Goss: Opening vs. strong foe can be a godsend
August 23, 2012 10:54PM
Joliet Catholic football coach Dan Sharp (left). | File photo
Updated: September 25, 2012 10:43AM
The value of opening the high school football season against a strong opponent can be immense.
On the eve of Joliet Catholic’s collision with rival Providence on the new turf at Matt Senffner Field, Hilltoppers coach Dan Sharp recalled last year’s opener against Carmel.
The Corsairs came from behind and appeared to have pulled out a last-minute, 31-25 victory. But everything changed when then-junior wingback Ty Isaac turned a long pass from fellow junior Craig Slowik into a spectacular 75-yard game-tying touchdown. An extra point later, the Hilltoppers were celebrating what would be a 32-31 victory.
If he wasn’t already, Isaac went on from there to become one of the most sought-after running backs in the nation. Slowik enjoyed a good season himself, helping the Hilltoppers to a runner-up finish in Class 5A and paving the way for what may be an even better senior season.
“Craig came out of that first game feeling good,” Sharp said. “The way it ended, it jumped-started him.
“Ty was in a position right there where he became a playmaker. So a lot of great things came out of it, and of course, we saw a lot of our mistakes that had to be cleaned up.”
Given his druthers, Sharp wants a big-time challenge in Week 1, and he knows a visit to Providence is no picnic. The game is scheduled to kick off at 7:08 p.m. Friday to accommodate ESPNU, which is providing a national telecast.
“We almost always have good openers, which is good for instant evaluation,” Sharp said. “If you open against an easier opponent, you may get away with more things and get a false sense of security. A game like this, an early playoff atmosphere, will be good.”
The Hilltoppers offense is either unstoppable or close to it, depending on your perspective. But Providence teams traditionally boast strong defense, so game on.
“Their defense is so good,” Sharp said. “What really concerns me is the battle up front. Some of our offensive linemen are very young, and they (Celtics) have great linebackers and their defensive line is always physical.
“On the other side, our inexperience in the defensive line may be evident. Some kids who will be playing there moved from other positions, so that’s an area we have looked at with concern.”
The Hilltoppers feel good about the secondary, but that unit took a hit when senior cornerback Grant Harrison, a returning starter and captain, broke his hand last weekend in practice. He will not return until at least mid-season.
“It’s a huge loss,” Sharp said. “We’re doing a little scrambling at defensive back. We feel the other kids will step up, but this came as a huge blow.”
What about those Friday night TV lights?
“I think both sides will be focused on their jobs,” Sharp said. “Once you smack into each other, that guy lined up across from you is all that is going to matter.”
Around the area
While the Joliet Catholic at Providence opener headlines this weekend’s schedule, several other area teams are facing quality opponents.
Among the other Week 1 highlights are Morris at Minooka, Coal City at Wilmington and Plainfield South at Bolingbrook, all Friday night. The two Joliet Township schools are among those opening Saturday afternoon with Central hosting Rich Central and West entertaining Thornridge.
Aside from the obvious rivalry angle, the Morris-Minooka battle is interesting in that both teams may be primed for highly successful seasons. Morris is among the best 5A teams in the state and Minooka is a threat to claim the Southwest Prairie title. The Indians will be fun to watch with renewed emphasis on the passing game under first-year coach Paul Forsythe.
To football fans in Coal City and Wilmington, that match-up means everything. You expect both will be playoff teams and perhaps make noise in the playoffs, but those all-important neighborhood bragging rights will be decided early on.
You might say Plainfield South drew the short straw, opening at defending 8A state champion Bolingbrook. But remember Sharp’s thoughts about playing a difficult opponent in Week 1. South may come away 0-1 but also be better prepared for the remainder of the season.
In the case of the Joliet Township schools, their opening opponents will not be mentioned among the state’s best. However, West would like nothing better than to get off to a 1-0 start against Thornridge and begin the process of reversing their 2-7 record of a year ago.
Central, seeking its first win since the return to separate programs two years ago, simply needs a victory. First-year coach Brett Boyter has said it previously, the first one is the toughest to get. Once that happens, once a little momentum is on the Steelmen’s side, better things can begin to happen.
Week 1. There can be something positive out there for everyone.