Akouris: Joliet Catholic tries to erase subpar season
By TINA AKOURIS firstname.lastname@example.org October 21, 2012 8:28PM
Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac has endured an injury-plagued 2012 season. | File photo
Updated: November 23, 2012 6:10AM
About an hour before Joliet Catholic kicked off against Benet at Joliet’s Memorial Stadium, Hilltoppers running back Ty Isaac was standing in line at the concession stand wearing warm-ups.
It seemed obvious he probably wasn’t going to play.
And he didn’t.
Isaac, a USC recruit, missed the regular season finale with a groin pull. And it was left to Michael Ivlow and Tyler Reitz to shoulder the load in the backfield.
The pair combined for 181 yards on 31 carries and they scored three touchdowns, Ivlow getting two of them.
But Ivlow and Reitz could do only so much to carry a team that saw a blazing Benet squad trot out quarterback Jack Beneventi, who threw for 365 yards on 26-for-33 passing and four touchdowns.
In that case, it was probably up to Joliet Catholic’s defense to get a handle on the 6-6, 185-pound Beneventi, who led the Redwings to a 31-21 victory and a share of the East Suburban Catholic conference with Marist.
“We know we have to clean up a few things and we can’t have penalties and turnovers and we can’t give up big plays,” Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said.
Benet already had its playoff berth locked up, but the Hilltoppers were still waiting to clinch at 5-3. The loss now has them at 5-4 going into their first-round playoff game against five-seeded Elmwood Park. The Hilltoppers, a 12 seed in Class 5A, will play the winner of Westinghouse (4) vs. Tinley Park (13) if they beat Elmwood Park.
And Sharp knows at least his first-round game is going to be on the road.
“The nice thing is we are in the playoffs,” Sharp said. “We’ve been playing shorthanded a lot this year and if we get healthy, we can be a dangerous team in the playoffs this year.”
Sharp said Isaac will be evaluated Monday by trainers and doctors, as he has been for most of the season. Isaac started his senior season on a down note when he hurt his shoulder in the season opening loss at Providence.
But the shoulder is fine. Sharp thinks he’ll know for sure by Thursday whether or not Isaac is going to play. Even though this is the most crucial time of the season, Sharp is willing to be cautious considering the nature of Isaac’s injury.
“You’re talking about an injury where, if you can’t run, it’s difficult,” Sharp said. “But if he’s ready to go ... believe me, he’ll be on the field.”
Even Reitz said Isaac was ready to go against Benet, but the coaching staff wanted Isaac to sit and have an extra week to heal.
Reitz had a rough Friday night and probably wished Isaac was there to take some of the pressure off. In the fourth quarter with the ball on the Benet five and eight minutes left to play, Reitz plowed through the Redwings’ defensive line — and coughed up the ball in the end zone.
That yielded possession to Benet, which put together a scoring drive that ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Beneventi to Jack Crain with three minutes to play. Benet took a 28-21 lead and that was it.
Reitz admitted he wanted to do too much. But that will probably have to stop this weekend when the second season begins.
“I think we’ll come together as a team and we’ll cut out those mistakes,” Reitz said. “All our losses were by a touchdown or two. It shows that we’re prepared for the playoffs and its our mistakes that always get the best of us.”
The storied Hilltopper program has won 13 state championships and will make its 36th state playoff appearance this weekend. JCA hasn’t won a state title since 2007, when it beat Lemont 49-7 in the 6A championship game.
But the Hilltoppers have fallen on somewhat hard times — for them, at least — the past four postseasons. In 2008, they lost to rival Providence in the second round, in overtime; then in 2009 they lost by a point to Montini in the title game.
The past two years have also been a bit snakebit for JCA. In 2010, the Hilltoppers lost to Peoria Richwoods in the quarterfinals, and then last season lost to Montini again by a whopping 70-45.
Will this year be different?
“The record we have this year really doesn’t indicate what Joliet Catholic has been about in the past,” Sharp said. “It’s nothing against what our kids have done. It has a lot to do with the fact that our conference has really improved. And we’ve had to overcome some injuries.
“This is the time of year we really look forward to,” Sharp said. “We’re coming in 5-4. It’s not the way we want to come in, but look at the St. Louis Cardinals. They just barely got in and they made a great run. So why can’t we be the high school version of that?”
Any other program in the area would kill for JCA’s playoff history. But not every program has the history that the Hilltoppers have to live up to.