Clark: Chicago Public Schools striving for playoff success, respect

SHARE Clark: Chicago Public Schools striving for playoff success, respect

Nothing against the Prep Bowl, but it’s been more than a generation since a Public League football team played a truly meaningful game the last weekend of the season.

That was Robeson, which lost the Class 5A final 16-12 to Rockford Guilford in 1982. No CPS team has even made it to an IHSA championship game since, a fact that is sure to fire up fans of suburban and private schools come November when this year’s playoff field is determined.

The Chicago Public Schools’ lack of success in the football postseason touches a raw nerve with people who believe city teams’ participation should be cut back because of it.

In this case, playing well is the best revenge and it looks like there are a couple teams capable of changing the CPS’ bad reputation this fall.

One is Simeon, which remains the gold standard for Public League football. The Wolverines have been a power for decades for a variety of reasons. They always have exceptional talent, with Division I prospects every year, and they’re well-coached by a stable, veteran staff now led by Dante Culbreath.

Simeon had the Public League’s best playoff win last season, beating Lyons in a Class 8A opener, before losing 27-20 to Neuqua Valley in the second round.

Based on the early returns, the Wolverines will be a load in the playoffs again. They dropped their opener 28-26 to St. Rita Sunday, but showed well thanks to playmakers such as quarterback Timon Watkins and running back Dion Earls Jr. on offense and a speedy, physical defense.

But the Wolverines’ margin for error in Class 8A is small. There are a lot of good teams in the state’s biggest class and just getting to the final, let alone winning it, requires a good dose of luck as well as talent.

The task looks easier in Class 4A, where Phillips went to the quarterfinals last year and had another big win for CPS: a 31-21 takedown of 10-0 Evergreen Park in the second round.

After that came a 41-8 thumping by Geneseo that made for a long offseason for the Wildcats. But they ended it with a bang, routing defending Class 3A champ Stillman Valley 51-0 on the road last Friday.

It wasn’t an ideal situation for Phillips, which got on the bus in Bronzeville at 1 p.m. in order to get to Stillman Valley — a 103-mile drive — for the sophomore game. Thanks to weather delays, the varsity game didn’t kick off till around 10 p.m. and, even with a running clock, ended after midnight. And, Phillips coach Troy McAllister said, “the grass was about a foot high,” which probably made the Wildcats a step slower than they would have been on their artificial turf at Mandrake Park.

But nothing fazed the Wildcats. Playing against a team that had heavy graduation losses from its state champs, a Phillips defense led by Jamal Brown forced seven fumbles and returned two for touchdowns. Dewayne Collins, who accounted for 49 rushing and passing touchdowns in 2013, threw for six scores.

This was the kind of game the Wildcats will have to win in November: on the road, a long way from the city. That they did so, and convincingly, bodes well for the future. Not that Phillips is getting ahead of itself, with tough nonconference games up next against Carmel and Naperville North, as well as the Public League Illini Heartland schedule.

But there is reason to think that something special is on the horizon.

“We all root for each other in CPS to take that next step,” McAllister said. “We want somebody to win that state championship.”

Maybe Phillips, maybe this year?

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