Marian Catholic running back Tajheem Lawson scores against Oak Lawn in Week 1.
Marian Catholic running back Tajheem Lawson scores against Oak Lawn in Week 1. — Photo provided

Fremd flipped the script on Lake Zurich with its Week 1 victory, 24-6, snapping a three-year losing streak to the Bears in season openers.

Fremd head coach Lou Sponsel credited the change to the relaxed and fun mentality the player’s had.

“This group, they didn’t feel a whole lot of pressure,” Sponsel said. “We had some guys make some plays in the game, and it took a lot of pressure, and eased a lot of tension off our guys and they played relaxed.”

It’s easy to feel relaxed when you get stellar performances from junior quarterback Ryan Saxe and senior wide receiver/defensive back Jake Hipchen.

Saxe took over the starting role during his sophomore, and begins his junior season with plenty of varsity snaps to build off of. Sponsel is excited about the maturity Saxe brings at the helm, saying it feels like “he’s playing like a typical high school senior would”.

Saxe accounted for 300 total yards against Lake Zurich on Friday, rushing for 110 on 22 attempts and throwing for 190 on 14-of-20 attempts.

Hipchen also excelled in all three phases, blocking an extra point, intercepting a pass and catching six passes for 87 receiving yards. 

The Vikings' Week 1 success gives them a winning start after opening 2018 with three straight losses and 2017 with five straight. They rebounded last season to finish last season 5-5 with a Class 8A playoff berth.

Fremd has a challenging nonconference slate remaining in its next three games, playing Hersey (9-2), Maine South (10-2) and Evanston (7-3).

It’s a grueling start, but that’s the way Sponsel likes it.

“I think as you look at our first four games, we knew they were going to be tough,” Sponsel said. “But that’s what you wanted. If you got a good team, you stand the test, you know who you are when you come out of those first four games.”

Lawson leads Marian Catholic to Week 1 turnaround

Marian Catholic turned a six-point loss to Oak Lawn last season into a 56-point win this season with a 63-7 victory Friday.

Second-year head coach Erick Middleton was proud of the Spartans’ offseason training programs – the best he’s seen in his tenure at Marian, he said.

After being hired in April 2018, Middleton enjoyed the extra preparation of having a full offseason at head coach, and focused his team on beating Oak Lawn in its season opener after consecutive losses the last two seasons by seven points or less.

“It was just one of those things where they’re not going to get the trifecta, we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure they don’t beat us three years in a row,” Middleton said. “It was like nothing else mattered. It was all about that Oak Lawn game, which we felt was going to catapult the season into where we believe it would be or have us singing the same old song around here.”

The Spartans have struggled recently, with two or less wins every season since 2011, but dominated Oak Lawn in Week 1. 

Junior running back Tajheem Lawson, who has offers from Temple and Toledo, starred for Marian with four total touchdowns, two rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. 

Senior safety and three-year starter Joshua Coats had a kick return for a touchdown, and junior wide receiver/defensive end Justin Stallworth recovered a fumble for a scoop-and-score as well.

Middleton thinks Stallworth just scratched the surface in Week 1, and the Division I interest he is garnering signals he may be right.

“I believe he returned that fumble about 38 yards, had eight or nine tackles, two sacks, and he’s someone who’s going to be very scary,” Middleton said. “We really didn’t even get the chance to get him going offensively, so he’s definitely someone we want to look at on that side of the ball.” 

St. Rita defense sets tone against Joliet Catholic

The Mustang defense flexed its muscles Week 1 in a 31-14 victory over reigning 5A champion Joliet Catholic Academy. 

Head coach Todd Kuska was thrilled by St. Rita’s defensive performance, hobbling JCA’s ground game.

“[Our defense] took away the strength of Joliet Catholic, and that’s their running game,” Kuska said.

JCA mustered only two yards per carry, despite 33 attempts, for a total of only 66 rushing yards in the game. While the Hilltoppers threw for more than 200 yards, the St. Rita defense didn’t let their aerial attack go unimpeded with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.

Junior defensive back Henry Wilson had the first interception with 1:36 left in the first quarter. He returned it all the way to stretch St. Rita’s lead to 17-7. 

Junior linebacker Michael Gaughan iced the game for the Mustangs when he returned the second interception 99 yards to make the lead an insurmountable 31-14 with 28 seconds left.

The score belies the close contest, with two St. Rita touchdowns in the last 2:30 of the fourth quarter. JCA had more first downs, 13-12, and total yards, 271-253, but came up short.

St. Rita sophomore running back Kaleb Brown had two touchdowns, and junior quarterback Brian Johnson was solid, going 9 for 17 with 145 yards and a touchdown.

Kuska isn’t satisfied with the team’s Week 1 performance, but he is grateful for it, as St. Rita heads into a tough stretch of three road games against Richards, Loyola and Montini. The Mustangs are looking to bounce back this year after last year's 3-6 regular season.

“We’re nowhere near where we want to be,” Kuska said. “Definitely good going into the next three weeks, even though we take it one week at a time, good to be going in with a win under our belt.” 

Lena-Winslow looks the part against Eastland-Pearl City

Lena-Winslow’s Week 1 opener left no room for doubt that the Panthers will be formidable this season. 

Last year, Eastland-Pearl City went 12-1 and was the only team to beat Lena-Winslow in the regular season. This year, Lena-Winslow won, 50-6, on Friday.

Ric Arand, Lena-Winslow’s head coach for more than 20 years, downplayed the lopsided score, citing E-PC’s high level of roster turnover. 

“We just caught them at the right time, I think it was kind of a perfect storm,” Arand said.

A perfect storm is a good way to describe Lena-Winslow, the top-ranked team in the Class 1A AP Poll, this season. The Panthers star two Iowa commits, senior defensive lineman/running back Isaiah Bruce and junior offensive/defensive tackle Gennings Dunker, returning from last year’s 11-2 season. 

Arand said Dunker dominated both lines, and Bruce tallied six carries for 60 yards and a touchdown to go with a sack on defense. 

Not only do they have two Big Ten commits, the Panthers have weapons across the board. Senior fullback Sean Ormiston took his first carry to the end zone to the tune of 40 yards. Arand estimated Ormiston finished the game with more than 160 total yards. Ormiston returns after a junior season where he finished with more than 1,700 yards.

A pair of sophomore standouts also showed flashes. Running back Marey Roby returned a punt for a touchdown, and quarterback Luke Benson was efficient, going 4 for 4 with 130 yards and three touchdowns, according to Arand.

Arand was proud of the explosiveness the offense showed, and his senior leaders, but still sees plenty to improve on. 

“After watching film, there were a lot of things we didn’t do well,” Arand said. “On the line of scrimmage, we didn’t sustain blocks real well. We’re a gap control team on defense, and I didn’t think we controlled gaps real well.”

Lena-Winslow will look to fine tune those areas when they travel to Amboy this week.