'm sure they'd just respond to that by going back to their tried-and-true formula - sighing loudly into the mic and calling me a moron.

Maroon football musings

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

A few extra thoughts on Friday's Elgin-West Aurora game that didn't make it into Saturday's Courier News:

  • I thought the Maroons' first drive after halftime Friday was the best they've put together in either game this season. Instead of relying on one big play, Elgin was able to steadily break off chunks of yardage to score what would have been a game-tying touchdown if not for a failed PAT kick.


    To recap the drive that started on the Elgin 36-yard line: Tom Roth threw a 13-yard pass to Jamal Cook for a first down. Cook had a 24-yard run for a first down. Cook got another first down on an 11-yard run before scoring a touchdown on a 13-yard run that brought Elgin within 21-20.

    In total it was eight plays for 64 yards.

    Big plays are nice, and the Maroons will have plenty of them this season. But it was nice to seem them control the ball a little with a methodical drive like that. It keeps a defense from being too aggressive - which I think West Aurora was at times.

  • Speaking of Cook, he is a player. Leading the Maroons in rushing and receiving? Bierman is right to get the ball in his hands whenever possible.
  • West Aurora coach Buck Drach had praise for Cook as well as several other Maroons after the game.

  • "Some of those Elgin kids could play for any team in the (DuPage Valley Conference)," he said.

    "Great skill, just not enough beef up front. We couldn't get the quarterback all night. We just wore them down, especially in the second half."

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By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

It's time to revisit the Upstate Eight Conference's performances against the neighboring DuPage Valley Conference and Fox Valley Conference.

Week 1 wasn't too kind to the UEC as the league's teams went 1-3 against the DVC and 0-3 against the FVC. In Week 2, the UEC went 0-2 against the DVC and 2-2 against the FVC.

Overall, UEC teams are a combined 6-16 this season going into the start of conference play in Week 3. Here's a look at the UEC's showing against area conferences this weekend...

UEC vs. DVC
West Aurora 41, Elgin 26
Naperville Central 28, Lake Park 20
Season to date vs. DVC: 1-5

UEC vs. FVC
Larkin 20, Jacobs 19
St. Charles North 26, McHenry 12
Prairie Ridge 27, Waubonsie Valley 24
Dundee-Crown 21, Streamwood 7
Season to date vs. FVC: 2-5

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By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Larkin has a new look with the word "pride" stenciled inside the block 'L' on its football helmet.

Apparently, that message and first-year coach Matt Gehrig's philosophy is sinking in.

The Royals showed a wealth of character by rallying for a 20-19 win at Jacobs on Friday. The intense, defensive showdown represented a far cry from last year's 75-58 shootout between the teams at Memorial Field.

The Golden Eagles won that contest, but they couldn't overcome an inspired effort from Larkin this time around.

The Royals fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter and could barely move the ball on its first four first possessions, gaining only one first down in that stretch. That didn't bend Larkin's will, though, as it struck with a pair of huge plays when Justin Kalusa scored on a 90-yard touchdown reception and Brandon Cooks took off for a 58-yard scoring run to put the Royals ahead 13-7 shortly before halftime.

Jacobs bounced back and scored on its first two possessions of the third quarter. In years past, Larkin teams normally wouldn't respond well to such adversity. But this time around the Royals didn't break, and they eventually broke through when 5-foot-8, 150-pound junior Jalen Williams fought his way past a host of Jacobs defenders to score the winning touchdown on a five-yard pass from quarterback Jeff Saurbaugh.

Williams, who recovered from a slow start to the night, was just one of many heroes on the night for Larkin. Count Saurbaugh, Cooks, Kalusa, John Hosey and Cody Schue and the entire offensive and defensive lines among the host of players who made big impacts.

However, the biggest stars of the night Royals might just have been Matt Gehrig and his coaching staff, who kept their team believing and maintained a positive and encouraging vibe on the sideline all night.

When Larkin finally gathered for its postgame talk, Gehrig's message was simple.

"There's nothing better than seeing all your hard work come to fruition," the 28-year-old said.

Spoken like a true winner.

MOST IMPRESSIVE WIN
I've got to give Larkin a lot of credit for its strong play, and what better way for Gehrig to introduce himself on the Elgin sports scene than with a thrilling win. But this spot belongs to Bartlett for the second straight week as the Hawks went down to Oswego and shut down Northwestern-bound running back Tim Riley in a 17-0 victory. Bartlett is for real and I'm sticking by my belief that a perfect regular season could be in the cards for coach Tom Meaney's squad.

BIGGEST SURPRISE
At first glance I was taken aback that South Elgin managed only three points in a 41-3 loss to Vernon Hills, but then I learned the Storm was without its starting fullback all night and that running back Desmond Perry went down with an injury early in the contest.

Therefore, I'm going to pin the biggest surprise on St. Charles East, which was drilled by Geneva 34-7. I thought the Saints would make it a game and come close to avenging their playoff loss to the Vikings last year. It looks like I was wrong and it looks like East still has a lot of work if it hopes to reach the upper echelon any time soon.

Another QB blows out

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

The great NFL quarterback class of 1999 lost another member with Daunte Culpepper deciding to hang it up.

Of course everyone uses the word "great" with sarcasm because of the five QBs picked in the first round, only Culpepper and Donovan McNabb had nice careers. So it was a fine collection of busts, including the bozo the Bears took with the 12th overall pick.

Now only McNabb is still playing.

Here's how these guys stacked up in their careers:

QB
Overall pick
Games played
TDs
INTs
Tim Couch
1st (Browns)
62
64
67
Donovan McNabb
2nd (Eagles)
118
171
79
Akili Smith
3rd (Bengals)
22
5
13
Daunte Culpepper
11th (Vikings)
92
142
94
Cade McNown
12th (Bears)
25
16
19


And if you want to add it to the stat line, McNown also stole Couch's girlfriend. Just one of the little things that don't show up in the box score.

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By Erik Jacobsen
Staff Writer

Well there goes the streak.

The Cubs hadn't lost a series in well over a month, but with Tuesday's loss to the Astros they have no chance of salvaging the three-game set at Wrigley Field.

The loss marked the fourth straight for the Cubs, who just last week seemed like they could do no wrong. As a Cubs follower, all I ask is that they win or tie every series. I know that's not realistic, but the way I see it, if this team wins every series from here on out, they'll hoist the World Series trophy come late October.

I'm not ready to completely throw the team under the bus after this rough stretch, but things have to turn around in a hurry. It is September, and the Cubs need to keep their sharp edge. Another series loss or two, and I wouldn't blame Cubs fans for worrying that sky is falling. We aren't used to seeing this team scuffle like this, but this isn't a good time of year to start.

Here's a look at how each Cubs series since the All-Star break turned out...

July 18-20 at Houston (Astros won 2-1)
July 21-23 at Arizona (Diamondbacks won 2-1)
July 24-27 vs. Marlins (Split 2-2)
July 28-31 at Brewers (CUBS won 4-0)
Aug. 1-3 vs. Pirates (CUBS won 2-1)
Aug. 4-6 vs. Astros (CUBS won 2-1)
Aug. 8-10 vs. Cardinals (CUBS won 2-1)
Aug. 12-14 at Braves (CUBS won 3-0)
Aug. 15-17 at Marlins (CUBS won 2-1)
Aug. 19-21 vs. Reds (CUBS won 2-1)
Aug. 22-24 vs. Nationals (CUBS won 2-1)
Aug. 25-27 at Pirates (CUBS won 3-0)
Aug. 28-31 vs. Phillies (Split 2-2)
Sept. 1-3 vs. Astros (Astros won ?-?)

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By Chris Pummer
Staff Writer

So Kyle Orton will open the season as the Bears starting quarterback. Rex Grossman is still around and Caleb Hanie will stick around as the third-stringer.

While that's the current pecking order, the Bears probably need to keep searching. Here's a look at some of the options that are out there:

Gary Busey
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Pros: After watching his fight scene with Mel Gibson in the movie Lethal Weapon, Bears QB coach Pep Hamilton thinks Busey has the footwork to escape from the pocket. That's a big plus behind this Bears offensive line. Busey also demonstrated leadership skills when he was on Celebrity Fit Club 2.

Cons: Long philosophical deliberations could keep Busey from making quick decisions when faced with pressure from blitzing teams. Vocal, long-winded leadership style could wear thin in the locker room.


Bozo the Clown
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Pros: As a clown, he'd fit in with a lot of guys the Bears have put under center since Sid Luckman hung it up. A beloved Chicago icon, he wouldn't be booed until at least his third interception.

Cons: Easily sacked by defenders, in part because of oversized shoes. And he's dead.


Carlos Zambrano
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Pros: Has the height (6-foot-5) and arm strength you want to see from a QB. Pitches with a football player's mentality. Maybe that would translate over to an actual football field. And one-time pitcher Chad Hutchinson worked out so .... uhhh.. move that down to the con side.

Cons: Not available to play for the Bears until the Cubs' season is over. Even if the Cubs miss the playoffs, the Bears might be finished by October, too.

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