The Public League’s top-5 games in Week 6

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Westinghouse junior linebacker Dejuan Sparkman peers into the background earlier this season.

Westinghouse junior linebacker Dejuan Sparkman peers into the backfield earlier this season.

By: Eric Van Dril ||| Sept. 29, 2016

Games previewed: Hubbard-Perspectives, Solorio-Westinghouse, Back of the Yards-Catalyst-Maria, Vocational-Raby, Pritzker-Rowe-Clark.

WORD COUNT: 1,328

No. 7 Hubbard (4-1, 2-0) vs. No. 5 Perspectives (4-1, 2-0) at 7:15 p.m., Thursday, at Gately.

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The BIG question: Can Perspectives take command of the Illini Prairie State and continue a season of firsts?

Perspectives has been in the Illini Prairie State for four seasons now. Before this year, the Warriors had never defeated Morgan Park or Hubbard. They had never even finished above .500 in the conference.

Perspectives accomplished one first earlier this year when it beat Morgan Park 18-6. It has the chance to check off two more this week by beating Hubbard, which would also clinch its first-ever winning record in the Illini Prairie State.

A win over Hubbard would put the Warriors in excellent position to win the conference outright, with games against Kenwood (3-2) and Brooks (1-4) remaining.

Matchup to watch: The Hubbard rushing attack vs. Perspectives’ run defense.

The Greyhounds are going to run the ball. That’s what they do. It’s up to Perspectives to slow down senior running back Joshua Land and a high-powered Hubbard offense that has scored 131 points in its last two games.

Land rushed for four touchdowns against Perspectives last season. You can see all four in the following video.

The Warriors appear to have the personnel capable of slowing Land and Hubbard’s run game, however.

Their defense held Morgan Park to six points on Friday, Sept. 16. One week later, Urban Prep-Englewood finished with -17 yards rushing against Perspectives. Senior linebackers Montrel Kennedy and Johnathan Wordlaw were flying around against the Lions, and senior defensive lineman Jamauri Spivery was wreaking havoc up front.

No. 4 Solorio (4-1, 2-0) at No. 8 Westinghouse (4-1, 2-0) at 2 p.m., Saturday, at Westinghouse.

 

The BIG question: Can Westinghouse score enough points to hang with Solorio?

As The Public League has noted multiple times in recent weeks, Solorio has the highest-scoring offense of any team in the Public League. The Sun Warriors are averaging 52 points-per-game through five weeks.

The Warriors can score, too.

They scored 40 points in double overtime against Kenwood in Week 3 — the same Broncos defense that held Morgan Park to eight points on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The Warriors will likely have to score somewhere around that number to have a chance to pull off an upset against Solorio. It would be very surprising if this game ends up as a 16-14 defensive struggle.

Matchup to watch: The Solorio rush offense vs. Westinghouse’s run defense.

This was the same key matchup highlighted in Week 4, when the Public League listed Solorio-Vocational as one of its top-5 games of the week. The Sun Warriors rushed 19 times for 206 yards and seven touchdowns against the short-handed Cavaliers on Friday, Sept. 16, en route to a 55-14 win.

The same matchup is key for Westinghouse this week.

If the Warriors — or any team, for that matter — don’t slow down junior quarterback Quincy Patterson II and senior running back Justin Members on the ground, Solorio’s offense becomes pretty much impossible to stop.

Catalyst-Maria (5-0, 4-0) vs. Back of the Yards (5-0, 4-0) at 4:15 p.m., Thursday, at Back of the Yards.

The BIG question: What will be the score at halftime?

Catalyst-Maria’s offense is high-powered. It features senior quarterback Tyler Vargas (15 passing touchdowns), running back James Ward (308 yards rushing, five touchdowns) and 6-foot-3 wide receiver T.J. Hayes (24 catches, 421 yards, nine touchdowns).

The Wolves have scored the second-most points (254) of any team in the Public League. Only Solorio (260) has scored more.

Catalyst-Maria has not only piled up points, it’s essentially put all five of its games out of reach by halftime. The Wolves’ smallest lead at halftime was 30-12 against Richards on Sept. 17, according to maxpreps.com. They’ve outscored their opponents 172-28 in first halves thus far.

Back of the Yards will likely have to be within striking distance at halftime in order to have a chance to win.

Matchup to watch: The Catalyst-Maria offense vs. Back of the Yards’ defense.

Catalyst-Maria’s offense has been prolific, but Back of the Yards is the best team the Wolves have faced thus far. Their first five opponents are currently 6-18, combined.

The Bobcats’ defense shut out previously-undefeated Chicago Tech 42-0 last week. It is led by senior inside linebacker Kevin Franco, who is first on the team in tackles.

The Bobcats’ defense will have to play well in order to win a game that will likely determine the Inter-City 5 champion.

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Raby (0-5, 0-2) vs. Vocational (2-3, 0-2) at 4:15 p.m., Thursday, at Gately.

The BIG question: How will Raby handle the disappointment of being eliminated from the postseason?

A lot was expected from the Raiders this season. They went 8-4 in 2015 and made it to the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. They have a lot of talent. The Public League had them ranked No. 5 in the preseason.

Injuries have really hurt Raby, however. The Raiders have also had to deal with eligibility issues and a very difficult non-conference schedule that included Curie (4-1), Wheaton Academy (4-1) and Hubbard (4-1).

Those three things — along with a forfeit vs. King in Week 4 — have led to Raby being eliminated from the state playoffs after just five weeks.

The Raiders have fought hard in recent weeks, however. They beat King 50-0 on Sept. 17 in a game that was later forfeited. They played right with No. 4 Solorio in the first half a week ago before the Sun Warriors pulled away en route to a 57-34 victory.

The talent and play-making ability is still there for Raby. But the x-factor in this game is: Will the Raiders have an emotional let down because they’ve already been eliminated from the playoffs? Or will they be able to play with fire and record their first win of the season?

Matchup to watch: Vocational’s run game vs. Raby’s rush defense.

The Cavaliers have lost their first two conference games by a combined score of 109-14, but those two games were against No. 4 Solorio and No. 1 Phillips.

This week’s game against Raby is much more manageable for a team that will still be without senior Everett Henderson, its best running back.

The rushing attack, which features junior Marquell Peggs and senior Malik Haynes at running back, is the key to Vocational’s offense.

This game should be a good measuring stick for it, looking ahead.

If Vocational can move the ball on the ground this week, that bodes well for the Cavaliers as they try to close out conference play with wins over Raby, King and Westinghouse. Winning all three would bring the Cavaliers to the five-win mark teams need to reach in order to qualify for the state playoffs.

Noble-Pritzker (4-1, 3-1) vs. Noble-Rowe-Clark (4-1, 3-1) at 3:45 p.m., Saturday, at Hanson.

The BIG question: Can Rowe-Clark win its first-ever conference title by upsetting Pritzker, which has been the clear-cut best team in the Inter-City 3 over the last six seasons?

Pritzker has been the dominant team in the Inter-City 3 since 2010. The Jaguars have won five out of the last six conference titles, according to ihsa.org. That includes 2015, when they went 9-0.

Pritzker lost 6-0 to ITW Speer on Sept. 10, however. Pritzker, Rowe-Clark and ITW Speer are all currently 3-1 in the Inter-City 3. ITW Speer beat Pritzker and Rowe-Clark, according to ihsa.org, but lost to Noble-Muchin 24-14 on Sept. 24.

That has created an opening for Rowe-Clark. It controls its own destiny as it chases its first-ever conference championship. Rowe-Clark will have to win this game, then likely win the rest of its games in the Inter-City 3, in order to do so.

Matchup to watch: The Rowe-Clark defense vs. Pritzker QB Elijah Cortez and Pritzker RB Yoluis Chamorro.

Pritzker’s backfield features Cortez and Chamorro, who are both excellent runners that can elude tackles and score at any time.

Their highlight films from last season show that.

It’s a big task for defenses to slow down both players, but that’s what Rowe-Clark will likely have to do in order to upset Pritzker.

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From learning about the girdle to 4-0: The rapid rise of the Back of the Yards football program

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Photo provided.

Photo provided.

By: Eric Van Dril ||| Sept. 22, 2016

The Back of the Yards football program launched last year with a 39-man roster comprised of just seven athletes who had played football previously.

Back of the Yards head coach Sheamus Murphy and his staff started from the absolute ground level.

“I came from Lincoln-Way West, and Lincoln-Way West is one of the premier programs in the state,” Murphy said. “Coming from that to this, it was like we were teaching youth football and high-school football at the same time — as far as the basics and the fundamentals.”

Murphy dedicated much of his first practice to teaching safe, technically-sound tackling to Back of the Yards’ players and other basics like that, quarterback Jeremiah Harris said recently.

But first, the Bobcats had to learn about the girdle.

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The girdle is worn under the football pants. It includes a hip pad on each side and a tailbone pad in the back.

The function and placement of the hip pads are obvious, given their shape and where they’re positioned in relation to the leg holes.

The tailbone pad, on the other hand, is not.

“We had guys that put their girdle on backwards,” Harris said. “The butt pad, they put it on the front side.”

Back of the Yards’ players were taught how to put their other pads on, too, which senior inside linebacker Kevin Franco recently said he didn’t know how to do prior to the start of his first season of organized football.

The Bobcats have grown exponentially from that point to now.

Murphy and his staff laid the foundation last year, when Back of the Yards went 5-4 without any seniors, and has built upon it this season.

The Bobcats are now 4-0 overall. They will host Chicago Tech, another second-year program that started 4-0, later today in a key conference game.

“I really didn’t think that we would have grown as much as we have since the first day,” Harris said.

There are several reasons why Back of the Yards has experienced so much growth so quickly.

The Bobcats are dedicated, for one. They have 45 varsity players this year, and Murphy said there are regularly over 40 players at practice each day. That allows the team to get valuable repetition to work on, improve and perfect the different concepts the coaching staff has introduced, Harris said.

Back of the Yards’ players also know what to expect.

“Comparing a practice from last year to this year, it’s like night and day,” Murphy said. “Guys know the drills. Things are just a lot smoother this year. Now, it’s just fine tuning everything and just developing our skills every day.”

Back of the Yards has also been able to add more plays to its playbook due to its increased experience.

Harris was an outside linebacker, not a quarterback, when he played football prior to his sophomore season. The junior is now in his second season at quarterback. He’s thrown for six touchdowns and run for six more in Back of the Yards’ four games this year.

Harris and his teammates — including standouts like Miguel Aguilar, Jorge Fernandez and Kevin Pacheco on the offensive line, and Kelvin Valentin at wide receiver — now have more than a full season together. As a result, Back of the Yards is able to run more advanced plays — one with three options, for example, instead of just one option — and do so effectively.

Franco, the Bobcats’ leading tackler, has experienced a similar type of development at the center of a defense that includes sophomore safety Carl McNickles and senior nose guard Eddie Gonzalez.

“Last year, I played outside linebacker,” the senior explained. “That was a pretty easy job. Whatever came my way, I took it down. This year, I got moved to the inside (and) they also (wanted) me calling the plays. I have more room to make some plays when I’m at Will (linebacker). It’s a lot of quick thinking when you’re at Will. You’ve got to take one step, and you’ve got to stick with that step.”

Another reason for Back of the Yards’ ascent has been its coaching, according to Harris.

“They’re the best coaches I’ve ever seen,” Harris said, of Murphy and his staff. “They’ve made a big difference. Somehow, they’ve gotten about 30 kids who had never played football to know how to play football … and (fill) starting positions.”

Harris, Murphy and Franco all said Back of the Yards’ goal this season is to win the Inter-City 5 conference championship.

Its home games against Chicago Tech this week and Catalyst-Maria (4-0) next week will be very important for the Bobcats as they try to continue their substantial, rapid growth.

“I don’t think anybody’s satisfied,” Franco said, of Back of the Yards’ 4-0 start. “I know that, for people like myself who aren’t going to be able to be here (in future seasons), it’s all about getting them out of that (conference) and moving on. I’ll be satisfied as soon as I get the team out of the Inter-City 5.”

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The Public League’s Top 5 games of Week 5

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Quarterback Jalen Snyder and Kenwood takes on Morgan Park this week.

Quarterback Jalen Snyder and Kenwood takes on Morgan Park this week.

Games previewed: No. 6 Morgan Park vs. No. 9 Kenwood, Back of the Yards vs. Chicago Tech, No. 12 Mather vs. No. 13 Taft, Lindblom vs. No. 11 Payton, South Shore vs. No. 14 Urban Prep-Bronzeville.

Word count1,497

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No. 6 Morgan Park (3-1, 0-1) vs. No. 9 Kenwood (3-1, 1-0) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Gately.

The BIG question: Can Morgan Park cut down on its turnovers and get off to a better start?

The Mustangs have gotten off to slow starts in each of the last two weeks. They fell behind Curie 21-0 before roaring back for a huge win. Perspectives managed to shut out Morgan Park’s offense during the first three quarters on Friday, Sept. 16, en route to an 18-6 upset.

The Wolves were also able to force turnovers. By himself, Perspectives safety Supriem Clark forced two fumbles and picked off a pass.

Improving upon those two things will be important for Morgan Park’s offense against Kenwood.

Matchup to watch: Morgan Park’s defensive line vs. Kenwood’s offensive line.

Westinghouse was able to pressure Broncos quarterback Jalen Snyder regularly in its 40-32 victory in Week 3, including on the crucial final three plays of the game.

Morgan Park has even more talent on its defensive line than Westinghouse, especially with Northern Illinois commit Jawon Denton coming off of the edge. Denton made several big plays against Perspectives where he used his athleticism to knife into the backfield and bring down the Perspectives quarterback or running back.

Richard Rhoden, a senior defensive tackle, was also very hard for Perspectives to block in its victory.

Kenwood will have to block Denton, Rhoden and their teammates effectively in order to continue its streak of four-straight games scoring 25 points or more.

Chicago Tech (4-0, 4-0) vs. Back of the Yards (4-0, 3-0) at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at Back of the Yards

The BIG question: Which program on the rise will leave this game having made one giant step toward winning the Inter-City 5 and moving up to the Chicago conference?

Back of the Yards and Chicago Tech are very similar to one another.

Their programs both launched last year. Their coaching staffs both started with the absolute basics. Their programs were full of players who hadn’t played football previously.

Still, Back of the Yards and Chicago Tech are both 4-0 thus far.

Catalyst-Maria (4-0) looms for both, too. Back of the Yards plays the high-scoring Wolves in Week 6. Chicago Tech plays them in Week 8. But the winner of this particular game — one that will be played at Back of the Yards on Thursday, not at Hanson Stadium as it says on ihsa.org — will continue to control its destiny in the race to win the Inter-City 5 and move up to the Chicago conference.

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Matchup to watch: The defenses of both teams vs. the other team’s quarterback.

The similarities between Back of the Yards and Chicago Tech extend beyond just the young age of the programs. They both have quarterbacks who are crucial pieces to their offenses.

Chicago Tech is led by Jovan Baker, who has already thrown for 631 yards passing and nine touchdowns. Baker has run for 624 yards and six scores thus far.

Back of the Yards is led by junior quarterback Jeremiah Harris, who’s 6-foot-3 and has thrown for six scores and run for six more.

Both teams have other offensive options, yet the dual-threat quarterback that plays better on Thursday could wind up being the key to this game.

No. 12 Mather (4-0, 2-0) vs. No. 13 Taft (3-1, 2-0) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Hanson

The BIG question: Which team will control its own destiny in the Big Shoulders, and for a playoff berth?

Through four weeks of the season, Lincoln Park, Mather and Taft appear to be the top-three teams in the Chicago Big Shoulders. Each head-to-head matchup between those three teams carries an incredible amount of significance when it comes to deciding the eventual conference champion, and determining who will move up to the Illini in 2017.

Those three games will also carry a great deal of significance with regards to which two Big Shoulders teams will make the playoffs this season, as The Public League wrote in this week’s rankings.

Each Chicago conference can only send two teams to the playoffs, per ihsa.org. This game — as well as Lincoln Park-Taft in Week 7 and Mather-Lincoln Park in Week 9 — will go a long way in deciding which two teams make the playoffs.

Matchup to watch: Mather RB Isaiah Walker vs. the Taft rush defense.

Walker has the ability to pile up a lot of yardage in a hurry for Mather, as Lake View experienced last week. Walker is explosive in the open field. You can see that in the following video.

Taft was susceptible to run at times, early in the season. Mt. Carmel’s ground game would give pretty much any team in the Public League fits, but Uplift was able to move the ball effectively on the ground against Taft in Week 2 before the Titans wore down and the Eagles’ defense reached a higher level.

For Mather, sustaining the run figures to be important on Saturday.

Lindblom (1-3, 1-0) vs. No. 11 Payton (3-1, 1-0) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Lane

The BIG question: Can anybody beat Payton, a team with a 10-game conference winning streak, in the Illini Heartland?

The Eagles are arguably the biggest challenge remaining on Payton’s regular-season schedule.

Lindblom is 1-3, currently, but it’s a somewhat-deceiving 1-3. The Eagles currently have the second-most playoff points — a metric calculated by adding up opponents’ wins — of any team in the four Illini conferences. Only Raby (22) has more. Brooks, like Lindblom, has 20.

That speaks to the quality of Lindblom’s non-conference schedule, which included Lincoln Park (4-0), St. Edward (4-0) and a 3-1 Perspectives team that just beat Morgan Park.

Before the season, Lindblom coach Justin Pressley said his team — one moving from the Chicago Great Lakes to the Illini Heartland — would have to grow acclimated to playing a higher level of competition, which includes players that are bigger and faster.

A tough non-conference schedule figures to have helped achieve that, and prepare Lindblom to take on a program that’s been as good as Payton has in recent seasons.

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Matchup to watch: The Lindblom passing offense vs. Payton’s defense.

CJ Rutherford is a standout for Lindblom. He’s the Eagles’ top receiver. Just this past week he was honored by Jon Gruden for his hard work.

Rutherford is by no means the lone option in Lindblom’s passing attack, however. The Eagles’ spread attack includes Rutherford and juniors Joshua Bufkin and Makhi Cochran.

In Week 2, Lincoln Park was able to win one-on-one matchups on the outside and hit Payton with two big plays through the air, including the game-winning touchdown.

Lindblom has the personnel to win those one-on-one matchups, but it will be important for its offensive line to give quarterback Bryce Walker II time to throw. That is another key to the Eagles’ success in this game.

South Shore (2-2, 2-0) vs. No. 14 Urban Prep-Bronzeville (2-2, 2-0) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Stagg.

The BIG question: Can Urban Prep-Bronzeville truly take control of the of Chicago Windy City?

The Lions certainly weren’t flawless against Julian in Week 4. They had a punt blocked. They had over 100 penalty yards on offense alone.

Still, Urban Prep-Bronzeville won by 22 points.

After the game, the Lions were very confident in their chances, moving forward.

“All the other teams, in my opinion, are a cake walk,” Urban Prep-Bronzeville defensive end Johnny Collins said, “especially with the coaches we have.”

South Shore, Hyde Park and Urban Prep-Bronzeville are all 2-0 in the Windy City. If the Lions win this game — one against a South Shore team that, like Urban Prep-Bronzeville, beat 2015 runners-up DuSable by 20 points — their chance of running the table in the conference increases substantially.

Matchup to watch: South Shore QB DeShawn Thomas vs. Urban Prep-Bronzeville DE Johnny Collins

Collins terrorized Julian’s quarterbacks in Urban Prep-Bronzeville’s 40-18 win on Saturday, Sept. 17. He finished with at least three sacks. He forced one fumble — on a quarterback roll out to the right — which senior Rayshawn Fields returned for a momentum-turning touchdown. He also pressured the Jaguars’ quarterbacks consistently.

As you can see in the following video, Collins specifically did so from the right side of Julian’s offensive formation — the same side most right-handed quarterbacks are much more comfortable rolling out to. That’s by design, Collins said after the game.

Collins figures to be there once again on Saturday as he hunts Thomas, a right-handed quarterback.

Thomas is a very good athlete who is excellent at making defenders miss and picking up yardage with his legs. He can be lethal when he gets in the open field, as you can see here.

Urban Prep-Bronzeville will try to take that away. Collins’ presence off of the edge figures to be a big weapon in trying to do so.

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