In suburban Chicago for an extended Thanksgiving break.
I flew in just ahead of the strong cold front that passed through here late Friday morning.
My brother Chris is a big supporter of his town’s high school football team and so he was really pumped up for Saturday’s 8A state playoff semifinal game between Glenbard West and Loyola Academy. We visited Duchon Field Friday afternoon as school was letting out to inspect the condition of the grass playing surface after the rain and it appeared in fine shape.
My Dad and Cub fan Dan joined us Saturday morning for the short walk from my brother’s home over to the football field. A guy named Joe and his son sell hot dogs from a cart set up in the park near Duchon. Three bucks. A Vienna Beef frank with all the trimmings.
About an hour before kickoff, West’s squad warmed up on their practice field atop a hill near the gymnasium. A long freight train passed by as the players stretched out. It was 37 degrees with a stiff wind out of the northwest. We could hear the head coach’s pep talk and then got to witness the great Glenbard West football tradition my brother has talked about a lot in recent years.
With the percussion section of the school’s marching band leading the way, the team walked hand-in-hand down the hill to the football field. It’s a great scene. Supporters yelled out words of encouragement.
It was clear from the outset of this game that Glenbard West was badly outsized in the trenches. Loyola’s linemen were of the 240 and up variety whereas Glenbard’s guys were a good 40 pounds smaller on average.
It was 7-7 with 90 seconds left in the first half and it appeared Glenbard’s game management and bend/not break defense would keep it interesting. But the tide turned just before halftime when Loyola’s versatile and brawny pass catcher Jake Marwede got away with a push-off and a big gainer on a reception down the left side. He caught a jump ball in the end zone a few plays later and Loyola walked into halftime up a TD.
Marwede is 6-5 and headed to Duke. He reeled off a couple runs out of Wildcat formation to start the second half. The utter physical dominance unfurled on those two up-the-gut carries by Marwede effectively demoralized West. The game felt over at that point.
Loyola used Marwede sparingly enough to make all of their other offensive weapons extra-dangerous given the distracting concern and focus on the big guy’s game-changing ability.
42-13 was the final. The Catholic school on suburban Chicago’s north shore is the undefeated 8A champ and will be favored to win another title next Saturday.
There is much to debate about the way Illinois arranges its high school football postseason. The Catholic schools who put an emphasis on athletics can assemble squads without the geographical constraints imposed on the public schools. There can also be controversy associated with the seeding and classification of schools via a formula that includes enrollment and other factors. The bottom line for me is that it’s an inclusive competition with very healthy community support. The governing body of high school sports here has a reputation for responsiveness with an evolving management approach. To box out the parochial schools would make it less interesting. In fact, Loyola and Glenbard West had never met in football before Saturday. Two great programs came together via the inclusive ISHA system and that’s cool. I’d estimate the crowd at 5000. Members of Glen Ellyn’s fire department presented the flags during the band’s rendition of the national anthem.
We’ve had some good beer the last few days. A beer shop near my brother’s house sells all of Chicago’s good stuff. The “Ninja vs. Unicorn” made by Pipeworks is a super tasty double. We visited Alter’s tap room on Sunday and really enjoyed their “Alterior Motive” IPA.