Preps Talk

2015 coach of the year: George Czart

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2015 coach of the year: George Czart

I'll admit it: At the end of the day this was George Czart's award to lose.

Czart, the head coach of Lincoln-Way North, has been named the 2015 EDGYTIM/Rivals.com Illinois High School Coach of the Year.

The Phoenix posted an 11-1 record, including a perfect 7-0 record in the Southwest Suburban Red (a conference that saw one team advance to the Class 5A final in Lincoln-Way West and another make it to the Class 7A semifinal in Bradley). Lincoln-Way North advanced to the quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons.

[MORE PREPS: 2015 preps player of the year - Sam Brodner]

But the biggest storyline statewide — from the start of the season — was the shocking announcement of the closing of Lincoln-Way North back on Aug. 13, three days into football practice and a few weeks away from the start of the regular season.

How in the world could the relatively new Lincoln-Way North suddenly close? The home of the Phoenix, which stands hovering along Harlem Avenue just south of I-80, looks more like a college campus than a high school. This is Lincoln-Way, the same Lincoln-Way that won award after award and all kinds of accolades and praise for how well they handled the district's sudden growth. How can this school district go from award-winning to shuttering a school in just a few short years? The entire Lincoln-Way North community still asks the same questions to this day. And even after the announcement was made, this all seems unreal — even to this day.

Even before the announcement that Lincoln-Way North was going to close its doors forever, Czart and his team were still trying to get past the demons of how the 2014 season ended. The Phoenix led Wheaton-Warrenville South, 10-7, in the 7A opening-round, and had the football with 1:30 left to play. Wheaton-South had no time outs. Czart and North decided to not take the victory formation, instead opting to run the football to kill the clock. North fumbled, Wheaton-South recovered and scored. It led to the eventual,17-10, overtime loss to the Tigers. Needless to say, Czart and his team heard about that loss during the offseason from an upset and irate LWN community.

[MORE PREPS: EDGY - IHSA State Final Blowouts?]

As the team approached the 2015 season, Lincoln-Way North had several built-in excuses and reasons to fold up the tents. From the way the 2014 season ended to the closing of the school after the 2015-2016 school year, the Phoenix could have easily just called it in and no one would have really blamed them.

However, Lincoln-Way North never folded the tents, never quit and never made any excuses.

The 2015 season didn't start off great for the Phoenix. They opened up the year against Richards and trailed, 23-2, at the half, only to rally to win 30-29. From the opening game to the final game in school history, North made a habit of coming from behind and finishing strong. And never quitting.

[MORE PREPS: Final 2015 CSN Preps Football Power Rankings]

Czart weathered the storm this season. He overcame the criticism from 2014, guided his team to an undefeated regular season and conference title, and instilled a never-say-die attitude, even in their final game in school history. With his own near-term future on the line, Czart and the Phoenix just dug in and went to work.

Sounds like a no-brainer as the coach of the year to me.

High School Lites Preview: Week 9

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NBC Sports Chicago

High School Lites Preview: Week 9

NBC Sports Chicago will have cameras covering the biggest high school football games across Chicagoland on the Week 9 edition of High School Lites, Friday at 11:00 p.m. Can Perspectives beat Solorio and get a shot at the state playoff field? Can Bolingbrook upset the Big Cobalt Blue Machine at Lincoln-Way East? Can Marist post a perfect ESCC season and beat Benet Academy in Lisle? Can Wheaton North upset Batavia and sneak into the state playoffs with a win? And who wins the CCL Blue championship game? Brother Rice? Montini?

Solorio vs. Perspectives, 3:45 p.m. at Stagg Stadium

EDGY's Take: Both Solorio (5-3, 2-2) and Perspectives (4-4, 0-4) are in must-win mode. They are both seeking a Week 9 win. Solorio is in with a win. Should Perspectives win, both teams will then await their state playoff fate on Saturday night when the IHSA pairings are released. Solorio head coach Bill Ziemba has playmakers in NIU commit WR/DB Messian Travis and with QB Tyrell Williams. Will the Sun Warriors be ready for an equally-hungry Perspectives team? The Warriors, with head coach Terry Jones at the helm, also have talent this season. It includes senior OL/DL Dominic Moore (6-foot-7, 290 pounds). He is one of the state's top uncommitted names. Can the Perspectives defense slow down and contain Solorio's skills department and overall big play ability?

EDGY's Pick: Solorio 28 Perspectives 16 

Dundee-Crown at Huntley, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Dundee-Crown (4-4, 3-4) is looking for their first playoff berth since 2013. A win by the Chargers would get them, at least, in the postseason conversation. Head coach Michael Steinhaus has a strong passing attack this fall led by under-the-radar QB Joshua Raby. TE/DE Justin Prusko is a name to watch as well. Huntley (5-3, 5-2) head coach Matt Zimolzak has also gotten a big season from his quarterback. Chris Raffin and the Red Raiders have several weapons on offense including WR Connor Fitzgerald. Can the Huntley defense get a consistent pass rush against the Dundee-Crown line? Can Dundee-Crown keep their offense on the field and win in a shootout?

EDGY's Pick: Huntley 34 Dundee-Crown 24

Lisle at Coal City, 7:00 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Lisle (8-0, 4-0) is having a terrific season under Hall of Fame head coach Paul Parpet. They are conference champs for the first time since 1981. Coach Parpet will rely on a very productive offense led by QB Jay McGrath and top receiver Jake Kowal. This is an Interstate Eight crossover against Coal City (7-1, 4-0), who will be going to the postseason for the eighth year in a row. Head coach Dan Hutchings has a balanced offensive attack led by junior QB Payton Hutchings, RB Connor Skubc and RB Dan Jezic. On defense, the Coalers defense have allowed just 42 points on the season. Can the Lisle offense consistently move the chains against the Coal City defense?

EDGY's Pick: Coal City 31 Lisle 27

Payton vs Kenwood, 7:15 p.m. at Gately Stadium

EDGY's Take: Payton (8-0, 4-0) and Kenwood (8-0, 4-0) are playing for the Chicago Public League Illini Prairie State conference title. Head coach George Klupchak has his Grizzles rolling behind QB Sage Shindler and RB Damien Goodman. The Payton defense has also been strong all season. Kenwood and head coach Sinque Turner has also an All-State caliber playmaker in senior WR/DB Mark Aitken (NIU). He is joined by a ton of speed on both sides of the football. Last possession wins?
 
EDGY's Pick: Kenwood 35 Payton 21

(16) Bolingbrook at (1) Lincoln-Way East, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Lincoln-Way East (8-0, 6-0) hasn't lost a regular season game since September 9, 2016. The 2018 Griffins are --once again-- stacked on both sides of the football. Keep an eye on QB Jack Baltz (Illinois State), RB Devon Williams, WR Jackson Ritter and WR Matt Judd. Bolingbrook (7-1, 5-1) have won four straight after a Week 4 loss to H-F. The Raiders, under head coach John Ivlow, have talent in the backfield with senior RB Anthony Williams Jr. (Michigan State) along with senior RB Quentin Pringle (Eastern Kentucky). The Bolingbrook defense has allowed just 80 points in 2018. Can Bolingbrook run the football consistently against the Lincoln-Way East defense?

EDGY's Pick: Lincoln-Way East 28 Bolingbrook 20

(4) Marist at Benet, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Marist (7-1, 6-0) has won the East Suburban Catholic Conference. They are looking to finish with a win and earn a high seed in Class 8A. Marist head coach Ron Dawczak has received a huge season from senior QB Mike Markett. He has several weapons including WR Billy Skalitzky and WR Jadon Thompson. The Redhawks defense has been a strength as well. Keep an eye on senior S Kendric Nowling (Easter Michigan). Benet Academy (6-2, 4-2) and head coach Pat New will look towards QB Collin Gillespie and RB Ben Hickey as the keys on offense. The Redwings defense is also a strength. Watch for DL Jacob Snell and DE Jack Benish to make plays. Can the Benet defense limit the amount of Marist offensive touches? 

EDGY's Pick: Marist 34 Benet Academy 21

(2) Batavia at Wheaton North, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Batavia (8-0, 6-0) has locked up the DuKane Conference title, but they still have plenty to play for here including a high seed in the 7A playoff field. That, and a perfect 9-0 regular season, of course. Batavia last earned such a mark in 2015. The Bulldogs and head coach Dennis Piron will rely on a balanced offense with QB Jack Meyers and RB Art Taylor. The defense is anchored by LB Michael Jansey (Northwestern) and LB Luke Weerts (North Dakota State). Wheaton North (4-4, 3-3) and head coach Joe Wardynski are in must-win mode. The Falcons will look to the offense to be a catalyst. The unit is led by RB Antowon Tolbert and QB Nathan Love. On defense, the Falcons will need to slow down a very balanced Batavia offense. Can Wheaton North's defense force Batavia into turnovers? 

EDGY's Pick: Batavia 41 Wheaton North 20

(3) Brother Rice at (17) Montini, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: The Chicago Catholic Blue conference championship game features Brother Rice (8-0, 3-0) taking on Montini Catholic (8-0, 3-0). Crusaders head coach Brian Badke features an offense led by QB John Bean, RB Jessi Plunkett and WR Dylan Summers. They have big and physical offensive line as well. On the other side of the ball, Rice's defense has allowed just 52 points all season. Montini Catholic and second year head coach Mike Bukovsky feature a two quarterback system. Deontay Brown and Robert Brazziel have shared the position quite well. RB Nick Fedanzo (Illinois) and WR Nate Muersch are names to watch. The Montini defense has also been strong this season, allowing just 46 points in eight games. Can the Montini defense slow down the Crusaders running game? Can the Rice defense limit the Broncos' multiple offensive weapons?

EDGY's Pick: Brother Rice 21 Montini Catholic 14

Viewers' Choice Game 

Schaumburg at Fremd, 7:30 p.m.

EDGY's Take: Both Schaumburg (4-4, 1-3) and Fremd (4-4, 3-1) are playing for their IHSA playoff lives. Head coach Lou Sponsel and the Vikings got out of the gates slow (0-3 record) but the Vikings found a spark behind RB-converted-to-QB Nick Rattin. That, along with a big and physical offensive and defensive lines could help reverse a 1-8 season quite nicely should Fremd win. Schaumburg, under head coach Mark Stilling, will be trying to get the Saxons on track. They have dropped three of their last four games. The Saxons have lots of speed and big play potential with senior WR/DB Heze Trotter along with sophomore RB Michael DiGioia. Can the Fremd defense limit the big play ability of Schaumburg?

EDGY's Pick: Fremd 24 Schaumburg 17

Beware of the Attack of the Lower Seeds

Beware of the Attack of the Lower Seeds

With the upcoming IHSA football playoff pairings announcement on Saturday night, here are some teams with modest win-loss records who opponents probably wouldn’t want to see in the early rounds of the postseason.

Loyola Academy (5-3): The Ramblers have struggled this season. But head coach John Holocek has, once again, led his team to the state playoff field. So what gives? Loyola has been inconsistent on offense and has turned the football over way too often. The team has also been dealing with various injuries. But the defense (minus a 35-3 loss to Brother Rice) has generally played well this season. If the Ramblers can clean up the turnovers and find a way to get their offense back in a rhythm, this team can undoubtedly surprise some teams along the way in Class 8A. 

Neuqua Valley (5-3): The Wildcats and head coach Bill Ellinghaus have dropped three tight games this season including a last possession, 21-14 decision to DuPage Valley Conference champion Naperville Central two weeks ago. If the Wildcats can continue to get steady production from a balanced offense, led by RB Will Cheviliar and QB John Gronowski, the defense is capable of keeping Neuqua Valley in every game this postseason.

Aurora Christian (5-3): Coach Dave Beebe’s Eagles have lost to three playoff-bound teams this season with a combined 21-3 record (IC Prep, St. Francis and Bishop McNamara). They have a potent spread-passing attack led by sophomore QB Ethan Hampton. Aurora Christian is also slated to wind up in the Class 1A bracket on pairings night. Their dynamic offense and passing game in general could be a tough matchup for opponents in, what usually is, Class 1A North bracket with teams that generally run the ball.

Barrington (5-3): The Broncos, under head coach Joe Sanchez, have also been dealing with a rash of mid-season injuries; that said, it looks like Barrington is getting healthy at the right time. Junior QB Tommy Fitzpatrick is back from injury and is a key catalyst for any Barrington postseason run. Fitzpatrick has weapons in junior WR EJ Darlington and senior RB Michael Curran. 

Lake Zurich (5-3): The Bears made a starting quarterback change last week as Jack Moses took the reins. He promptly led the Bears to a 42-0 win over Mundelein. If the Bears can limit turnovers and continue to get strong production from their offense, the L-Z defense is more than capable of making life very difficult for any higher seeds that they could draw in the 7A state playoff field. 

Edwardsville (5-3): The Tigers hit a rough patch starting the season with a 1-3 record. But they currently boast a four-game winnings streak heading into Friday night’s tilt at Collinsville. Edwardsville is led by senior QB Kendall Abdur Rahman (Notre Dame) and is a gamebreaker every time he touches the football. Sophomore RB Justin Johnson (and the team in general) possesses a ton of speed. There are athletes and playmakers on both sides of the football. 

Here are some more lower seeds who could wreak havoc:

Providence Catholic (5-3): If the Celtics can get their running game going, beware. 

Raby (5-3): The Raiders could be a handful in 4A.

St. Charles East (4-4): The Saints’ power-option game is always tough to defend. 

Joliet Catholic (4-4): IF the Hilltoppers can beat Notre Dame on Friday, they could be a very tough out in 5A.

Crystal Lake South (5-3): A huge offensive line leads the way for the Gators. 

Zion-Benton (4-4): The Zee-Bees can put as much talent on the field than most of their opponents. 

Lemont (4-4): Needs a win Friday over rival Oak Forest. If the offense can keep the chains moving, the Indians’ defense can do the rest. 

Crete-Monee (5-3): They are the Southland conference champs. Their first two losses in 2018? Lincoln-Way East (8-0) and Brother Rice (8-0).

Thornton (4-4): The Wildcats will need to upset Lincoln Way Central Friday. Thornton always has talent.