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Public League transfer of power? The next few weeks will determine pecking order in the city

A look at the five best football teams in the Public League.

Phillips’s Avante Savage (9) makes a catch with Simeon’s Andre Crews (4) on the ground.
Phillips’s Avante Savage (9) makes a catch with Simeon’s Andre Crews (4) on the ground.
Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

For most of the past several seasons the winner of the Phillips vs. Simeon football game could stake a legitimate claim to be the best team in the Public League.

The landscape has changed, for a number of reasons. The pandemic hit Public League football much harder than any other conference. Chicago Public Schools didn’t allow teams to have contact days last school year. That’s 60 practices that the rest of the state had that Public League teams did not.

An entire group of juniors in the Public League never really played organized high school football until this season. That’s been very apparent at games between some teams in the lower divisions, where coaches are doing as much teaching the rules as they are strategizing or play calling.

That isn’t the case with the top dogs of course. They know how to play football, they just can’t compete with the top suburban programs right now. Simeon and Phillips both reached a point the last several years where they could take down the area’s best teams, from Loyola to Mount Carmel.

Wolverines coach Dante Culbreath has a young team and the Wildcats have a new coach, Joe Winslow. The win last weekend over Simeon was a sign that Winslow may be capable of maintaining the high level of success that Phillips had under Troy McAllister.

The Simeon-Phillips showdown was just the first of a series of games over the next few weeks that will make the Public League pecking order more clear. Here’s a look at each of the top teams.

Phillips (3-2, 2-0 Illini Land of Lincoln)

Tyler Turner’s TD pass to Avante Savage in the final seconds against Simeon gave the Wildcats a statement win. This could still be the top program in the Public League. Phillips opened the season with lopsided losses to Batavia and Mount Carmel but rebounded with a shutout of Westinghouse and a dominant win against Taft. Up next is undefeated Young. The Wildcats have a great chance to win their three remaining games and finish 6-2.

Simeon (2-3, 2-0 Illini Red Bird)

The Wolverines also opened the season with heavy losses to ranked teams, falling to Joliet Catholic and Bolingbrook. They turned around and knocked off Curie and Hubbard before losing to Phillips last week. Simeon faces Perspectives this week and then has major tests the final two weeks of the regular season, with games against Morgan Park and Kenwood.

Kenwood (5-0, 2-0 Illini Red Bird)

This is one team that has beaten a suburban opponent. The Broncos defeated Hillcrest 15-12 in Week 2. The Hawks are down this season though. Coach Sinque Turner’s team is loaded with talented prospects and could very well be the best team in the Public League. It’s finally time to prove it. Up next is Morgan Park and the regular season ends against Simeon.

Morgan Park (3-2, 2-0 Illini Red Bird)

The 35-12 loss to Fenwick in the season opener is looking a lot better after the Friars gave Loyola all it could handle last week. The Mustangs beat St. Viator in Week 2 but hit a major roadblock in Week 5, getting upset 21-19 by Taft. Aaron Warren, Tysean Griffin and company can wipe that away if they manage to beat Kenwood and Simeon the next two weeks.

Taft (3-2, 1-1 Illini Land of Lincoln)

New coach Zach Elder opened plenty of eyes with the upset of Morgan Park last week. Taft also has wins against Grant and Lincoln Park. This is a team to keep an eye on. They have winnable games against Lane and Westinghouse up next and close the regular season against Young.