By Neel Thakkar
They almost didn’t make it. With a 4-4 overall record, the score in their favor 20-19 in second overtime and their opponents attempting a two-point conversion, Wheaton North’s defense had to make a big play. And they did – keeping opponents Glenbard East out of the end zone and out of the playoffs.
With that win, the scrappy Wheaton North squad squeaked into the playoffs – just barely – seeded 15th. This, however, has become a tradition of sorts with the Falcons, who have now made the playoffs in the final game of the regular season three years in a row.
After another last-minute win last week against Rockford Boylan, 17-13, the Falcons (6-4 overall) will come to try their luck once again at George Gattas Memorial Stadium this Saturday at 7 p.m.
According to Prospect head coach Brent Pearlman, Wheaton North should not be underestimated based on their record. The Falcons play in the tough DuPage Valley conference, which sent five of its eight teams to the playoffs this season.
Clearly, though, the Falcons aren’t the brightest stars in their conference; they have beaten only two playoff teams: Boylan last week and Naperville North in week eight.
In preparation for this week’s game, Pearlman says the focus remains the same: defense.
“Attitude had a lot to do with [last week’s win]; every play was urgent,” he said. “The defense has to play with the same intensity this week.”
This week, the defense, which will remain unchanged from last week, will face a different challenge. Unlike Carmel’s “one dimensional” run-heavy offense, Wheaton North features a much more balanced attack, averaging 114 yards per game on the ground and 108 through the air. Last week, Carmel managed just one successful completion; this week, expect to see much more activity in the air.
“These guys are more diverse,” Pearlman said.
Although Prospect has a clear edge over almost any team on the offensive side of the ball, the Falcons’ defense is not toothless. While it has been blown out by powerhouse teams like Wheaton Warrenville South (allowing 45 points) in week six, the Falcons have since stepped it up, holding their last four opponents (three of which made the playoffs) to less than 20 points.
With other advantages murky, Pearlman hopes the team can make the most of the one assured advantage: fan support.
“The crowd adds energy,” he said. “If a huge crowd shows up, it would be an advantage.”
Check back Saturday night for a brief recap of the game and pictures; a full recap of the game will be posted Sunday.
Fan note: Unlike most games, this week’s game will be played on Saturday night, with the usual time of 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for everybody – a student ID will not be good for free admission during the playoffs. Additionally, this game will be a whiteout, and 200 shirts will be distributed to the first students to arrive at the game, with the stadium opening at 5:30 p.m.
To chart the road to Champaign, check out the IHSA’s football bracket here