Huskies, Tigers look to avoid 1-3 start

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Through three weeks, Naperville North’s 2012 campaign has started to look a whole lot like its 2011 season.

Through three weeks, against the same three opponents it opened the 2011 season against, Naperville North has a victory sandwiched in between a pair of losses.

Beginning the season with a loss to Neuqua Valley while following that up with a solid win at Thornton eight days later and being handed a defeat in its DuPage Valley Conference opener by Wheaton North last weekend, with the prospect of a 1-3 start staring the Huskies right in the face, the preeminent program, No. 13 Wheaton Warrenville South, in the DVC awaits them on Friday.   

Responsible for both of Wheaton Warrenville South’s conference losses since the start of the 2005 season, Naperville North (1-2, 0-1 DuPage Valley) will travel to Wheaton hoping to avoid going 1-3.

“When you play to get into the playoffs and stuff like that, they’re all important,” Naperville North coach Sean Drendel said. “We don’t put any added pressure on our kids that (specific games are must-wins).”

A blocked punt and a fumble return for a TD cost them dearly in its Week 1 loss to Neuqua Valley and a lack of offensive cohesion, which included six penalties for 30 yards and a fumble, last week against Wheaton North proved too difficult for Naperville North to ultimately overcome.

“What we would really like to do is play well,” Drendel said. “We don’t feel like we’ve played up to our potential so far and we need to play mistake-free, catch the football and not turn it over and play good, solid defense and, at times, we’re doing that. We’re just not doing it often enough.”

The Huskies’ 17-14 home victory over the Tigers a year ago prevented a 1-3 start, while sending the Tigers to a 1-3 start in the process.

While Naperville North failed to seize on the momentum gleaned from that victory last September en route to its 5-5 finish and first-round exit in the Class 8A playoffs, the Tigers dug out of their 1-3 hole to start the 2011 season by eventually reaching the Class 7A state title game before losing, 21-14, to Rockford Boylan.

Hoping to earn a regular season victory over the Tigers for the second straight year, a feat the Huskies haven’t accomplished since winning three straight from the Tigers from 2002-04, a stretch that included their last victory over the Tigers in Wheaton—a 29-21 victory on Sept. 26, 2003—they’ll aim to do so behind their offensive line, anchored by Colin Goebel.

Leading the way in their lone victory thus far on the season, a 34-20 victory at Thornton in Week 2—which saw the Huskies run for 395 yards and five touchdowns on the ground—the Huskies’ running game was limited for the most part by both Neuqua Valley and Wheaton North.

“Their offensive line is very talented. I definitely think the (Iowa verbal commit Colin) Goebel kid is a step above from everybody I’ve seen so far,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch said. “He’s looks like an Iowa offensive lineman already, so he’s finishing blocks and he’s doing a lot of things that I’m sure it makes Coach Drendel happy to have a guy like that on his team. But we don’t match up real well with that, but we have improved on our run defense the last two ballgames.”

Having gone through an interesting offseason in regards to its quarterback position, junior Ryan Graham has taken the reins of the offense for Wheaton Warrenville South (1-2, 1-0 DuPage Valley).

Facing two of the better teams in the state—Glenbard West and Maine South—to start the season, the Tigers eked out a 14-7 victory at West Aurora last week and has averaged just nine points a game through three weeks.

Graham has had a hand directly in four of the five touchdowns the Tigers’ offense has scored, a good thing since they are still looking for someone to step up and replace Dan Vitale, who’s now at Northwestern, at running back on more of a full-time basis.

“Ryan’s our leading rusher, so there in (lies the issue). The answer is the problem. He’s our best rusher and he’s got to also be our best thrower,” Muhitch said. “So we’re still working on the throwing game with him. I’ve got some real talented receivers that we need to utilize, that we need to figure out a way to get the ball in their hands.”

Senior wide receivers Brandon Moore and Corey Davis are two receivers Muhitch cited that the Tigers need to get going within their passing game.

Between the two of them, Moore has accounted for the only touchdown—a 12-yard TD pass in the second quarter of the Tigers’ 19-13 loss to Maine South in Week 2.

Speaking of passing, the Huskies are well aware that aspect of their offense must improve if they hope to get out of Wheaton with a victory tonight for the first time in nine years and going forward throughout the rest of the season.

In Naperville North’s 21-7 loss to Wheaton North, senior quarterback Johnny Brown threw for just 82 yards and a touchdown on eight completions, a week after not throwing an official pass as Naperville North’s running game overwhelmed Thornton.

Against Neuqua Valley in Week 1, Brown completed 11 of his 25 passes while throwing for 203 yards, including a 36-yard TD pass to DeSean Brown on the game’s opening possession.

“I think every time you play Wheaton South, you better be able to throw the football because, defensively, they’re well-coached,” Drendel said. “You can’t play with just one aspect of the game when you play Wheaton South.”

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