Westminster debut represents a milestone

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Years of preparation and planning came to fruition shortly after 1 p.m. Saturday when Westminster Christian kicked off to Luther North to begin its first varsity football game in school history.

The moment marked a major milestone for the Elgin private school’s athletic program, which has steadily grown in stature under the guidance of athletic director Rick Palmer. A state baseball championship and postseason titles in several other sports helped put the Warriors on the map, but getting a football program off the ground could be a game changer.

“This is a community builder,” Palmer said. “Our enrollment numbers across the board are higher than they’ve ever been. Our high school enrollment is at 220 this year and we’ll see what happens in the years to come.”

Westminster began its football program two years ago with a junior high team and last fall fielded a junior varsity squad at the high school level. The Warriors have only four seniors and two juniors on the roster this year as they embark on a nine-game varsity schedule.

Despite its youth and inexperience, Westminster managed to hold its own in a 44-26 loss to Luther North. The Warriors no doubt gained some confidence by scoring three touchdowns in the final 7:22.

A big group of blue-clad fans made the trip from Elgin to Chicago for the varsity debut, and the turnout figures to be even higher when the Warriors play their first varsity home game at 1 p.m. Saturday against Mooseheart. The contest will be held at Westminster’s campus on what, until now, had served as the school’s soccer field.

While Week 2’s games will be here before we know it, here are some thoughts on the first weekend of the 2013 season:

Most impressive win

There was an expectation Hampshire would improve this season, but the Whip-Purs looked great in their 41-7 rout of rival Burlington Central on Saturday.

Hampshire was dominant from the start, outgaining the Rockets 260-29 in the first half while building a 28-0 lead by the break. The Whips had a number of key contributors, and lost in the shuffle was a strong game from junior Mason Fleury, who started his second varsity season on a high note by running for 42 yards on seven carries and making an acrobatic interception on defense.

Biggest surprise

From my vantage point, there weren’t any major upsets in Week 1, but I was surprised with how well Bartlett hung with Huntley in a 23-12 loss. The Hawks have only four starters back from last year’s team that reached the second round of the Class 8A playoffs, and all signs point to the Red Raiders being a force this year despite also having a lot of turnover on their roster.

Despite those circumstances, Bartlett took a 12-10 lead into the fourth quarterback before a pair of Mitch Kawell touchdown runs put Huntley over the top. If anything, this proves the new-look Hawks won’t be pushed around easily as they seek their 13th trip to the playoffs in the past 14 years.

Here’s how I stack up the top teams in the Courier-News coverage area after Week 1:

1. Huntley (1-0): Red Raiders got job done against Bartlett and can improve to 2-0 for first time since 2009 with win at Elgin on Saturday.

2. St. Charles East (1-0): The Saints impressed early in their 35-27 win at South Elgin, but they’ll look for a better finish after the Storm scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to make things interesting.

3. St. Charles North (0-1): A 23-22 overtime loss at Elk Grove wasn’t what the start the North Stars were hoping for, but they showed some resolve by rallying from 16-0 deficit in fourth quarter.

4. Jacobs (0-1): A late Barrington touchdown sent the Golden Eagles to a 22-15 loss Saturday, and things don’t get any easier with a trip to St. Charles East this Friday.

5. Dundee-Crown (1-0): The Chargers edge out St. Edward and Hampshire for the final spot after throttling Elgin 52-15 on Saturday.

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