By Steve Robinson | September 14, 2019 - 10:58 pm
Posted in Category: Normal West HS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Everybody attending a big high school homecoming game wants to see a big victory. It’s many respects, just anticipated and expected by fans of the home team. And Although Normal Community West High School went scoreless in the first quarter of their Big 12 Conference game against Danville Friday, Wildcats defenders held their guests scoreless the rest of the way while they marched to a 29-7 victory.

The Wildcats received the kickoff to start the game but punted to the Vikings after punting having gotten as far as the Vikings’ 40 before Danville defenders pressured them. Danville (1-2 Big 12 and overall) started their opening drive just inside Wildcats territory at West’s 49 yard line. The Vikings chewed up the clock as much as they did yardage, scoring when sophomore quarterback Eric Turner, Jr. dashed into the end zone for the score followed by junior kicker Edgar Segura’s successful extra point. That gave Danville a 7-0 lead with 3:16 left in the opening quarter, a lead they carried into the second quarter.

Each team would have two possessions in the second quarter before Normal West (2-1 Big 12 and overall) would find enough traction allowing them to get past Danville defenders. Senior quarterback Carson Camp would connect on an 11 yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Cole Hernandez at the 2:27 mark of the second quarter for the Wildcats’ first score of the game. Freshman kicker Owen Senn’s extra point tied the contest at 7-7.

Danville started their ensuing possession at their own 35 but the Vikings punted on their fourth play of the drive having lost five yards. Segura’s punt put the Wildcats at their own 35 to start their next possession. But a 48 yard completed pass from Camp to junior wide receiver Cole Hernandez put the Wildcats on the Danville 17. Two plays later, junior running back LaTre Billups rushed past defenders for a 5 yard score followed by a successful 2-Point conversion pass between Camp and Hernandez, increasing the Wildcats’ lead, 15-7, going into halftime.

Danville would have two unsuccessful drives and West one before West would add to its lead at 4:40 in the third quarter. Camp would connect with Billups a second time on an 18 yard touchdown play, Billups dashing down the far sideline into the end zone for the score. That resulted in West increasing the lead, 23-7, thanks to a 2-Point conversion play which followed as Hernandez connected with sophomore wide receiver Max Ziebarth.

Both sides would get a possession each before Danville would get the ball again, starting at their own 16, the result of a Vikings interception. West had a drive which started at their own 28 and was progressing until Ward picked off a Camp pass, giving the Vikings the ball at their own 16. But that drive was stopped when Normal West junior defensive back Davonte Crawford picked off Turner’s pass and got the Wildcats starting a new drive from their own 30. From there, the Wildcats chewed up both yardage and time on the way to their next score. That came when Camp connected with Hernandez for a second time on the night, this time from 12 yards out, putting Normal West up, 29-7, with 2:37 left in the contest, followed by a failed extra point try by Senn resulting in the final score.

“It took us a while to get us going and eventually, we got going at the end of the half, and that’s what I wanted to see,” said second-year Wildcats head coach Nate Fincham. He labeled his team’s response the rest of the way to the slow start as being positive.

“At the beginning of the game, we came out a little flat and Danville came out ready to play and we had to kind of catch our breath and wake up and play,” Fincham said, theorizing as to why his team was scoreless in the first quarter.”

Danville head coach Marcus Forrest said his team played the way he said his likes to play. “We played physical, we played aggressive, we played at the tempo we wanted to play. We were moving the ball and controlling it.”

But he added miscues started to help the Vikings’ desire to keep that style of play continuing led to his team unraveling in the later quarters. “Normal West has a quarterback who is a tough kid and we knew that. But we also knew defensively when we could get to him, good things happened for us. When our defense was passive, bad things happened for us.”

NORMAL – Typically, regardless of who their opponent is, Normal Community High School’s football team comes out firing in the first quarter appearing to try to get a message across of what the rest of the night will be for the opponents. Normal Community West High School does the same thing, too, but when the two sides met Friday, Sept. 6 for their annual “Chili Bowl” matchup, the home team Wildcats defense managed to keep NCHS scoreless for the first half.

NCHS recovered enough in the second half to register a come-from-behind 19-14 Big 12 Conference win before roughly 900 people.

Following a fast scoreless first quarter, senior quarterback Carson Camp’s 11 yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Max Ziebarth gave Normal West (1-1 Big 12 and overall) their first points on the board followed by a successful extra point by freshman kicker Owen Senn, putting the host Wildcats up, 7-0, at 9:04 in the second quarter. That score would hold going into halftime.

Normal West deferred the win of the pre-game coin toss, opting to take the ball to start the second half. But their effort to start that half was short-lived when Camp, with West having the ball at their own 30, was hit on the third play of scrimmage by Ironmen defenders and coughed up the ball which was recovered by NCHS junior outside linebacker Jude Lowery. NCHS managed to start their next set of downs from West’s 23, scoring when senior quarterback Aidan Oliver connected with senior wide receiver Camron Jackson for a touchdown. Freshman kicker Ryan Millmore missed his first extra point on the night, giving West a 7-6 lead, with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

West’s, next possession, which began from their own 9 yard line, was moving forward, getting to their own 18 until it was interrupted by NCHS senior inside linebacker Grant Miller’s picking off a Camp pass at the West 40. From there, Miller evaded Wildcats players to get into the end zone for a touchdown at the 10 minute mark in the third quarter. The score was followed by a failed extra point try by Millmore, but the Ironmen went in front, 13-7, with 7:47 left in the quarter. That score would hold going into the fourth quarter.

Normal West would have two more unsuccessful possessions and NCHS (2-0 Big 12 and overall) one before Ironmen senior running back Jake Hileman’s 2 yard running touchdown at 11:57 in the fourth quarter, followed by another failed 2-point play try. That increased NCHS’ advantage to 19-7.

Following the ensuing kickoff by NCHS, the Wildcats started their next drive from their own 32. Eight plays later, Camp connected with junior wide receiver LaTre Billups on a 19 yard touchdown with 9:40 left in the contest, followed by Senn’s extra point, resulting in NCHS’ lead being cut to 19-14.

West tried to mount a march for a come from behind score as time ticked away, but one drive was hampered by two incomplete passes and Camp being sacked, forcing West to punt the ball away with 7:30 left.

“This game was emotional because we’re always so proud of our kids and how hard they play,” explained NCHS head coach Jason Drengwitz afterward. “There was never any finger-pointing. The guys just kept playing, playing hard and giving everything they could and being coachable and making the right play at the right time.

“It was a hard fought battle, a tough win against a really good team, a really good defense and great quarterback, and great coaching staff,” Drengwitz added. “It was just emotional more than anything for me.”

“The big thing about the game was about how if we had penalties and turnovers we’re not going to be a very good football team,” Normal West head coach Nate Fincham said. “In the first half, we played pretty well and stuck to the game plan. In the second half, we had some penalties and turned the ball over and NCHS scored pretty quickly off of them.

“Normal did a pretty good job in the second half of mixing up their coverages and were double-teaming us,” Fincham added.

Both Unit 5 high schools play Big 12 opponents this weekend with Normal West hosting their homecoming game against Danville Friday night at Wildcat Field starting a 7p.m. Danville beat Urbana 53-22 to go 1-1 on the season Friday. NCHS travels to Urbana for a 7p.m. game. Urbana is currently 0-2 on the season.

By Steve Robinson | August 31, 2019 - 10:26 pm
Posted in Category: NCHS, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Community High School’s senior class has a group of kids who team up to decide the theme students in the stands will use to enjoy watching their Ironmen football team. They set the tone for the evening. The theme selected for the Ironmen’s home opener Friday, Aug. 30 was “Hawaiian Night.” Figuratively speaking, the Ironmen opened the season kicking sand in the face of Peoria Richwoods to open the season, beating the Knights, 30-7, before 850 fans.

Senior running back Jake Hileman’s 23 yard touchdown dash put NCHS (1-0 Big 12 and overall) on the scoreboard for the first time this season with 2:34 remaining in the first quarter. But that was followed by a botched 2-point play, putting the Ironmen up, 6-0, for what would be the only points in the quarter.

Peoria Richwoods (0-1 Big 12 and overall) responded scoring on defense, as Knights senior defensive back Amaris Campbell picked off a pass by NCHS senior quarterback Aiden Oliver and scrambled his way 36 yards into the end zone, followed by a successful extra point by junior kicker Marcus Lanier. That gave the Knights a 7-6 lead, but it would be their only lead of the night, at 7:02 in the second quarter.

But on the ensuing series for NCHS, the Ironmen marched 73 yards in five plays topped off by Oliver’s 18 yard touchdown run, followed by a successful point after by freshman kicker Ryan Millmore. That put NCHS up, 13-7, at the 5:34 mark in the second quarter.

Richwoods would wind up punting to end the ensuing possession. But Lanier’s punt to the Ironmen wound up going nearly straight up, allowing NCHS to have the starting possession at Richwoods’ 31 yard line. Five plays later, Hileman scored for the second time on the night, this time from 2 yards out, increasing NCHS’ advantage, 20-7, following Millmore’s extra point with 48 seconds until halftime.

Third quarter action opened with Richwoods having two unsuccessful drives and NCHS one before the Ironmen would put points on the board again. After partially blocking a Knights punt, NCHS was able to start their next drive from the Knights’ 11 yard line. But Knights defenders kept NCHS from being unable to maneuver into the end zone. That prompted NCHS to kick a field goal from 26 yards out. With the successful kick, Millmore increased NCHS’ lead, 23-7.

Senior wide receivers Camron Jackson’s fourth quarter touchdown, followed by Millmore’s extra point finished out NCHS’ scoring on the night.

But officials’ flags flew often during the contest. NCHS was flagged enough to be penalized 160 yards on the night compared to 312 yards in infractions Richwoods accumulated.

NCHS head coach Jason Drengwicz said calling play by both sides “a little bit sloppy would be the understatement of the football season. We didn’t play too well offensively, committing too many mental mistakes. We left a lot of points out there. “

But because football has three phases to it, Drengwicz said, he could give credit to the sections that did play well. “I thought our defense played outstanding and controlled the line of scrimmage. Special teams, I felt did an excellent job. We just need to pick it up on offense.”

He called the penalties his team got flagged for “self-inflicted.” “Richwoods did a heck of a job. There were a lot of penalties, a lot of false starts, a lot of holding calls – all things we need to clean up. If we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish this year, we can’t have 20 penalties or however many we had. That’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis.”

For Richwoods head coach Roland Brown, what needs to be taken care of before his team’s game next week playing host to Peoria Manual was basic. “We’ve got to generate some offense,” he said. “I don’t think that we performed very well up front. I knew NCHS had a lot of offensive starters coming back and good defense, but I think we had a little success, but our defense was on the field all day. I thought our defense flew around and played very well, and kept NCHS out of the end zone when we could have easily have let them in. Defensively, it was a pretty decent game, offensively, it’s got to go up.”

Friday, Sept. 6 is the annual “Chili Bowl” game for Unit 5’s two crosstown rivals as NCHS travels to Normal Community West High School. Kickoff is slated for 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | August 19, 2019 - 10:32 pm
Posted in Category: Illinois Wesleyan, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – Graduating from LeRoy High School in 2016, Bryce Dooley opted not to play sports after being part of the Panthers’ football team for four years. He chose the University of Illinois to attend college and dove into his general studies. But with time, he realized he did miss being on a team and decided to transfer to IWU to resume playing football.

By the end of this coming academic year, Dooley, now a senior, will finish his education – both having learned more about the intricacies of college football and the ability to start a career having earned a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting.

I’m really excited about the season,” Dooley said. He said he’s really looking forward to playing his last season. One thing that has never slowed is that he knew the local fans and friends and family who came to see him play in junior high and high school didn’t trail off when he got to IWU. He said he looks forward to seeing the folks from LeRoy come out to see his final season.

What he said he’ll remember is “the great culture here,” Dooley said. “It’s just a great group of guys. It’s really no better place to be if you want to be an athlete and go to a great school academically.”

“When he went to the University of Illinois, he did well, he’s a very bright young man,” IWU head coach Norm Eash said. “He’s a great student and he just missed football.” Feeling as Dooley did, he called Eash looking to transfer schools, wanting to play again. He did have to adjust to a new position though, once he got to IWU, switching to running back from having played quarterback at LHS.

Eash noticed once Dooley began playing for the Titans that he, perhaps, had some additional skills, thanks to his speed, the Titans could use. Eash turned out to be right: Dooley not only maintained his position as a back, but came in handy as a slot receiver, too.

“He’s a playmaker,” Eash added. “He’s a great young man. He’s a team captain this year. Our players really look up to him, so, we look forward to him having a tremendous year for us.”

First Home Game A Month Away: The way the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin football schedule came together this year, it will be a month before Fightin’ Titans fans will get a first glimpse of the team at Tucci Stadium. That will happen on Saturday, Sept. 28 when Augustana visits for a 1p.m. game. Eash, entering his 33rd season, said he believes his squad is up to the task of pushing for a conference crown this year. IWU starts the season with a bye week on Sept. 7 followed by two straight road games – a non-conference tilt at University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse Sept. 14, and Sept. 21 at their first CCIW opponent of the season, Wheaton College.

With Dooley and 13 other seniors and a battery of returning starters led by senior quarterback Brandon Bauer, Eash said he sees a lot of confidence in returning players as training camp opened up. Bauer is one of the few four-year starting quarterbacks IWU has ever had. “Brandon is like another coach out there,” Eash said. “He understands the offensive system that we run, and we put a lot of responsibility on him during the game, making reads on every play.”

Eash said there “has always been a sense of urgency” inside his players at this time of year. “And that sense of urgency is a little higher this year,” he said, adding that the experience level in his players is showing itself at this point so far, too.

He said that mindset “is going to benefit our whole football team because the freshmen learn much faster with the seniors showing them the way and how things are done.”

Final Media Day For Sports Information Director Stew Salowitz: For 31 years, Stew Salowitz has helped local media stay up-to-date on teams, scores, statistics, and other related items pertaining to IWU teams. Monday’s Football Media Day was Salowitz’s last event for IWU, as he is retiring on Aug. 30. “I’ve had a great run at Illinois Wesleyan. I’ve been blessed with winning teams and so many great people to work with.” He added the athletes he has written about over the years in the job have gone on to become people he has become great friends with.

This event also marked the first Media Day for Salowitz’s successor in the SID post, Katie Gonzales. She shadowed Salowitz on this day but will be fully at the controls when Basketball Media Day rolls around in October. Gonzales graduated from Loras College in 2014 with a double major in sport management and mathematics and received her master’s degree with honors in sport management from Eastern Michigan in 2017.

Circle Your Calendars: Carroll University will be IWU’s Homecoming opponent Saturday, Oct. 5 for a 1p.m. game. North Park University will be the opponent for Senior Day on Saturday, Nov. 16’s 1p.m. game.

By Steve Robinson | August 6, 2019 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: ISU Redbirds, The Normalite

NORMAL – Considering how training camp has gotten off to a positive start for the Redbirds of Illinois State University, ISU head coach told reporters he believes opponents will see how his team plays and make note of how improved they are in 2019.

The Redbirds’ last three seasons have seen a team slide downhill: Tying for 4th with a 6-6 overall and 4-4 Missouri Valley Football Conference record and losing a first round FCS contest in 2016, followed by repeating 4-4 in 2017 in Conference and going 6-5 overall but not qualifying for playoffs, tying for 6th. Last season ended with ISU finishing with the worst Conference record a Spack Redbird-coached team had experienced to that point – 3-5. Understandably, Spack said he wants to reverse course.

“You always hope you are further off in the game than you were last year,” head coach Brock Spack told reporters on Media Day at Hancock Stadium on Aug. 6. “The team has prepared and they are farther ahead of where they were this time last year, which is good.”

But that being said, Spack added, “There are still some questions and those won’t be answered until we play an opponent.” He said it appeared his players had worked a little more on conditioning during the off-season than, perhaps in past years. “This team seems to hold itself accountable, which is very nice,” explained Spack, who is entering his 11th year at the Redbirds’ helm having tallied an overall record of 74-45. That includes a MVFC record of 48-32 which counts among the games played one FCS Championship Game loss in 2014 and three other playoff appearances – quarterfinal appearances in 2012 and 2015, and a loss in the first round in 2016.

This past off-season, Spack issued a challenge to his players to pay attention to their weight and workout habits. He divided his players into eight squads, the winners getting dinner at the coach’s house. “It made it kind of pleasurable because the guys were kind of governing themselves, which is what you want,” Spack said.

In terms of academics, the team has achieved a combined grade point average of 3.0, Spack added. “That’s a huge, huge indicator for where our team is at from an attitude standpoint. They are taking pride in everything they do and in what they have to do to be a champion.”

Seven Local Players Look To Contribute: A total of seven Redbirds players are local guys – three each from Normal and Bloomington, and one who calls Towanda home. Of this group, all three who hail from Normal are Redshirt freshmen. That includes wide receiver Nick Hesse, a Normal Community High School alum. His turn on the field is on hold for the time being as he is recovering from a sprained ankle. “We’ll see what happens after I talk to the doctor,” he said. He optimistically said he would like to be out battling with his teammates by week two of the season – the home opener against non-conference foe Morehead State. Once the ankle is totally healed, “I definitely want to see some action this year,” he said.

Junior offensive lineman Garrett Hirsch attributed the team’s poor finish last year to what he saw was “a lot of negativity” he thought was present last year, especially when, he added, “we thought we were better than we were. So this year, we’re trying to keep that negativity out of here. As a group, that is what we decided we were going to do this season. That’s why I think we’re going to much more successful than we have been in the past.”

Having sat out as required last year, Peter Bussone will be a redshirt freshman this year ready to keep opposing defenders at bay as an offensive lineman. The 6 foot-2, 305 pound Bussone said he has learned plenty about the mental toughness needed to go from the high school game where he played at Normal Community High School to the college game. A former nose guard, he said he realizes the game from that position switch is different than he had experienced previously. “I’m just ready, for when an opportunity strikes, to get onto the field this year,” he said.

Like Bussone, redshirt freshman Dalton Tevis sat out last year but is looking forward to seeing action this season playing outside linebacker trying to open holes to get through to quarterbacks and running backs. A Normal Community High School grad, Tevis said he wants to have a depth of knowledge of the playbook, “so that I don’t make any mistakes mentally.” He adds though that, “We practice so much that I know I will be in the right spot at the right time.” For Tevis, being on the team is a dream come true, having gone to football youth camps set up by ISU since he was in grade school. Being a player now on the team “is a dream come true,” he said.

Having transferred from Division II South Dakota-based Augustana University to ISU, freshman defensive back Franky West, a Normal Community West High School alum, said he is looking forward to playing, once again, for the home crowd. To comply with NCAA rules, the 5 foot-10, 170 pound defensive back will sit out this season and be ready to play for the Redbirds next season. His father, Frank Sr., played for ISU in the 1980s and played in two and won one Canadian Football League Grey Cup Championship game with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Until he gets to play next season, the younger West is on the Redbirds’ scout team helping play the role of the upcoming Redbirds opponent, and said he is looking forward to competing on behalf of ISU.

Sophomore defensive lineman and Bloomington High alum John Ridgeway saw action last season – “about 50 snaps a game” by his count – and the experience last season “gave me a chance to show my talents.” He said the biggest change playing at this level versus in high school is “I’m usually surrounded by dudes who are my size if not bigger.” But since Ridgeway is listed at 6 foot-6 and 325 pounds, being around opponents of similar strength wasn’t intimidating, he said.

A redshirt freshman last year, long snapper Joey Malinowski said he is looking forward to getting in some action on the turf this season. The 6 foot-1, 250 pound Central Catholic product is spending training camp trying “to work myself into the standard rotation for points after touchdown and punting situations. Right now, in training camp, I’m just trying to perfect the craft I’m working on and be as prepared when that time comes.”

Circle Your Calendars: ISU opens the season on the road at Northern Illinois Saturday, Aug. 31. Spack’s Redbirds play before a home crowd at Hancock Stadium Sept. 7 in a non-conference contest against Morehead State, starting with a 6:30p.m. kickoff. The Redbirds’ first Missouri Valley Football Conference opponent will be Saturday, Oct. 5 when North Dakota State visits Hancock Stadium for a 12 Noon game. Indiana State visits for Homecoming 2p.m. game on Oct. 26, and Missouri State closes out the home schedule for the Redbirds on Senior Day for a 12 Noon kickoff.