Six high school football teams off to surprise starts

Week 4 of the season has arrived, so some teams are feeling the playoff crunch. Here’s a look at six teams that have surprised by starting undefeated or winless.

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Downer’s Grove North’s Owen Lansu (1) throwing a pass during the Trojans’ 31-7 victory over Glenbard West.

Downer’s Grove North’s Owen Lansu (1) throwing a pass during the Trojans’ 31-7 victory over Glenbard West.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Week 4 has arrived, so some teams are feeling the playoff crunch. Here’s a look at six teams that have surprised by starting undefeated or winless.

The surprise undefeated:

Downers Grove North

The Trojans were expected to be a playoff team. But beating Glenbard West for the first time in 17 years was not foreseen. Coach Joe Horeni’s team also picked up a solid win at St. Francis in Week 1.

“It’s great to start the season 3-0, but it’s just three games,” senior Owen Thulin said. “We still need at least two more wins to make the playoffs. We have more work to do.”

Noah Battle has been one of the area’s most productive running backs, and sophomore quarterback Owen Lansu, a highly regarded prospect, has lived up to the hype.

“[Lansu’s] arm talent is amazing,” Battle said. “It’s really impressive how he’s progressed, even from Week 1 to Week 3, mentally and physically to lead our team and be the conductor.”

Lincoln-Way Central

It’s fair to say that the Knights’ win against O’Fallon this past weekend at ISU was wildly unexpected.

New coach Dave Woodburn has the Lincoln-Way Central defense dominating, and senior Anthony Noto ran for 129 yards and a touchdown in the victory.

The Knights’ last playoff appearance was in 2018. Despite the 3-0 start, it will still be a challenge to qualify this season. Their six remaining opponents are all over .500 with a combined record of 14-4.

Sandwich

The Indians didn’t have enough players for a varsity team last season, so they’re the biggest 3-0 surprise in the area. Before this season, Sandwich hadn’t won a game since Oct. 18, 2019.

It hasn’t been a cupcake schedule. Peotone and Plano, the Indians’ last two wins, are both 2-1 this season. Junior Simeion Harris has been the star of Sandwich’s Wing-T offense. He has 518 rushing yards and five touchdowns through the first three games.

The Indians haven’t qualified for the state playoffs since 2013.

The surprise winless:

Nazareth

The defending Class 5A state champions were No. 5 in the preseason rankings. The Roadrunners were 2-4 last year, with largely the same players, so another turnaround could be on the horizon.

All three losses (Kankakee, York, Montini) were to quality teams, but the schedule doesn’t ease up.

Hinsdale Central

The Red Devils were only 4-5 last season, but this is a program that has lost more than three games just six times in the last 25 years.

The schedule has been tough. The three losses are to Naperville Central, Bolingbrook and Lyons.

Glenbrook South

This is another case of a difficult opening three weeks. The Titans have lost to three ranked teams: York, Lake Zurich and Barrington.

Glenbrook South was 10-1 last season and 9-3 in 2021, so it has a solid foundation. Three 1-2 teams are on the remaining schedule, but to qualify for the playoffs, the Titans might have to beat Prospect or Maine South.

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