Bears

Bloom lands first playoff berth since 1989

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Bloom lands first playoff berth since 1989

Bloom's 1957 football team could have been the best ever produced in Illinois, better than St. Rita 1971 or Evanston 1971 or Joliet Catholic 1975 or East St. Louis 1985 or Wheaton Warrenville South 1998 or Mount Carmel 1950 or Fenwick 1962 or Loyola 1969 or Thornton 1965 or Rockford East 1974.

Trouble is the Chicago Heights school hasn't had a winner since.

In the 1950s, Bloom was the gold standard of high school sports in Illinois. The Trojans were dominant in football, basketball, wrestling, baseball and track and field. Bloom's track team won four state championships in a row.

Cecil Sarff's 1957 football team, led by future NFL player Leroy Jackson, Chuck Green, Homer Thurman and Roger Elliott, was unbeaten and unchallenged in nine games in the old South Suburban League.

Since then, Bloom football has been non-competitive. This is a program that went 0-9, 0-9, 0-9, 0-9, 1-8, 0-9 and 1-8 from 1995 to 2001.

Coach Tony Palombi, in his eighth year, was 18-45 for the past seven, a .286 winning percentage. Last year's team was 2-7. But this year's team is 6-3, the most wins in a season since 1990.

The Trojans lost to Glenbard South 31-27 in Game 2, to unbeaten Crete-Monee 41-6 in Game 6 and to Rich East 20-14 in Game 7. It appeared the long drought might continue but Bloom defeated Rich Central 21-0 last Saturday to clinch the school's fourth trip to the state playoff and first since 1989. They'll play perennial Public League power Simeon on Friday night at Gately Stadium in a Class 8A opener.

Against Rich Central, middle linebacker Malcolm Hurt sparked the defense with two sacks and an interception. Justus Brantley rushed 23 times for 112 yards and one touchdown and also caught a 60-yard scoring pass from Kendall McGinnis. Linebacker Dominique Taylor recovered a fumble in the end zone for another touchdown.

"We made history," Hurt said. "We came out here and fought with our hearts."

"We played like it was a playoff game, our last game. If we lost, we felt we would hand in our equipment that night," said senior wide receiverdefensive back Charles DeLoach III. "You can talk the talk but not walk the walk. We let our play do the talking for us."

"This is the first time we've had a group of kids who had a team atmosphere," Palombi said. "They are easy to coach. They do anything you ask. This is awesome, what you wait for as a coach, a belief in one another."

After going 1-8, 1-8 and 2-7 in the last three years, Palombi said he "needed something for these kids to hang their hats on, something for them to work with." A friend, former Thornwood coach Andre Collins suggested a psychological gimmick he called "faith, fight, finish, family."

"It made the kids believe in something bigger than us, a faith in people around you to do better, that you would have the strength to do what is needed to be successful, to fight through all the adversity that life throws at you," Palombi said.

Despite the negative numbers, he saw some positive signs. He returned 12 starters from last year's 2-7 squad, including 10 on offense. As sophomores, the seniors were 6-3. And the juniors were 6-3 as sophomores. The two classes had a taste of winning.

"The kids were buying into our calling card," Palombi said. "It's not about football but about life. You have to see it to believe it. We're still running the same spread option and three stack defense. We still use the same speed and lifting and conditioning programs.

"I tell the kids to go to the Internet and see what other players are doing. What are your goals? What are your dreams? Look at Thornton and Lincoln-Way East, the perennial powers. They commit. They want to be something."

Palombi said he sat down with his players and talked to each of them.

"What do you want to be and what do you want to do to get there?" he asked them.

"They know what Bloom used to be. The banners from Bloom and Bloom Trail are hanging there. Another factor is how well the basketball team did last year (28-5, fourth place in Class 4A). They have to understand what drove those kids to succeed. For me, the biggest thing is being a part of it."

Bloom overcame adversity from the outset. The quarterback, a two-year starter, transferred to Lincoln-Way West three days before the start of double sessions in August. "We had no idea he was leaving," Palombi said.

Kendall McGinnis, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior, stepped in and the Trojans didn't miss a beat. He has passed for more than 700 yards and rushed for 500.

"He was our No. 2 quarterback all summer," Palombi said. "But the team came around him. He directs everything. He sits in the shotgun and has the ball in his hands all the time. He makes great decisions. I'm surprised he took charge so quickly. He even worked out as a tight end in the summer. He has so much maturity. We knew he was capable. He has the tools."

Brantley, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound junior, has rushed for 1,000 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He rushed for 270 yards against Fenton and 387 yards and five touchdowns against Rich South.

"He was on the sophomore team last year. We knew he was a good runner but we didn't know he had the capability to rush for almost 400 yards in a single game," Palombi said. "We knew he was a good athlete. He has speed and vision and ability to make a cut."

Brantley has come on like gangbusters. He didn't establish himself as the No. 1 running back until Week 3. Up to then, he was sharing the spot with a returning starter. When Palombi had to move the senior to linebacker because of an injury, Brantley stepped up.

Other contributors are 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior defensive back Josiah Dailey, 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior middle linebacker Malcolm Hurt, 6-foot, 228-pound senior center Brandon Rockett, 6-foot, 260-pound senior guard Collis McCloud, 5-foot-10, 230-pound senior guard Alan Hall, 6-foot, 220-pound senior tackleend Jalen Thomas, 5-foot-10, 230-pound tackle Antwan Bluster and 5-foot-9, 230-pound linebacker Mr. Clark.

"Going to practice is a joy," Palombi said. "It is extra special when you make adjustments and they know what you are talking about."

DeLoach, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound senior, is aware of Bloom's history. A sprinter, long jumper and pole vaulter on the track and field team, he is aware of the school's four state championships in the 1950s. And he sees the banner for the 1957 football team hanging in McCann Gym and the team picture displayed outside the gym. "It was the greatest team in Bloom history," he said.

Most of all, he recalls where the program has been and why it has gone from 1-8, 1-8 and 2-7 to 6-3 in the last four years.

"When I was a freshman, they were 1-8 and some kids said they didn't want to play for Bloom. Even students said: 'Why don't you play somewhere else where you can be a winner?' It didn't matter to me. If you keep working hard and work in the off-season, you will do something great," DeLoach said.

"We ignored all the negative talk. We bought into what the coach said. Our motto is: faith, fight, finish, family. We looked at other schools and saw how they came together. In the past, our teams weren't together. But we are together this year."

There were times last summer, however, when DeLoach and his teammates wondered if it was all worthwhile. Palombi put them through countless hours of running, running and more running, long distance runs and sprints.

"It was one of the hottest summers I can think of," DeLoach said. "We were out there every day...800 meters, five times, over 100 degrees. We pushed ourselves to keep going. We had to keep going and not give up. It was very painful at the time, very tiring. It was hard work but it was worth it."

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Bears offense opens up in 24-23 comeback win over Denver Broncos

Preseason games are about isolated goods and bads, snapshots really, rather than sweeping overalls. All in the eye of the beholder. And for the Bears, after losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati in Matt Nagy’s first efforts as a head coach, getting out of Denver with a 24-23 win over the Broncos looked pretty good in the eyes of any Bears beholder.

Saturday’s preseason game three was a collection of snapshots for the Bears, playing their third “practice” game but the first with enough of the starters on offense and defense to matter, or at least as much as these can matter.

The Bears achieved their first win under Nagy on the right arm of No. 2 quarterback Chase Daniel, pressed into extra duty when Tyler Bray was hurt in the third quarter, and who completed 19 of 28 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns, including the game-winner just inside the 2-minute warning on a 12-yard throw to tight end Ben Braunecker. The win was preserved when cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc punched the ball out of the hands of Denver receiver Isaiah McKenzie and linebacker Isaiah Irving gathered in the loose football to end a potential Denver comeback drive at the Chicago 38.

Before all of that, in his longest appearance of the presesason, quarterback Mitch Trubisky started and directed a pair of sustained drives, the first covering 51 yards to a missed field-goal attempt, and a second going 75 yards and culminating in a touchdown. Combined with the work by Daniel, the Bears put up five drives 50 yards or longer. Trubisky completed 9 of 14 passes for 90 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and the No. 1 offense produced 10 first downs.

Notably perhaps, the Trubisky score came in a fashion that was previewed more than a few times throughout camp, and that projects as a template for a staple in the offense under Nagy:

A high-percentage flip going to tight end Trey Burton cutting across the field and going seven yards for Trubisky’s first TD pass of the preseason. The design of the play forced the Denver secondary to drop in coverage of Bears wide receivers and left rush linebacker Von Miller needing to choose between dropping into a short zone or going after Trubisky. Miller did the latter and Burton, who caught 4 of 5 passes directed to him for 45 yards, was alone in the underneath zone.

“I’m just trying to be who I am, do what the coaches ask me to do and go wherever that leads,” Burton told the FOX 32 broadcast. “Obviously, every week and every game is different so whatever my role is, I’m down for it.”

Trubisky did suffer his first interception over the span of two preseasons and 71 pass attempts, but appeared to be victimized when running back Tarik Cohen broke off the route on a short in-cut and failed to break back toward Trubisky. The throw was to where Cohen was supposed to be but was instead an easy pick for Denver safety Justin Simmons.

“I think [Cohen] learned he can’t do that,” Nagy said.

But the passing offense overall was functional under Trubisky, not insignificant in the context of the quarterback in a new offense with a complement of receivers largely unfamiliar with him. And some who hadn’t graced stat sheets to date.

Kevin White came up with his first two catches of the preseason and followed each with some nifty running after the catches. White also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty that accounted for about half the yardage on the Trubisky touchdown drive.

Rookie Anthony Miller caught 3 passes for 33 yards, with a long of 19 yards. Allen Robinson started by played sparingly in the first half in the first test of his surgically repaired left ACL and was not targeted. Taylor Gabriel, with a foot injury, did not play for the third straight game.

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

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USA TODAY

Thoughts from Bears-Broncos: Injury absences, special teams woes and a world of confusion over new helmet rule

No Roquan Smith but Bears injury absences vs. Broncos far more troubling
 
No real surprise that coaches decided to hold linebacker Roquan Smith out, given that the rookie had exactly one practice in pad and two without pads last week after signing his contract on Monday. But it was not Smith’s absence that was concerning coming out of the Bears ____ loss to the Denver Broncos.
 
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, who has been hampered by injuries in each of this first two Bears seasons, went out midway through the first half with an unspecified hand injury and did not return. Tight end Adam Shaheen, starting his second straight game after three catches for 53 yards at Cincinnati, caught a first-quarter pass from Mitchell Trubisky but left the field on a cart after injuring his ankle during the ensuing tackle.
 
Along with Floyd’s absence, the pass rush was again without outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who hasn’t been on the field since the first practice of training camp, that after missing play time with ankle twisted in the first April minicamp practice and with a hamstring strain in a June minicamp practice.
 
The Bears did get a sack from Roy Robertson-Harris, his third in as many games and likely establishing him as the starting defensive end opposite Akiem Hick in the Bears’ base 3-4.
 
First quarter not-so-special teams
 
Repeating a pattern from some years past, Bears kick returns did the offense no favors early, with multiple mistakes in first quarter alone:
 
Recently signed running back Knile Davis took the opening kickoff six yards deep in the end zone and got it only to the Chicago 15;
 
After the first Denver three-and-out, Cre’Von LeBlanc fair-caught a punt at the Chicago 5 instead of gambling on a touchback. Three plays later Mitch Trubisky mishandled a high snap and was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
 
On the free kick, reserve tight end Ben Braunecker lost contain and contributed to a 17-yard return by Isaiah McKenzie, setting the Broncos up at their 40, from where they moved for a first-quarter field goal. After that field goal, Davis returned the Denver kickoff 43 yards but the runback was nullified by a holding penalty.
 
Throw in Cody Parkey’s missed field goal from 52 yards and Bears special teams combined for one of the poorer possible quarters short of allowing a touchdown return.
 
 
Helmet hi-jinks
 
And the league thought it had problems with the catch rule?
 
The NFL’s leading-with-the-helmet prohibition and its enforcement bordering on the bizarre reared its ugly head early  flag on Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom for his tackle of Bears tight end Adam Shaheen defies explanation. Yiadom got his head in front of Shaheen’s quads in a textbook go-low tackle with minimal risk to either player but was hit with a 15-yard penalty. Not sure what Yiadom was supposed to lead with? His feet?
 
Then Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller drew a leading-with-the-helmet when he went shoulder-first into tight end Andy Janovich, while Denver left tackle Garrett Bolles went helmet-first into a basic cut block on linebacker Leonard Floyd and drew no flag.
 
 
Duly noted
 
Quirky rules and their enforcement don’t account for a worrisome spate of penalties (eight through three quarters) that cost the Bears more than 100 yards. 
 
In the first half alone, besides the Fuller flag, tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie drew holding penalties, and a holding penalty on the kickoff-return team negated a 43-yard return by Knile Davis. Tight end Ben Braunecker was tagged for pass interference.