NORMAL – Normal Community West High School had but seconds to try to send their fans home happy Friday night at Wildcat Field. Trailing Bloomington 14-7 in the last couple of minutes of the Big 12 Conference contest, the Wildcats had the football but had not crossed midfield as they sought a big play in hopes of beating the Purple Raiders.

Then, with 19.9 seconds remaining in the contest, senior quarterback Kolton Lindsay connected with junior wide receiver Matthew Marsaglia for a 57 yard touchdown followed by a successful point after try by junior kicker Owen Senn which gave the Wildcats a wild 14-10 win over the Purple Raiders.

To the fans, it was another successful play. For Marsaglia, it came across like a moment of déjà vu because he had done something similar under similar circumstances. The 5 foot-8, 150 pounder told reporters he experienced a near-exact situation playing his freshmen year. Of the play he knew he needed to catch against the Purple Raiders, he said, “I just knew I had to catch this. I knew if I didn’t catch this, it’s going to be so embarrassing.”

But having caught it and scored, there was no embarrassment as Marsaglia put his team in front for the win helping Normal West keep a perfect 3-0 Big 12 Conference record. Normal West is 3-1 overall on the season.

Normal West scored early in the contest on their first series in the first quarter, as Lindsay connected with senior wide receiver Jamarcus Webb on a 9 yard touchdown pass at 8:35 in the first quarter followed by Senn’s extra point, putting Normal West up, 7-0. Both defenses managed to keep their opponents from scoring for the remainder of the half, and each side went scoreless in the third quarter.

Freshman kicker Taylor Anderson helped Bloomington High (2-2 Big 12 and overall) narrow West’s lead, 7-3, with a 24 yard field goal with 7:59 left in the fourth quarter, capping their longest drive of the night consisting of 16 plays going 95 yards for the score.

Normal West wound up punting to conclude the ensuing set of downs, and with the ball back in their possession, BHS went to work from their own 49. Twelve plays later, junior quarterback Marcus Griffin used a keeper play to score with 52 seconds left in the contest, followed by Senn’s extra point to allow BHS to take a 10-7 lead. From there, fans saw Normal West quickly work against the clock while holding back Purple Raiders defenders en route to the victory.

“This was another big game for us to keep learning and get ourselves ready for the postseason,” Normal West head coach Nate Fincham explained. “Bloomington was more physical than us. That’s what it comes down to. They dictated the tempo to us and that’s where our mistakes happened.” He said his team needed to maintain a physical presence and learn to not let up on opponents.

He added his players need to “learn to finish drives, finish blocks, and finish tackles, and we didn’t have that problem the first two weeks. We’ve done a pretty good job of making the plays necessary previously but we did not do the job today.”

“We did what they thought they would do,” BHS head coach Scott Godfrey said in assessing the Wildcats team his team saw. “The play at the end of the game was the difference.”

By Steve Robinson | September 5, 2021 - 10:50 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Being able to win a home game and do it in a stadium that had just received a new name helped make Normal Community High School’s first victory at the newly christened Dick Tharp Field all the sweeter after the Ironmen pounded Peoria Manual, 57-22, Friday night in their first Big 12 conference contest at the newly-named field.

Prior to the game, the field which had been known as Ironmen Field from when NCHS began playing here in the mid-1990s was renamed after the man who coached the Ironmen from 1966-1987 and racked up a 158-50-5 record. Now 90-years-old and aided by a walker to get around, Tharp was present for the ceremony as were family members, friends, and many of his former players.

What they and the fans at Dick Tharp Field saw was an Ironmen victory which began quickly courtesy of a 19-yard pass from senior quarterback Chase Mackey to senior wide receiver Kyle Thierry for the opening score, topping a 5 play 75-yard drive, wrapped up by junior kicker Ryan Millmore’s extra point to give the Ironmen a fast 7-0 lead.

The Rams’ first drive ended in Peoria Manual punting the ball back to NCHS (2-0) who promptly marched down field for their next score, a 2-yard touchdown run by senior running back Michael Coleman at the 6:20 mark in the quarter followed by Millmore’s extra point, putting NCHS up, 14-0.

Peoria’s next drive was interrupted by Ironmen senior linebacker Tye Niekamp, who picked off the third pass in the drive and ran into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown followed by another Millmore extra point, increasing NCHS’ lead, 21-0.

Peoria Manual (0-2) scored on a 15-yard touchdown dash by Rams senior running back Tristen White, but with no extra point kicker, the Rams opted for a 2-point conversion play with White dashing through defenders to cut NCHS’ lead to 21-8 with 1:14 left in the quarter.

But NCHS closed out the quarter by scoring one more time on a 20-yard pass from Mackey to senior tight end Tyler Dwinal followed by another Millmore extra point to put NCHS up, 28-8, as the opening quarter came to an end.

An interception of a Peoria Manual pass by Ironmen senior defensive back Camden Maas put NCHS at its own 32-yard line. Seven plays later, Mackey would connect again with Dwinal, this time on a 28-yard touchdown pass at 7:04 until halftime followed by Millmore’s extra point, pushing the Ironmen lead to 35-8. A turnover by Manual gave NCHS a start at Manual’s 47 from where, four plays later, the Ironmen would end the drive in a 17-yard touchdown by junior running back Christopher Taylor with 3:31 until halftime, followed by Millmore’s extra point, resulting in NCHS’ 42-8 halftime lead.

NCHS got the ball to start the third quarter and scored quickly with Mackey scoring from a yard out to complete a short yardage drive followed by Millmore’s extra point increasing NCHS’ lead, 49-8 at 10:49 in the quarter. Once the scoring difference between the two teams reached 40 points, game officials employed an Illinois High School Association rule allowing for a continuously running clock, stopping it only for timeouts taken by a team or because of an injury.

Peoria Manual scored from four yards out thanks to sophomore quarterback London Toliver whose touchdown was followed by a failed 2-point try. But that touchdown cut NCHS’ lead to 49-15 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Toliver would score a second time in the final quarter for the Rams from 8 yards out followed by another failed 2-point try. That cut NCHS’ lead to 49-22.

Ironmen sophomore Tommy Davis scored a short yardage touchdown to complete the scoring for NCHS with 2:22 left in the contest followed by a successful 2-point conversion by junior running back Steven Darnell capping the evening’s scoring.

“I felt like our kids made a lot of big plays,” NCHS Head Coach Jason Dregwitz said about the win. “I felt like they played with a lot of effort and energy. I felt

“We played an awfully good team,” was the admission Peoria Manual Head Coach Dan Fauser made after the game ended. “They just make plays and we’re a IHSA Class 3A school playing a 7A school. Our kids played hard, but we just have so many kids playing two ways.” He credited Toliver and White for their accomplishments on the night. They were excited about playing in front of Coach Tharp and the former alumni that were here. It was a special night and I thought our kids did a nice job.

“Give Manual credit because they kept playing and kept playing hard,” Dregwitz added. “A couple times after Peoria scored, we were able to score too.”

Fauser said, “We just have our work cut out for us because it’s just hard to beat kids this big.” Drengwitz was complementary of the effort Peoria Manual did throughout the contest, explaining, “Their kids did a great job staying the course and not hanging their heads and continued to play hard.”

By Steve Robinson | August 28, 2021 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, News, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – After Friday night’s season opening loss to Normal Community High Fred Carlton Field, one can only imagine Bloomington High School players and coaches still couldn’t get the sight of NCHS senior quarterback Chase Mackey from their dreams considering the performance he gave in the Ironmen’s season opening 35-0 Big 12 Conference shutout victory over the Purple Raiders.

Mackey, the 6 foot-3, 200 pound quarterback, completed passes totaling 195 yards which included three touchdown passes and running for a fourth directing his team to its first victory of the season, its first road victory.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Purple Raiders were deep in their own territory and forced to punt but the return put NCHS (1-0 Big 12 and overall) on BHS’ 5-yard line. Even with a penalty against them, four plays later, the Ironmen scored courtesy of Mackey rushing five yards into the end zone at the 5:59 mark in the first quarter, followed by junior kicker Ryan Millmore successful extra point, putting NCHS up, 7-0, closing out the quarter.

Short yardage and penalty flags doomed Bloomington (0-1 Big 12 and overall) in the second quarter allowing NCHS to begin what turned into its next score from BHS’ 14-yard line. One play later, senior running back Michael Coleman rushed past defenders for NCHS’ next score, followed by Millmore’s extra point, putting NCHS up, 14-0 with 2:11 left in the quarter.

NCHS would score again in the quarter’s closing seconds as Mackey would connect with senior wide receiver Kyle Thierry on a one play 45-yard scoring pass followed by another Millmore extra point, giving NCHS a 21-0 halftime lead.

NCHS received the ball to open the second half and immediately added to their lead courtesy of an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mackey to senior wide receiver Terance Washington capping a 4 play 65-yard drive topped off with Millmore’s extra point, increasing NCHS’ lead to 28-0 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Mackey and Washington would connect one more time on the night with 6:10 left in the contest on a 55-yard touchdown pass followed by Millmore’s last extra point of the night. Washington’s opening night stats included four receptions tallying 116 yards.

The victory avenged a 12-6 loss NCHS suffered against BHS in the spring, which Ironmen head coach Jason Drengwitz noted after the game, adding he didn’t really look upon this victory as revenge for that loss, but added, “it was probably sweeter for our players, but I don’t think I looked at it as a revenge game. I have a lot of respect for Bloomington, their players, and their coaching staff. More than anything, it’s not really revenge. You just want to beat your crosstown rival for the bragging rights. BHS was a team who handled us physically last year. I know our kids feel good about this win. They were excited to get out here and play against this team.”

Drengwitz added that from here, he and his players need to look at what went well for the Ironmen and build on those things. “I know our kids feel good about this win. I know they were excited.”

BHS head coach Scott Godfrey characterized the week leading up to the game as being “just a tough week.” “We had a lot of adversity thrown at us this week,” Godfrey said in describing how his week leading up to the game played out. He explained the heat added to injured players, and having to play without some key players made the week leading up to the game frustrating for the coaching staff and players.

“Give credit to Normal Community, they hit us in the mouth from the very start,” Godfrey said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and they won the turnover battle. So, first and foremost, they did what it takes to win a football game.”

Ironmen Field To Be Renamed “Dick Tharp Field” Before Friday’s Home Game: Prior to Friday’s first NCHS home game, the field they play on, currently known as Ironmen Field, will be renamed in honor of a former head coach, Dick Tharp, thus becoming known as Dick Tharp Field. Tharp, now 90, coached NCHS for 22 seasons, from 1966-1988, helping guide the Ironmen to a 158-50-5 mark. Big 12 Conference foe Peoria Manual will be the opponents for the 7p.m. contest. The Rams will be seeking a first win having lost a week 1 non-conference game at Peotone, 24-20.

BLOOMINGTON – After the Coronavirus first delayed Illinois Wesleyan University’s football season and then shortened the planned spring season, head coach Norm Eash and his players are hoping for a squad and opponents who are fully vaccinated and thus, will be able to have a full season taking on and earning wins against non-conference and Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin opponents.

And when the season gets underway, it will be another milestone year for head coach Norm Eash as the 2021 season will mark his 35th year patrolling the sidelines at Tucci Stadium. “Every season is different, no two seasons are ever the same and that’s what makes the job exciting,” Eash explained. “Competing in our league, CCIW, is one of the top three leagues in the country. That makes coaching fun, too.”

Normal Community West High School grad Holden Smith, son of Ryan and Jenifer Smith, joins IWU in his junior year after starting his college career at Heartland Community College. He said with no games last fall and getting to play in just one of four scheduled games last spring, the 6 foot, 270 pound lineman looks forward to getting into pads and taking on opponents this season.

“I felt being on the field was useful for me after not being on the field for about two years,” the Business major, son of Ryan and Jenifer Smith, explained. “It felt good.”

“Holden is a good offensive lineman for us,” Eash said. “He has speed and quickness.”

Lexington High School alum and IWU sophomore Carter Little, son of Shane and Pam Little, explained he took a couple of political science classes his freshman year which peaked his interest in Political Science which is now his major. And having that major, he explained, has also got him thinking about becoming involved with his community on some level once he graduates, he said.

He said he played in one of the rescheduled games last year, but admitted not getting additional playing time as a member of IWU’s junior varsity squad “was a bit of a struggle.” Despite it being only one game to be in for him, Little said being “a great experience because it was a big change from high school because in high school I played both ways and played every snap, so coming here made a pretty big difference just playing on one side of the ball.” Being on one side of the ball, he added, allows more time to study his playbook when he’s not hitting the schoolbooks.

“Carter learned a lot while a freshman because Covid made for a challenging year for him,” Eash said, explaining it was a challenge for the entire team as they worked through the experience. “We look for him to give us some size on the offensive line. He’s learned a lot of football since he’s been here, so I think you will see him really blossom as he gets older.”

Heyworth High School grad Gavin Hicklin, son of Jeff and April Hicklin, will be starting his collegiate playing career as a wide receiver for Eash’s team this year. “I wasn’t even considering playing college sports, but then I visited the campus and visited with the coaches and thought it would be a good fit for me,” the 6-foot, 160 pounder explained. He could prove versatile if what he explained about his switching positions halfway through high school proves to be a positive. That’s because he was a quarterback his freshman and sophomore seasons in a Hornets jersey before switching to receiver his last two years.

He said he is looking into being a Business major and knew coming to IWU “would be good for my future.”

Eash said Hicklin will spend the next year making the transition from being a high school player to being a college player. “He’s a good athlete which will allow him to participate at the next level.” the coach explained.

Quarterbacks To Duel For Getting Behind Center: Eash said a competition could be in the works to find this season’s starting quarterback. Sophomore Sage Shindler directed the offense during IWU’s games last spring, Eash explained, adding his belief the 5 foot-10, 160 passer “did a good job.” Eash said Shindler will find some competition from freshman Ryan Saxe, a graduate of Palatine’s Fremd High School. “We’ll have to see how quickly Saxe makes the transition from high school to college,” Eash said.

New Assistant Coaches Join Football Staff: IWU’s defense might not look the same thanks to he hiring of new defensive coordinator Matt Williamson. Williamson is a Columbus, Ohio native who has 11 years of collegiate coaching experience which has included stops at Gannon University, Urbana University, Seton Hill University, and the University of Mount Union. During those stops, Williamson has been part of coaching staffs which have garnered seven NCAA Division III National Championship appearances, four as a player and three as a coach, and has been a part of three National Championships.

Also joining the staff is Anfernee Roberts, a former IWU player from six years ago who will instruct running backs, as is another former player from the 1990s, Alan Kuchefski, who will oversee tight ends on the team. Randon Recker, a former University High assistant coach, is on Eash’s staff overseeing outside linebacckers for the coming season, and Chris Richardson has also joined the staff.

CCIW-Heavy Schedule In 2021: The Titans have just one non-conference foe on their schedule this season – Indiana-based Franklin College – who will visit Tucci Stadium for a 1:30p.m. Sept. 4. After an open date Sept. 11, IWU will be on the road for two weeks beginning its CCIW season at Carroll College Sept. 18, and at Carthage Sept. 25, returning home Oct. 2 to host its first conference home game against Elmhurst.

By Steve Robinson | August 12, 2021 - 6:08 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – Like the rest of us, Illinois State University’s Redbirds football team attempted to settle into a more familiar routine on Media Day at Hancock Stadium on Aug. 12, after barely getting any time to recover from a season which was lengthened by Covid and league decision to postpone the season schedule prompting Missouri Valley Football Conference teams to play in the winter months. That only lasted for four weeks before the season was cancelled as a result of the disease’s impact on organizers. But Redbirds fans will get to experience a more routine season when Head Coach Brock Spack’s troops open the season Sept. 4.

Four Area High School Alums On ISU Roster: ISU has four area players on the roster this season, one of whom transferred to ISU after attending Augustana University. Normal Community High alum Franky West is returning to the Twin Cities to play cornerback for the Redbirds as a redshirt freshman. Currently a member of ISU’s second team unit, West said he hopes to see action this season. “I’ve been working my tail off trying to get on the field and hopefully, I can make some things happen this season,” he said. “I I believe I can be a bigger guy on special teams this year. I got some action at cornerback last year, so I just want to perfect more of my craft on special teams and help my team as much as I can,” West, who is majoring in Marketing, said.

He is trying to carry on a family tradition playing for the Redbirds following in the footsteps of his father, Frank West, who played football at Illinois State from 1990-94 and later played in the Canadian Football League.

For sophomore Peter Bussone, he has seen the game from the perspective of both the offensive line and defensive line. He said he has picked up cues on footwork and toughness needed to face off against opposing teams. He said in being on both sides of the ball, he has learned to get used to how physical the college game is. “I’ve had to learn how to grind it out and try to get to first string,” he said. He added that has meant “a lot of hard work and dedication to get here.” He is majoring in Exercise Science with the goal of being a strength and conditioning coach.

Sophomore defensive lineman Dalton Tevis credits his then-NCHS Ironmen head coach Wes Temples’ approach to getting his players ready for a game for the way he now approaches playing against MVFC opponents now as a Redbird. “My high school did a good job of preparing me for this, but there’s nothing like college football. It’s a job in itself. You enjoy the practices, you enjoy the games, and here in college, you have meetings, you have lifting, you have different things you need to attend.”

Tevis is majoring in Cyber Security at ISU which teaches students about varying aspects of that field so after earning the degree, students can get jobs helping businesses stay on guard against cyber threats. “I had a couple of family members who were employed in it and didn’t really know much about it,” Tevis explained, adding once he took a couple classes related to it, “I fell in love with it.”

He said playing in spring was “awkward,” adding he and his teammates are looking forward “to having a more normal year” on the field.

Sophomore wide receiver Nick Hesse explained it wasn’t just transitioning from playing high school ball to college ball, like other freshmen had to contend with last season, but then trying to pick up on the nuances of the college game meant needing to learn quickly about those changes. Regular team meetings and how play routes were run were just a couple of the items the 5 foot-10 wide receiver had to get up to speed on as a Redbird last season. He is majoring in Business Administration and said he is leaning toward wanting to work in sports-related businesses.

Hesse said he had mixed feelings about the season being first delayed last fall and then nixed in the spring. He said with both the disease creating issues and players getting hurt over the course of the spring games, “it was just better for the team to take that break.”

For Bloomington Central Catholic High alum Joey Malinowski, getting some experience during the four spring games the Redbirds played helped him and said he is excited for the fall season to be starting. A sophomore, he said he never had to go up against guys who weighed 300 pounds, which is about 55 pounds more than he weighs, and said he’s grateful to have linemen Bussone and Zach Mueller close to help against defenders. He said he is in a group of players who are determined to have “100 percent execution on all snaps, kicks, and holds” as the season gets underway. He is majoring in Agricultural Business and is looking ahead to earning an MBA in a related field.

Spack Looking To Get Back To “A Lot More Normal”: ISU Head Coach Brock Spack said being at practice in August “is a more familiar spot for us, adding playing in the spring months, as briefly as they did until the season was cancelled after four games, didn’t feel normal. Spack and team officials called the season off after three games partly due to a surge in Covid. He said although “the good news was we play outside, the bad news is we held team meetings inside” which increased the risk of the disease spreading among players, coaches and staff. The situation the team had with practices and media day held Aug. 12 at Hancock Stadium turf “felt a lot more normal,” Spack said. He added this summer gave his players and assistant coaches and staff 4 ½ months of down time after a year and a half of working constantly with the season including in the spring.

“I think the players are adjusting to training camp after not having one for almost two years, explained Spack, who is entering his 13th season on the Redbirds sidelines. He brings an overall record of 85-53 including five post-season appearances, including making it to the FCS Championship in 2015 where the Redbirds lost to Missouri Valley Football Conference powerhouse North Dakota State.

2021 Season Starts Sept. 4 Hosting Butler: ISU fans will see the season open at home with Butler visiting Hancock Stadium on Sept. 4 for a 6:30p.m. game. The rest of September, the Redbirds will be on the road looking to conquer Western Michigan (Sept. 11), before tangling with MVFC foes Eastern Illinois (Sept. 18), and Southern Illinois (Sept. 25). Their next home game after that trip will be Oct. 2 when Missouri State comes to town.