Don’t look now, but Joliet Catholic’s backfield is at full strength again.
And that could make things interesting in Class 5A.
The Hilltoppers, who were 5A runners-up a year ago, slid to a 12th seed this year after finishing the regular season with losses to Notre Dame and Benet while backs Ty Isaac and Tyler Reitz missed games with injuries.
Both were in action against host Elmwood Park on Saturday night and played big roles in a 58-0 shutout that moved the Hilltoppers to 34-2 all-time in IHSA playoff openers.
Joliet Catholic (6-4) hosts Tinley Park (6-4) next weekend in second-round play. Elmwood Park, making its first playoff appearance since 1991, finished 7-3.
Isaac, a USC recruit, ran six times for 76 yards and two touchdowns and also caught Joliet Catholic’s lone completed pass for 45 yards and another score. Reitz carried seven times for 115 yards and three touchdowns, while Michael Ivlow, who got the bulk of the carries while Isaac and Reitz were out, had seven runs for 55 yards and one score.
It was 20-0 after one quarter and 51-0 at halftime, by which time all three of Joliet Catholic’s featured backs were done for the night.
Isaac, who has battled a variety of injuries all season, sat out the last two games of the regular season while Reitz missed two of the final three games.
“The first week, I knew I needed [to sit out],” Isaac said. “Obviously, the Benet game [in Week 9], I really wanted to play. It sucks to sit out but it makes you a lot hungrier for what’s ahead in the playoffs.”
Isaac eased back into practice ahead of this game and expects to take the same approach this week. “There were a lot of things I couldn’t do the first day of practice that I could do today,” he said.
Reitz, like Isaac, realized he had to take the long view in recent weeks.
“I knew playoffs is when I had to come back strong,” he said. “That’s when I had to be prepared. … “It’s always tough watching games, winning or losing. You always want to be out there, be a part of it, especially your senior season.”
Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp wanted his playmakers out there, too.
But better to make sure they’d be playing in November than put too much effort into trying to win more regular-season games.
“It’s still a work in progress, but Ty looked much better today than he has with the groin injury,” Sharp said. “I still think he’s about 75 percent. …
“That’s huge, having Tyler Reitz back because he’s a multiple threat. He blocks as well as he runs, he’s got great hands, and his leadership [is an asset].”
But the biggest takeaway is the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts for Joliet Catholic.
“This whole offense is not based on one [player],” Isaac said. “It’s how all of us work together.”
On Saturday night, they worked together pretty well indeed.