Heading into last Cross-town Classic, Gould reflects on 1st 12
At first glance, I thought the Illinois High School Association's 2012 football schedule was transposed.
Looking at the Upstate Eight Conference River Division schedule a few weeks ago left me shaking my head.
While there are still 9 regular-season games on the docket, with the final 7 being UEC River matchups, things are a bit mixed up this time around.
Friday's calendar date may read as Sept. 7 but it truly has a feeling of late October to me.
After years of late-season rivalry games between St. Charles East and St. Charles North, and Batavia vs. Geneva, the IHSA has thrown a curveball at local fans this weekend.
Friday night's Week 3 schedule features Geneva (0-2) at Batavia (2-0) in the 100th year those schools have played and St. Charles East (1-1) at St. Charles North (0-2).
No playoff berths will be on the line this weekend.
No conference championships will be clinched this weekend.
But that doesn't diminish the importance of Friday night's rivalry games.
Believe it or not, this will be the 12th regular-season game between the St. Charles schools since the split.
North Stars head coach Mark Gould has had an up-close and personal look at every 'Cross-town Classic' the past 11 years.
The first meeting between St. Charles East and St. Charles North took place during Week 5 of the 2001 campaign at Norris Stadium.
"It was a bit surreal," recalled Gould. "We just had juniors (sophomores and freshmen) at our school."
Gould, who was a varsity assistant coach at St. Charles High School before becoming St. Charles North's first head football coach, remembers the familiarity that was at hand in 2001.
"Most everybody knew each other — coaches and players alike," said Gould. "In that sense, it was more like a Civil War."
Imagine how it must have felt during the week leading up to the first game at the Ainsworth home where older brother Tim (St. Charles East) was preparing to face younger sibling Ryan (St. Charles North).
Or for that matter, at Gould's own dinner table.
Gould's son, Kellen, started at tight end for St. Charles East while dad patrolled the St. Charles North sidelines.
"Obviously I knew a lot of Kellen's friends from St. Charles East," said Gould. "That's what made the first game kind of fun."
St. Charles East won the inaugural contest, 28-7, and Saints players walked off the field with the prized megaphone.
"(Former Saints coach) Buck Drach found a megaphone at the Kane County Flea Market and we decided to award it to the winning team at the East-North game," said Gould.
The very next season, St. Charles North scored its first cross-town victory, beating visiting St. Charles East 44-13 in 2002.
"My favorite memory is probably the first win we had against them," said Gould. "It was our first home game against them and the kids played really well."
A few years later, another award was added for the winning team.
"Mark Bavasi, who had coached at (St. Charles) East, also was a plumber and he put together a model that serves as the key to the city," said Gould. "It's painted orange and blue and all of the scores are printed on it."
St. Charles North extended its cross-town winning streak to 3 in 2003 (33-7) and 2004 (21-13).
"We knew that East was going through a little bit of a lull back then," said Gould. "It was a natural thing for schools that had recently split. They were riding such a high in the 1990s but there was a different feel in the school after the split."
In 2005, the Saints bounced back big-time.
One week after the Saints edged the North Stars, 40-35, in their regular-season finale, the teams were matched up again in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs.
St. Charles East won the Norris Stadium rematch, 35-23.
"We knew that they had a potent running attack and that we'd have to throw it," said Gould. "Our quarterback, David Manny, threw an early touchdown pass to Adam Schiltz."
Gould also knew that the Saints had a not-so-secret weapon in senior tailback John Brown.
"We knew who was going to get the ball and we still couldn't stop him," said Gould. "I got tired of hearing (then-Saints announcer) Ray Rogina call John Brown's name."
After the Saints' 19-6 win over the North Stars in 2006, St. Charles North rebounded with a dramatic 28-26 victory over St. Charles East at Norris Stadium in 2007.
"Early in the game, Tim Ohlrich took a zip pass from (quarterback) Nick Neari and took it to the house," said Gould. "We jumped up on them pretty good but then had to hold on late in the game."
It also was the North Stars' last win against their cross-town rivals, as St. Charles East has recorded 4 consecutive victories.
Although the Saints have won 7 of their last 8 meetings, the last 3 games have been decided by a total of 5 points.
In 2009, the Saints clinched the outright Upstate Eight Conference title with a 14-13 double-overtime victory in a game that was played on an October Saturday afternoon due to a flu bug that struck St. Charles East earlier in the week.
"We fumbled at the goal-line in that game," said Gould.
Two years ago, St. Charles East earned a 16-14 win over St. Charles North and then held on for a 23-21 victory last season.
Despite the Saints' 7-4 record in regular-season cross-town contests (8-4 including the playoffs), the North Stars actually have scored more points (222-220) than their counterparts during the 11 regular-season meetings.
Another positive has been the overall healthiness of the rivalry.
"It's not like when I went to school at Joliet Catholic and we played Joliet West," said Gould. "I remember fights in the stands and on the field. It got pretty ugly."
Gould, who will retire following the season, would like nothing more than another win over St. Charles East Friday night.
"The best part of the rivalry for me is the extra feeling I had going over there (Norris Stadium)," said Gould. "All of the old feelings would come back to me."
There's also a part Gould would rather forget.
"The worst part is losing to your rival," he said. "The student section will remind you at basketball games. It sticks with you for the whole year."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org
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