The 2018 season proved painful for Marian Central, which started 3-1 then stumbled to the finish line at 3-6.
The Hurricanes missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Returning players from that team are eager to get back to the postseason, which will be likely if they can beat St. Patrick at 7 p.m. Friday at Marian’s George Harding Field.
“It would mean a lot,” Hurricanes running back Luke Rogers said. “Last year was a bummer, the first year not making it in a while. It would mean a lot to Coach (Darren) Fortin, being his first year, it’d be the first step to getting back to where we used to be.”
Marian (4-4) and Woodstock North (4-4) are the area’s only teams trying to make their way into the 256-team playoff field that the IHSA will announce on Saturday. Five Fox Valley Conference teams (Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Huntley and Prairie Ridge) have reached at least five victories and will make it. Richmond-Burton and Marengo, from the Kishwaukee River Conference, also have berths.
Marian (32 playoff points) and North (31) could use some help from their opponents, although Joliet Herald-News sports editor Steve Soucie, who tracks playoff possibilities all season, predicts the cutoff to be low this season. There is a strong chance both Marian and North are in if they win.
North hosts Woodstock (1-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in a rematch of their Week 3 KRC game. This one is a nonconference matchup, but still of utmost importance to the Thunder.
“To make the playoffs again, for the fourth year in a row, would be a feeling of accomplishment, as well as an affirmation toward what we are doing as a staff and program,” North coach Jeff Schroeder said. “Our staff and kids have shown tremendous resilience to be in this position. I could not be more proud of a group of men.”
Marian has dealt with a difficult schedule with the new Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference setup. North has battled injuries, including the loss of its top lineman, Sean Jaco, and quarterback Ryan Zinnen, along with Dane Williams, Cole Brey and Eric Strzalka. Fullback Andrew Pena, the Thunder’s leading rusher, is questionable for Friday.
The best part for both is, as Fortin said, they control their destiny.
“Our seniors are really excited about getting on the field,” Fortin said. “They’ve worked hard all week; they’re looking forward to competing. If people are looking at records, they say we should win. St. Pat’s very solid. We play all quality teams. We’re really going to have to play well.”
Looking at common opponents, Marian lost to St. Viator in overtime, 28-21, and beat Carmel, 28-14. St. Patrick lost to St. Viator, 21-20, and beat Carmel, 32-31. The Hurricanes lost to St. Patrick last season but beat the Shamrocks in Week 9 in 2016 and 2017 to make the playoffs at 5-4 both years.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Rogers said. “It’s a beatable team if we execute on both sides of the ball. I don’t see why we shouldn’t win.”
Zinnen’s torn ACL meant that Elijah Pena, a starting running back, moved to quarterback, changing two positions. Zinnen has mentored his friend at his new position to help him along.
“They are both great young men,” Schroeder said. “Elijah accepted the huge role and challenge of starting QB and has continued to lead the team like a veteran.”