Special teams come up big for Naperville Central, Wheaton Academy

When football coaches talk about the three phases of the game, special teams generally is mentioned as the third one.

For Naperville Central, it turned out to be an important one in its Week 2 loss to Plainfield North (19-9).

Coach Mike Ulreich pointed out the Redhawks had more than 125 yards combined in their kick return and punt return units.

"I thought our special teams did a terrific job Friday," he said.

Other highlights for Central included Tyler Dodd accounting for the team's lone score with a one-handed catch that went for an 80-yard touchdown.

Ulreich also cited Nick Zbylut for coming up big in a pressure situation.

"Nick made a huge play on fourth down, setting the edge on a toss in the goal line," he explained.

Wheaton Academy update:

Keeping with the special teams theme, Wheaton Academy has benefited big-time from having Warriors boys soccer goalie Declan Finnegan kicking for it this fall. Finnegan is part of the defending Class 1A state-champion Wheaton Academy boys soccer team.

In two games so far, Finnegan has put the ball into the end zone for a touchback 9 times and has booted 12 point-after attempts.

Coach Jim Johanik noted that after kicking for the football team this past Friday, Finnegan donned his goalie jersey and gloves and earned a shutout for the boys soccer team the next day in a game against Leyden.

Johanik also has been impressed with the backfield play of sophomore Stephen Fellowes and senior Gavin Pedone.

"Stephen and Gavin are proving to be a duo in the backfield," he said.

The duo has combined for 4 touchdowns, two each, "and open up the playbook considerably for us," Johanik pointed out.

In the Warriors' 63-0 win over future conference comrade Chicago Christ the King, they needed to run only 22 plays to rack up 248 total yards and 9 touchdowns (four of them of 25 yards or more).

Metea Valley update:

Two highlights for Metea thus far have been the play of kicker Nico Carrier and wideout Robert Lynch.

Coach John Parpet noted Carrier remains perfect on extra points and field goals for the Mustangs, while Lynch snagged 16 catches for 181 yards and 3 scores in the team's first two games.

"Robert continues to be a go-to receiver for Noah Larson (Metea quarterback)," Parpet said.

On the flip side, Parpet would like to see the team reduce the number of dropped passes.

"A big (problem) was 10 drops," Parpet said in reference to the team's Week 2 loss to Lockport. Metea has 18 drops over its first two games, the coach added.

The Mustangs wrap up the nonconference part of their schedule Friday in their home opener against Belleville East.

IC Catholic Prep update:

The Knights provided fans at Joliet Memorial Stadium plenty of excitement in their 23-22 loss to defending Class 4A state-champion Joliet Catholic Academy in a heavyweight battle of perennial state powers.

Of note here, IC Catholic Prep quarterback Dennis Mandala had another big night, completing 15 of 23 passes for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns. The normally run-potent Knights were limited to 32 rushing yards on 18 carries.

Through two games, Mandala is 25 of 34 for 630 yards with 6 touchdown passes against no interceptions.

Waubonsie Valley update:

Warriors coach Tom Baumgartner likes how Brady Steeple has rolled out of that gates this fall.

"Brady Teeple has stepped up nicely at wide receiver," he said.

While Waubonsie has no wins to show for it, Baumgartner also gives a thumbs-up to his defense. The Warriors lost 10-7 to unbeaten St. Charles East after a 35-7 loss to Oswego East, which busted open a close 14-7 game late with 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points. Waubonsie's first two opponents are a combined 3-1.

"Our defense has played really, really well for seven of eight quarters," he noted.

Westmont update:

Sentinels coach Taj Jackson Sr. has been thrilled with the play of Lucas Fears on defense. Fears has 2 interceptions in the squad's first two games.

"That's an awesome accomplishment," he said. "He was very close to housing the second interception."

Also of note, Westmont ran for 483 yards in its first two contests and registered a pair of rushing touchdowns.

"That's another huge accomplishment," Jackson Sr. said, "especially with a very young offensive line."

York update:

John Renier wanted to make some changes at York.

After watching his two older brothers - Artie and Hayden - both play football for the Dukes, the younger Renier recalled the growing pains the program endured for several years. Artie Renier, a 2018 graduate, was a safety on the Dukes' 1-8 team in his senior season in 2017.

"I would watch the (York games) in the youth football section," Renier said. "Most of the kids my age had the assumption that York was playing to lose."

But the 5-foot-10, 210-pound Renier, a senior defensive lineman, said he started noticing a dramatic culture shift in the program - and community - when Mike Fitzgerald took over the program in 2018. Before Fitzgerald's arrival, the Dukes had not won more than four games in a season dating back to 2011. The Dukes, under Fitzgerald, have won 12 of their last 14 games.

York won eight games last season, including beating Glenbard West and placing second in the West Suburban Silver Conference.

"As Hayden began his high school career and coach Fitzgerald took over, it was initially the same assumptions on Friday nights," Renier said. "However, since I've become a part of the program and realized what the coaching staff has done to redirect the attitude and effort within the team, I have been able to witness the shift from kids expecting a loss to wanting to be a part of the excitement of every Friday night.

"It's a fantastic thing to be a part of this team…Being able to help lead as our team gets to show what York football is about each Friday night has been incredible."

The Dukes (2-0) are three wins away from securing their second straight winning season following dominating wins against Schaumburg and Morton by a combined margin of 100-7.

Fitzgerald said the defense, helped by Reiner, has played a big role in the undefeated start. Renier has recorded two sacks this season.

"He's a strong kid and plays end and nose (tackle) for us," Fitzgerald said. "He can play any position on the line. He's a great leader and works his tail off. He's been around the program and understands what we're trying to build and the expectations we have for this team. He's done a good job leading by action and helping the younger defensive linemen get up to speed He has a motor that never stops."

Renier said the Dukes, who play Proviso West on Friday, are aiming to exceed last season's record and make a run in the playoffs. Renier said the defense is playing at a high level.

"We all trust each other to do what's needed in order to succeed," he said.

WW South update:

Wheaton Warrenville South is back on track.

In the season opener, the Tigers, a traditional DuPage County powerhouse program, traveled to Gately Stadium in Chicago to play city heavyweight Simeon.

The Wolverines crushed the Tigers 41-23 in Week 1.

Second-year coach Sean Norris pushed his players for a bounce-back performance at Neuqua Valley in Week 2. The Tigers responded with a solid effort on offense, defense and special teams to record a 10-7 victory.

"We challenged our guys all week," Norris said. "The whole message this week was what was going to be our response after week one. We played a talented football team in Simeon, but we got beat defensively. We looked at our tackling and pursuit, which was not not good. It was great to see that our defense responded in a huge way against Neuqua Valley. We held them to just over 100 yards rushing."

Norris praised several players for stepping up their games against the Wildcats, including senior safeties Colin Moore and Charles Butt, defensive tackle Andrew Moore and junior kicker/punter Maison Haas. Moore had eight tackles and a tackle for a loss, while Butt tallied 10 tackles. Moore finished with seven tackles. Haas nailed the winning field goal in overtime. Junior wide receiver Daijion Riley caught a 44-yard touchdown pass among his three receptions, Norris said.

"Our two safeties played a great game and led a charge," Norris said. "Both were filling in the run and the defense played great. We were able to play good defense. Andrew did a great job on the front. Our main goal was to get better agains the run, and we did that.

Sophomore quarterback Luca Carbonaro was thrust into the fire in the opener due to a somewhat unexpected upheaval at the quarterback spot. Carbonaro threw two touchdowns against the Wolverines, and showed tremendous grit with a strong showing against the Wildcats.

"We're starting a sophomore quarterback, so it's big transition since about 10 days before game one at quarterback position," Norris said. "We then had to have a new competition between a junior and a sophomore. Luca ended up winning the job based on his game one showing and did a great job against Simeon. He did a nice job against Neuqua Valley. He's still learning, but he didn't turn ball over, made some big throws in big situations. He's got a really high ceiling."

The Tigers play their third game in a row on the road, opening up DuKane Conference action against St. Charles North. The North Stars (1-1) beat Lake Zurich 21-10 in Week 2.

"We believe our conference is one of the best in the state," Norris said. "St. Charles North, coached by Rob Pomazak, is a top quality program year in and year out. Our conference is good football. We have to take this momentum and do things we did well in practice and be consistent and keep getting better. We're definitely looking forward to conference. It should be a great atmosphere at St. Charles North."

- Bobby Narang of Shaw Local contributed to this report.

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