The Leonard Bowl regularly has Central State Eight Conference implications.
This year’s edition has even more at stake.
Sacred Heart-Griffin High School coach Ken Leonard will be going for the all-time IHSA coaching record against Rochester, coached by son Derek, Friday night.
Ken boasts a 374-72 overall record in 39 seasons after he tied former Chicago Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti for most wins in IHSA history with a 70-26 victory at Southeast last week.
“We did, but I’m sure most of us were forgetting about it at times,” said SHG receiver Cade Holloway when asked if the team knew Ken would tie the record with a win against the Spartans. “Next week, we have the chance to give him (the title) ‘the best coach in the state of Illinois’ and for us to do that against Rochester (at home) would be an amazing feeling.”
Class 6A No. 9-ranked SHG (3-1) is officially 6-2 against the Class 4A No. 1 Rockets (4-0) since the Leonard Bowl commenced in 2010. Rochester beat SHG 38-33 in 2013, but that win was later forfeited after an IHSA ruling.
“It's an amazing accomplishment to have that many wins and be No. 1 in the state obviously,” Derek said. “To be No. 1 in the whole state of Illinois speaks a lot about who he is and what he's done. The city should be lucky that they've seen this amount of greatness from Sacred Heart and especially my father.”
What has perhaps most impressed Derek – as well as Chatham Glenwood coach David Hay – is his longevity.
Ken started as a head coach at Gridley in 1980 and stayed there for four seasons prior to SHG.
“It's a great honor for him and well deserved,” Hay said. “The ability for any coach to coach for as long as he has at a high level and standard certainly deserves all the respect in the world.”
First to 1st
Glenwood won its first and only Class 4A state title in 1998, and the Titans celebrated its 20th anniversary last week.
A handful of former players descended on the field before kickoff against Decatur Eisenhower, former coach Dan Rourke among them.
It was the first team to win a state title out of the CS8.
“It was good to see them,” Rourke said. “A lot of the guys couldn’t be there simply because they live in all parts of the country now. But the guys who were there had a nice time and had a chance to talk a little bit and catch up.”
Part of the ceremony included a moment of silence for former player Jeremy Lynch, who passed away unexpectedly this past December. Lynch’s family appeared for the event.
Rourke said he appreciated the tribute to Lynch, who served in Iraq with the U.S. Marines.
He also said he’s enjoying his third year in retirement.
“I’m just trying to stay healthy and learn how to relax,” Rourke said. “Tomorrow is like Saturday for me. People ask me, ‘How do you like retirement?’ That’s how I respond, ‘How do you like your Saturdays?’ It’s pretty good.”
No Hansbrough, no problem
Even without starting running back Jason Hansbrough, Class 6A No. 8-ranked Glenwood (4-0) totaled 51 carries for 468 yards and six touchdowns in a 60-16 victory over Eisenhower.
Senior tailback Austin Schiff got the start and had 17 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Chelky Blaise and senior Andre Cunningham helped share the load.
“We got a number of kids running the ball hard,” Hay said. “The work between the line by the running backs is really good at times. The running backs understand the job of the linemen and run where they need to be.”
It’s doubtful Hansbrough will return this week against Jacksonville, and his status for the rest of the season is uncertain.
“I can’t comment on injuries at all,” said Hay when asked if he had a better idea about Hansbrough’s status.
Senior linebacker Alex Butler also left the field with an injury and did not return against Eisenhower. He is second on the team with 33 tackles.
Hay said he was impressed with Eisenhower.
The Panthers (0-4) trailed only 26-14 at halftime, led by freshman quarterback Brylan Phillips.
Phillips, who made his second start but played his first full game, went 10-for-15 for 122 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in the first half.
“He’s a gutsy kid,” Eisenhower coach Curtis Graham said. “He’s just lacking a lot of mechanical things because he’s a freshman and I didn’t get a lot of time with him over the summer that I wanted to. I came here late myself. We put together a solid first half.”
“Coach Graham’s got a good program running over there,” Hay said. “Those kids played really hard and really well. We saw on video this past weekend they’re running good stuff and playing hard. They kind of put it together tonight. I think that any kid who’s over at Eisenhower and not playing football ought to get his tail out for football because otherwise I think they’re making a mistake.”
Experience pays off
Junior cornerback Chase Vega had two interceptions in Jacksonville’s 36-12 victory over Normal U-High on Friday.
He tied the game 7-7 after he returned one for a touchdown in the first quarter.
Vega’s up to six interceptions already this season in addition to numerous pass breakups, according to Jacksonville coach Mark Grounds, Vega started part-time last year as a sophomore.
Collin Brunstein, Rees Megginson, Michael Walker also make up the secondary.
“He had a great off-season and work ethic,” Grounds said of Vega. “He spends a lot of time on film and just attention to detail. He’s just had a very, very good start to the season for us, which has really helped our resurging defense.”
Senators rounding into shape
It’s been an up-and-down several weeks at Springfield High.
In the Senators’ two wins, they’ve scored a combined 108 points, including last Friday’s 63-28 win over Lanphier.
In two losses, Springfield has been outscored 35-12.
“We thought we would struggle offensively for the first half of the season or so because we adapted and changed things so much and you have to give yourself a learning curve,” SHS coach Roy Gully said.
But if the Lanphier game is any indication, the Senators hope to keep adding scores Friday against Decatur Eisenhower.
“Offensively we were clicking so well, it was pretty impressive,” Gully said. “I’m hoping we’re over that early learning curve and you’ll see 40-, 50-, 60-point games from here on out, but I don’t think I’d be respecting our conference enough to predict that type of stuff.”
But Eisenhower’s junior running back Tor’Jon Evans gives Gully reason to worry.
The transfer from Evansville (Indiana) Central High School was a two-time Evansville Courier & Post football player of the year. He dazzled in Week 1, running for 134 yards on 11 carries against Jacksonville, but has been limited to 39 yards since.
Even still, Gully knows what Evans can do.
“We jumped on our kids the last few minutes (Tuesday) because we did not feel like the respect and the focus for our opponent this week is high enough,” Gully said. “Yes, (Eisenhower is) winless. Yes, they are 0-4.
“But after watching their film, the running back they have might be the fastest kid I’ve ever seen with a football in his hands in my eight years as being a head coach. I’m pretty confident in saying that he is. When you talk about that type of dynamic player, it’s high school football: one player can beat a team if that team isn’t focused.”
The Senators’ defense will have to play without inside linebacker Roy Gully IV, who will miss the rest of the season with a labrum tears in his shoulder, according to coach Gully.
“We won’t have our full team for one game this season and that’s hard to deal with,” Gully said, adding his son hasn’t played since Week 1 against MacArthur — the same game running back Justin Bivins II had to miss while the IHSA processed his transfer paperwork.
Springfield High recently welcomed the return of second-year kicker Dae-Cheon Pippin, and he made seven of eight of his extra-point attempts and connected on a 25-yard field goal.
With 13 catches Friday against Sacred Heart-Griffin, Southeast receiver Deon Fairlee has 59 on the season — breaking the Southeast record of 52 he set last year.
He’s tied with SHG grad Jeff Sanders for 22nd on the CS8 list of receptions in a season. He can get into the conference’s top-10 if he hits 70 catches. Currently Taylorville’s Matt Blomquist (1998) and Bryce Heaton (2009) of Jacksonville are tied for 10th in the conference with 70.
The all-time record belongs to Rochester’s Zach Grant, who caught 131 passes in 2011.
CS8 trivia time
SHG’s 70-26 win over Southeast came with 96 total points. Where does that rank on the CS8 all-time scoring list?
It is tied for seventh with another game involving a Leonard and Southeast.
On Sept. 25, 2015, Rochester, coached by SHG coach Ken Leonard’s son Derek Leonard, beat Southeast 63-33.
The other highest-scoring games in CS8 history (ranked in reverse order): 100 — Oct. 10, 2014, Rochester beat Jacksonville 54-46; 102 — Oct. 13, 2013, SHG beat Glenwood 67-35; 105 — Sept. 4, 2015 — SHG beat Decatur Eisenhower 74-31; 107 — Sept. 21, 2001, Taylorville beat Southeast 55-52 in overtime; 107 — Aug. 26, 2016 — Glenwood beat Southeast 62-45; and 127 — Aug. 28, 2015, Rochester beat Eisenhower 79-48.
Southeast coach Matt Lauber said he felt his team had a different vibe heading into the SHG game than games against the Cyclones in past years.
“We felt coming in that we were going to give them a heck of a game,” Lauber said. “It was a different feel by our kids; they weren’t going down worried about the other gold helmets coming across the field and they were ready to go.
“I thought we went toe-to-toe with them for a while and that’s something to be proud of for our young men. Their effort was there; their hustle was there.”
While not part of the Central State Eight, there were four kickoff returns as Stillman Valley beat Rock Falls 55-38 Friday. Stillman Valley’s Mason Williams had returns of 75 and 72 yards while his teammate Justin Fisher ran one back 35 yards after a bad onside kick attempt.
Rock Falls’ Nate Wiles returned one 92 yards.
Contact Ryan Mahan: 788-1546, email@example.com, Twitter.com/RyanMahanSJR. Contact Bill Welt: 788-1545, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt.
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