Thursday, November 14, 2019
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In football, not life, the Phoenix of North rise up

I suppose it’s too much to hope that Lincoln-Way North High School will rise from the ashes at the end of this school year after District 210 has said it’ll close the school. But at football games during the school’s short life, the Phoenix, as their name implies, have shown a knack for coming from behind and holding on after many football fans would have dismissed their chances.

District 210 said Lincoln-Way North will close in June, disappointing an entire community. (Voxitatis)

On the first drive of the first game of their last season, Friday, Aug 28, Lincoln-Way North stopped Richards on three downs, with starting quarterback Tom Barker throwing two incomplete passes and running back Pat Doyle gaining only 5 yards on a play.

Richards QB Jake Moran surveys the defense before a 52-yard TD pass to Nathan Gimza in the 2nd quarter.

The ensuing punt was deep, but Lincoln-Way North was called for a roughing-the-kicker penalty. The ball went back to Richards near midfield, and coach Tony Sheehan changed quarterbacks. Jake Moran came in and took control of the drive, passing 27 yards to Anthony Quinn and running into the end zone himself to put the Bulldogs up by 6.

Before halftime and before Lincoln-Way North got their game into gear, Richards scored another touchdown on a long pass to Nathan Gimza, a touchdown on an 11-yard pass to William Bridgewater, and a field goal from the 13.

The crowd filled the bleachers but wondered where the team was as they stood to watch the band.

Richards led 23-2 when the teams retired to the locker rooms and North’s marching band directors Kirk Hickman and Justin Barnish brought the group onto the field for a performance that was pristine and polished for being this early in the season.

The school’s capacity is 2,500, but growth in the district has been lower than initial estimates.

I don’t know if the quality of the performance made its way into the brains of the football team by osmosis or what, but if the first half was all Richards, the second half was all Lincoln-Way North, as coach George Czart brought the team back onto the field fired up.

The strength of running backs Joe Peters, Jamir Hunt, and Jimmy Vallos brought the Phoenix all the way down to the 8-yard line on their first drive in the third quarter. From there, a short toss from Jaylin Branch—whose passes netted 163 yards on the game and whose keepers gained an additional 65—launched the strong comeback.

The Phoenix would score three more touchdowns, the last one coming with less than three minutes left in the game, to go up by a score of 30-23.

Desperate after losing the lead, Richards came roaring back, driving from their own 23 to score on a 9-yard pass to Bridgewater. 30-29. Sheehan decided to go for 2 and the win.

A smaller-than-expected enrollment brought reduced funding from the state and will force the school to close.

Moran kept it, but the North defense wouldn’t let him into the end zone, leaving Richards a point short as time expired.

Community High School District 210, based in New Lenox, considered closing Lincoln-Way Central, a much older but bigger school, instead of North. It seems those “in life, as in football” analogies don’t map the game to every situation. Despite the demonstrated ability to keep opposing quarterbacks out of the end zone at critical moments, no amount of effort from the tight community can change North’s enrollment or the state funding formula.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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