By Steve Robinson | December 29, 2019 - 10:47 pm

BLOOMINGTON – How some teams should be seeded in tournaments can be tricky to figure out because tournament organizers are working with team schedules and basing their seeding on results of completed games. Seeding a team into a specific slot is not a guarantee that team will successfully maneuver through the tournament to show the predictions made before the start of the tournament were correct.

Normal Community High School’s boys’ basketball team, selected top seed at the 40th annual State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Tournament, known also as The Classic, unfortunately for Ironmen faithful, proved that seeding doesn’t always equal how that team is destined to finish. Top seeded NCHS finished 5th in the Large School Boys Bracket after beating 6th seed Peoria High, 51-44, Saturday at a contest played at Normal Community West High School.

Senior guard Jimmy Gillispie scored 16 points on the night followed in double-figures for NCHS by sophomore forward Zachary Cleveland’s 13. Sophomore guards Lerone Allen and Nate Moore were high scorers for the Lions, each pocketing 11 points in the contest. The victory improved NCHS’ record to 10-2 on the season.

Ironmen Beats Machesney Park In Third Game, 66-55: NCHS jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead from the opening tip with a deuce by senior guard Jimmy Gillispie and a deuce by sophomore guard Trey Redd. Huskies senior forward Jared Jacobsen countered with a trey of his own to cut the Ironmen’s lead to 5-3 en route to a 11-9 lead going into the second quarter. It would prove to be a sign of how the Ironmen would function, with aid from a pair of technical fouls called against Machesney Park in their 66-55 victory.

Foul trouble for the Huskies in the second quarter, including a technical foul called against the Huskies helped NCHS add a 6-for-10 tally and put NCHS up, 28-17, with 3:09 left until halftime. NCHS owned a 32-25 halftime lead.

A trey by senior guard Mitchell Sauder started third quarter scoring for NCHS, but Machesney Park countered with two treys from junior guard Trenton Tucker. In addition, Tucker, Jacobsen, and sophomore forward Lathan Lewis combining to go 6-for-6 at the free throw line toward the end of the quarter helped the Huskies narrow NCHS’ lead going into the fourth quarter, 49-40.

A trey from senior forward Griffin McCluskey along with Gillespie, Redd, Sauder, and Cleveland each visiting the free throw line for a combined 6-for-8 in the final stanza helped put the game out of reach for the Huskies. Those same three players were the only Ironmen in double figures, with Redd and McCluskey scoring 13 points each and Gillespie pocketing 12. Tucker was high scorer for the Huskies with 12 points followed by Jacobsen and junior forward Dominic McCarren’s 10.

As a result of the win, however, the Ironmen played their last game of the tournament at Normal Community West High School where they took on Big 12 Conference foe Peoria High.

Loss To Metamora, 37-36, Sends NCHS To Loser’s Bracket: NCHS found themselves either chasing or in a tie against 8th seed Metamora when the two teams met Dec. 27 at Shirk Center. NCHS found itself behind early, 9-4 by the end of the first quarter, courtesy of a pair of treys by Metamora freshman guard Ethan Kizer and one by sophomore guard Zach Schroeder. Sophomore guard Trey Redd provided NCHS’ only scoring in the first quarter. The Ironmen trailed throughout the second quarter, but a trey from McCluskey and a buzzer-beating basket by Cleveland helped NCHS cut the Redbirds’ lead at the half down to three, 17-14.

NCHS caught up to Metamora by the end of the third quarter, 30-all, thanks to a pair of deuces from Redd and a couple of Cleveland deuces. Three-pointers by senior guard Gabe Mason and senior guard Landon Ivins contributed to the tie score. After back-to-back deuces by Gillispie to start the fourth quarter, NCHS jumped out to a 34-30 lead with 5:27 remaining.

Two free throws by Kizer and a layup by Schroeder for the Redbirds went unanswered by NCHS, tying the game at 34 with just over two minutes left. A pair of free throws by Gillespie with 1:58 left gave NCHS a 36-34 lead. But that was short-lived due to a trey by Ivins with 1:41 remaining, putting Metamora up 37-36 prompting NCHS head coach Dave Witzig to call timeout.

Following the timeout, each side called a timeout inside the game’s remaining minute, Metamora’s timeout coming with 1.7 seconds remaining. Coming out of that timeout, and NCHS having possession, senior guard Mitchell Sauder threw the ball inbounds to Redd who took a few steps, shooting the ball toward the basket, only to see it fall short as the final buzzer sounded with Metamora winning, 37-36. Gillespie was the lone Ironmen in double-figures with 14 points. Redd and Cleveland each contributed 8 points for NCHS. Mason and Landon were high scorers for Metamora, pocketing 12 and 10 points, respectfully.

Ironmen head coach Dave Witzig admitted after this contest he felt his team was “fortunate to only be down by three at halftime because Metamora really outplayed us in the first half. Our press got us back in the game a little bit, but Metamora, from the opening tip, was ready to play and we kind of felt like we were not ready to play. We were a little slow out of the gate and so we were battling the whole time.

“Their guys made a nice comeback and Ivins hit a big three to give Metamora the lead and their shooters were knocking out shots when they were open,” Witzig added. He labeled the contest “a good lesson for us because our guys have to be ready to play a 32-minute game.”

Ironmen Outpace North Chicago In First Round, 54-45: The Ironmen’s opening round win against North Chicago, 54-45 at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Shirk Center put NCHS on the right path with a 54-42 victory. NCHS led the contest throughout lead 12-9 after one quarter, 24-16 at the half, and 42-28 after three quarters. Witzig said afterward the combination of his team coming fresh off celebrating Christmas combined with playing against North Chicago’s run-and-gun playing style presented a challenge for his team in the opening round. Redd led the Ironmen scoring with 19 points, followed by 13 from Cleveland and 10 from McCluskey. Junior guard Steven Rodriguez was the Warhawks’ lone scorer in double-figures with 19 points.

By Steve Robinson | November 3, 2019 - 10:40 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Ninth seed Normal Community High School kept 24th seed Burbank Reavis High School scoreless for three quarters while simultaneously putting points on the scoreboard to advance to the second round by beating the Rams, 36-14 in the opening round of Illinois High School Association Class 7A playoffs. Senior wide receivers Camron Jackson and Dylan Tracy each scored two touchdowns helping to provide the Ironmen with enough distance from the Rams during the contest.

As a result of the victory, head coach Jason Drengwitz’s team will travel to the Chicago suburbs to face eighth seed Chicago Phillips who carry an 8-1 record into the contest.

Jackson scored first for NCHS (8-2) on a five yard run capping a 6 play 52 yard drive which began after a Reavis punt which gave the Ironmen the ball at their own 47. Freshman kicker Ryan Millmore followed up with an extra point to put NCHS up, 7-0.

Burbank-based Reavis’ ensuing possession ended in a punt, giving NCHS the ball at the Rams’ 43 as a starting point. Two plays later, senior quarterback Aidan Oliver connected with Tracy for a 40 yard touchdown strike with 39 seconds left in the quarter, followed by Millmore’s extra point to give the Ironmen a 14-0 advantage going into the second quarter.

Reavis (7-3) started their ensuing possession at their own 20 but wound up turning the ball over on downs after an attempted fake punt turned pass went awry giving NCHS the ball at the Rams’ 37. Five plays later, Jackson scored from a yard out, followed by Millmore’s extra point increasing NCHS’ lead, 21-0, with 7:29 left until halftime.

NCHS received the second half kickoff and continued their march down field scoring on the third play from scrimmage with Tracy scoring his second touchdown of the game as he connected from 85 yards receiving Oliver’s pass for a touchdown, giving NCHS a 27-0 lead after Millmore missed the extra point.

Reavis senior defensive back Tyler Matthews picked off an Oliver pass to help stop an Ironmen possession at the Rams’ 23 but the opponent’s possession was fraught with penalties which pushed their line of scrimmage back to inside their own 5 yard line. When Rams junior quarterback Brendan Keane attempted to punt the ball, it struck a teammate first before hitting the ground and the Rams retrieved it only to be met by NCHS defenders in the end zone for a safety. That extended the Ironmen advantage to 29-0 with 5:41 in the quarter.

Oliver scored NCHS’ final points on the night, putting the Ironmen up 36-0, from 23 yards out, dashing past defenders and having to dive past the goal line to avoid them further for the score with 2:33 left in the third quarter followed by Millmore’s extra point.

Reavis’ points all came in the fourth quarter, the first was a 56 yard pass from senior quarterback Matt O’Malley to senior wide receiver Tizoc Covarrubais followed by O’Malley scrambling between defenders to get a successful 2-point conversion, cutting NCHS’ lead, 36-8. The second score came with 59 seconds left in the game as senior running back Nick Baez dashed in from 2 yards out followed by another O’Malley conversion play resulting in the final score.

“No team has been able to run the ball effectively on us,” explained NCHS head coach Drengwitz. He credited the complete coaching staff for “just putting our kids in the best position to execute the game plan and then our kids in the best position to execute it. We made Reavis one dimensional which made them have to throw the ball, and controlled the line of scrimmage.” He added this game was the “closest we’ve come to putting all phases of the game – offense, defense, and special teams – together all year.”

“We felt we could run the ball a little better than we did tonight – a lot better,” admitted Reavis head coach Tim Zasada. “Today, we couldn’t run the ball at all and that’s a credit to Normal’s front seven players. Their linebackers and defensive linemen are really good, really physical.”

By Steve Robinson | October 19, 2019 - 10:51 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – From the outset, it looked like a statistical mismatch to put Normal Community High School and Champaign Centennial High School against each other. While the Ironmen had only sustained one loss on the season, the Chargers were still in search of their first victory. Before a crowd of roughly 850 fans at Ironmen Stadium, NCHS added to their victories while adding to their opponent’s woes with a 41-13 victory.

As a result of the victory, the Ironmen (7-1 overall and 7-0 Big 12), ranked 10th in Illinois High School Association Class 7A, earned a share of the league championship. Crosstown rival Normal Community West High School and Peoria High are both 7-0 in league standings. The Ironmen’s final regular season game will be at Peoria High Friday, starting with a 4:30p.m. kickoff.

After the Chargers received the initial kickoff and punting on fourth down, senior quarterback Aidan Oliver’s 14 yard touchdown dash at 8:31 in the first quarter, followed by a two-point conversion pass from sophomore quarterback Chase Mackey to Oliver playing receiver gave the Ironmen a fast 8-0 lead. The score capped a 6 play 51 yard drive for the Ironmen.

Champaign Centennial’s next drive only lasted one play resulting in a fumble recovered by NCHS at the Chargers’ 21. Four plays later, junior running back Benjamin Larson scored on a two yard run at 6:57 in the quarter, followed by a successful extra point by freshman kicker Ryan Millmore, giving the Ironmen a 15-0 lead.

The Chargers next drive would begin at their own 32 after the kickoff and get as far as midfield before NCHS sophomore defensive back Keewan Grismore’s interception, giving the Ironmen the ball at their own 43. Four plays later, Oliver would connect with senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy on a 30 yard touchdown strike, followed by Millmore missing the extra point. That score would increase NCHS’ lead to 21-0 going into the second quarter.

Champaign Centennial (0-8 overall, 0-7 Big 12) would punt to end the ensuing possession, giving the Ironmen the ball on the Chargers’ 49 with 57 seconds left in the opening quarter. Four plays later, Oliver would dash for a 42 yard touchdown at the 11:43 mark in the second quarter, followed by a botched 2-point try. The score would advance the Ironmen’s lead, 27-0.

From there, each team would have a possession end in an interception, followed by the Chargers having a possession ending in a fumble recovered by NCHS senior defensive lineman Cade Hermann, giving the Ironmen the ball at the Chargers’ 14. Two plays later, Oliver would score again from 13 yards out followed by Millmore’s extra point, giving NCHS a 34-0 lead with 6:45 left until halftime.

The Chargers’ ensuing possession only lasted three downs and was followed by a punt which gave NCHS the ball back on their own 49. Two plays later, Oliver connected with senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy on a 32 yard touchdown pass play. Millmore’s extra point gave NCHS a 41-0 lead going into halftime.

Once the second half began, game officials employed IHSA’s “Mercy Rule,” – as a result of the 40-point difference in the game score, using a continuously running clock, stopping it for only timeouts taken by a team or because of an injury. The running clock began as the third quarter opened.

The Chargers scored to open the third quarter on a 3 play 60 yard drive ending in sophomore running back Montez DuBose’s 25 yard rushing score, followed by senior kicker Isaiah Douglass’ extra point, cutting NCHS’ 41-7 at the 5:28 mark and going into the fourth quarter. The guests’ final score would come at the 1:20 mark in the fourth quarter as sophomore quarterback Brady Boatright would connect with sophomore wide receiver Jack Young on a 15 yard touchdown pass, but the Chargers would miss the extra point.

“Centennial may be struggling, but we definitely weren’t taking them lightly,” said NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz. That said, the second season head coach added, “No matter who we’re playing, we’re still playing for a Big 12 Conference championship. We want to play to our level, not to the level of our opponents. Centennial has a lot of young guys. I was just proud of how our guys went about our approach and went about our business taking care of all three phases of the game.

NCHS travels to conference leader Peoria High Friday to close out the regular season. The Lions, at 7-1, present the Ironmen with “so many challenges on the offensive side of the ball,” Drengwitz said. “Defensively, they do some unique things which also provides a challenge, I think.”

“We told our guys Normal Community was a good football team,” explained first season Champaign Centennial Kyle Jackson. He admits his team is “pretty young and pretty inexperienced, so we’re focusing on growing, and building the culture, and getting better. We knew Oliver was good and he was going to make his reads and make the right reads of our defense and we tried to throw some different defensive things at him.”

By Steve Robinson | October 5, 2019 - 10:57 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Community High School managed to outpace Bloomington High School in the second half Friday night to defeat the Purple Raiders in their Big 12 Conference contest, 43-26, at Ironmen Field. For NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz, it has been a season of trying to put a complete game – offense, defense, and special teams – together. This night, Drengwitz said afterward, his team accomplished that.

A scoreless first quarter and a fast-paced first quarter contributed to NCHS’ getting and keeping ahead of their guests as roughly 850 fans watched.

BHS had first possession but would up punting on fourth down to NCHS (5-1 overall, 5-0 Big 12), who began their first drive from their own 44. On the first play of the drive, senior quarterback Aidan Oliver rushed for 33 yards getting the Ironmen into Purple Raiders’ territory, to BHS’ 13. Two plays later, Oliver dashed into the end zone from BHS’ 2 yard line for a touchdown, followed by a successful 2-point conversion run from sophomore quarterback Chase Mackey. That gave NCHS a quick 8-0 lead at 8:43 in the first quarter for what would be the only score going into the second half.

A 33 yard pass from junior quarterback Ben Wellman to senior wide receiver Ivan Smith ended in Smith dashing down the far sideline for the first points of the game for BHS (3-3 overall, 3-2 Big 12) followed by Wellman and Smith connecting on a 2-point conversion play. That tied the score at 8-all with 5:09 left in the quarter.

BHS’ ensuing kickoff, although briefly fumbled by NCHS, wound up recovered by the Ironmen, who started their next drive from their own 45. Eight plays later, Oliver would rush for his second touchdown of the night from 15 yards out followed by the senior quarterback keeping the ball and completing the 2-point conversion play solo. That had NCHS up, 16-8, going into halftime.

The Ironmen were able to advance the score further having received the second half kickoff, using a 10-play drive to get into the end zone as Oliver scored on a five yard run with eight minutes left in the third quarter. His score was followed by Millmore’s point after advancing NCHS’ lead, 23-8.

BHS’ next possession ended in a punt and the Ironmen were able to get the return to their own 42 to start their next drive. Six plays later, senior tight end Reid Watkins caught an Oliver pass from 15 yards out to put NCHS up, 30-8 with 3:07 left in the quarter, following Millmore’s extra point.

BHS’ next possession ended in a punt and began NCHS’ next possession at the Ironmen 47 after NCHS was flagged for holding. Five plays later, Oliver dashed into the end zone from five yards out, but Millmore missed the extra point. Despite that, NCHS held a 36-8 lead with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.

BHS started their next drive from their own 24 after the ensuing kickoff but Wellman’s 76 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Eric Johnson stunned the Ironmen briefly, followed by a failed 2-point conversion try, reducing NCHS’ lead, 36-14 with nine seconds remaining in the third quarter.

NCHS’ return team fumbled BHS’ ensuing kickoff, briefly giving the Purple Raiders the ball at midfield with one second left in the quarter, but then committed a turnover of their own as NCHS sophomore defensive back Keewan Grismore intercepted Wellman’s intended pass giving the Ironmen the ball at BHS’ 20 to open the fourth quarter. Senior wide receiver Camron Jackson scored on a running play from that distance, followed by Millmore’s extra point, advancing the Ironmen’s lead, 43-14.

From there, BHS would sacrifice possession on a turnover on downs and NCHS would punt the ball away before another score. That score would come with 4:08 remaining when Wellman would connect with senior wide receiver Diontay Griffin from six yards out for a touchdown, capping a 6 play 57 yard drive. BHS’ try at a 2 point conversion after scoring was unsuccessful, but the added points cut NCHS’ lead to 43-20.

NCHS being deep in their own end zone in the closing moments of the game would help BHS achieve their last score on the night as sophomore linebacker Sam Pena would block the Ironmen’s punt and fall on it in the end zone. That would result in the final score after the Purple Raiders failed to convert a 2-point conversion.

“It seems like every game, it’s been one phase or two phases that have played well while others were lacking,” Drengwitz said. “I feel like if we can ever put all three phases of the game together, we’d be really good. But that’s why you go to practice and why you go and watch film.

Jackson rushed for 110 yards as he stepped in for an injured Jake Hileman. Hileman suffered a torn meniscus in a knee in the Ironmen’s road game at Lapeer, Mich. two weeks ago and had surgery on that knee the afternoon before this game. “We hope Hileman is healthy and we want to do right by him,” Drengwitz said. If all goes well with Hileman’s recovery, he could be back by week 9 or in time for playoffs, his coach explained.

“Our guys – they didn’t quit and they kept battling,” said BHS head coach Scott Godfrey. “We had some things fall our way – penalties and blocked punts fall our way – we put a scare into them, but I felt Normal was always in control.”

Godfrey credited NCHS with “being so strong on the offensive line both offensively and defensively. That is where we are losing some of these bigger games. We’re having a hard time winning the line of scrimmage.”

Godfrey finished by adding, “When you play these guys, you know you’re going to have your work cut out for you.”

By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2019 - 10:56 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Meteorologists had predicted rain for Friday of week five of high school football season, so area athletic directors took precautions and scheduled their games a little ahead of schedule for Sept. 27. Normal Community High School planned ahead, moving up their Big 12 Conference tilt start time against Peoria Manual. But the game still took two days to complete, as the Ironmen defeated the Rams, 31-6, to earn a Homecoming victory.

Freshman kicker Ryan Millmore’s 36 yard field goal at 3:46 in the first quarter capped a 6 play 33 yard drive for NCHS (4-1 overall, 4-0 Big 12) and provided the sole points in the quarter for either team, putting the Ironmen up, 3-0.

Sophomore quarterback Chase Mackey and senior quarterback Aidan Quinn each led the Ironmen offense for a half of the contest, with Mackey going first, and completing a 25 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy at 10:34 in the second quarter, followed by a successful 2-Point conversion dash by Mackey to extend the Ironmen lead, 11-0.

After receiving a pitchout from sophomore quarterback Devon Owens, junior running back Joseph Franklin dashed into the end zone from 6 yards out with 1:29 until halftime, completing a 6 play, 28 yard drive. Owens added to the score with a 2-point conversion play, cutting NCHS’ lead, 11-8. The Rams fortunes for this drive came courtesy of an interception of a Mackey pass by Franklin. At the time of the interception, the Ironmen were in the midst of a drive which began at their own 37.

The score stayed that way going into halftime and the two teams went into their locker rooms, but when they came out for their three-minute warmup, lightning seen off to the west of Ironmen Field had game officials deciding to call the game before the second half kickoff. The game resumed at that point Saturday morning.

The resumption of play may have started with Peoria Manual (0-5 Big 12) receiving the kickoff, but the Rams were forced to start from the series of downs from their own 3. An interception of the third play from scrimmage by sophomore defensive back Keewan Grismore turned into a 7 yard touchdown for him and the Ironmen, followed by Millmore’s point-after, increasing NCHS’ lead, 18-6, at the 10:09 mark.

NCHS partially blocked a Rams punt with two minutes in the third quarter, giving the Ironmen the ball at their own 41. An unnecessary roughness call against the Rams and a 7 yard run by junior running back Benjamin Larson provided the set-up for Oliver’s 28 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dylan Tracy with 1:07 left. Tracy’s score was followed by a failed 2-point conversion try, but NCHS led, 24-6, going into the fourth quarter.

But the game was temporarily stopped by officials at the 10:58 mark when a fight between players on the Rams sideline occurred. That resulted in a brief stoppage of play, and included Rams head coach Gene Cagle taking a quick vote of his players as to whether they wanted to continue play. They did, and the game resumed. The Rams player who instigated the fight was ejected. Three plays later, junior running back Benjamin Larson ran in for a touchdown from a yard out capping a 3 play 27 yard drive followed by a Millmore extra point creating the final score.

“I don’t think the delay in finishing the game affected us because I think our coaches did a real good job in handling the situation,” NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz said. “But more importantly, I felt that our seniors, our captains, our players handled it well.”

“I was real proud of how our team handled a difficult situation for Manual,” Drengwitz added, referring to the flair-up on the Rams sideline. “I’m really proud of them. A win’s a win and we’re excited.”

With regard to the incident on the Rams sideline, Drengwitz said Cagle wanted to stop the game after it occurred and the second season Ironmen coach said he would have agreed to whatever decision Cagle made concerning that. “You feel for him and they are so much improved but it was important that we finished it and they finished it and just a difficult situation. I’m just proud of how our guys handled it.”

Concerning the matter regarding his team, Cagle said, “I’m glad our guys took some pride went out and at least finished the game and showed respect.” He said the incident itself troubled him. Cagle said he consulted with both the referee and Drengwitz as to what they wanted to do. Cagle said he was told it was his decision what Manual would do.

Cagle then went onto the field and asked his players if they wanted to stop playing at that point. He said his players pleaded with him not to stop the game. He then took a show of hands to see how many players wanted to continue finishing the game. Enough players did to allow the contest to finish to the final horn.

Cagle, a 1989 Peoria Manual graduate, became visibly emotional as he added, “I love this game, I love my school, and it’s my alma mater and I don’t like people disrespecting my alma mater. I’m glad the guys came out and played like they meant to play.” He said there would be consequences for the offending players involved in the fourth quarter incident.

Bloomington High School Visits Ironmen Field Friday: NCHS will host a 3-2 Bloomington High School team at Ironmen Field Friday night for a 7p.m. game. The Purple Raiders engineered a 58-6 road victory against Urbana last week.