By Stephen Spiewak
The Mission: Attend Illinois showdown between Naperville North and Wheaton-Warrenville South, then head to Ohio for Massillon Washington vs. McKinley and St. Ignatius vs. St. Edward.
Friday, 7 p.m., Naperville, Ill.
Saturday, 2 p.m., Massillon, Ohio
Saturday, 7 p.m., Parma, Ohio (suburb of Cleveland)
MaxPreps national football editor Stephen Spiewak attempts to soak in three of the weekend’s biggest football games as he heads from Chicago
to his home in New Jersey
. The challenge lies in the fact that the three games take place in a span of 24 hours and are hundreds of miles apart.
2:05 p.m.: After grave traffic warnings by Naperville Sun writer Patrick Mooney, I depart from the Wrigleyville apartment of my longtime college roommate Jonathan “House” Stack. (Stack “House” – like Jerry Stackhouse. Get it?)
2:12: Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” plays on the radio. What decade is this?
2:30: Heavy traffic on I-90W, every Chicagoan’s fear. I recall this time last year, on the Nike 5 Days 2 Friday Road Tour when Trevor Connor and I spent three hours trying to get to Wheaton-Warrenville South, a mere 40 miles away. Eek.
2:50: I call my editor Jason Hickman to tell him how excited I am to see this trio of games. He and I argue about Ohio Division I football with the playoffs just a week away. He thinks Glenville might be due. I like Ignatius.
3:15: I get a call from colleague Mitch Stephens, covering the huge South Carolina Byrnes vs. Dorman game. I think these are the two biggest games of the weekend. Mitch mentions his newfound affinity for boiled peanuts.
3:45: Arriving safely in Naperville in a relatively timely fashion, I set up in a Starbucks to do some work before I head over to the stadium. A guy in line tells me that I’m about to catch the state game of the year. Glad I’m not the only one who thinks so.
5:30: I arrive at the field. I sit in my car as the rain starts to really come down
6:15: It seems like the rain lets up a bit. The sophomore game ends and Wheaton takes it 19-0. The Tigers then had a post-game meeting on the field. I say meeting as opposed to “talk” because they sat on the 20 for at least 20 minutes. Looking at midfield, it seems like the weather could make this game REAL ugly.
6:30: Here’s a pre-game routine I’m not accustomed to — four huskies pulling a sled on the track around the field. I introduce myself to Mike Rawaillot, who owns all four pooches — Zephyr, Zack, Zoro and Xena — that serve as Naperville North’s real life mascots. They are all rescue dogs. Xena shows her love for me by planting a huge paw directly down on my foot while panting.
6:45: Naperville North takes the field and there is still a caravan of cars looking for parking. It’s possible Chicago traffic could be worse than New York City tunnel traffic, and maybe (gasp) Southern California gridlock.
7:07: Paul Ryan, Naperville North assistant coach, gets a standing ovation after the public address announcer mentions that he is retiring. He has been at the school since 1975. This is roughly a decade before I was born.
7:40: After a three-and-out, the Huskies punt. As the WWS offense takes the field, the giant Naperville North helmet air balloon the team sprinted through before the game gets blown out of place. Lightning follows on the horizon. Looks like we have a nice, healthy delay on our hands.
8:16: I get a call from our photographer Dennis Wierzbicki. He’s out braving the elements while I’m huddled in my car, colder than a Slurpee in December. Clearly, Dennis is from the Midwest and I’m not. He tells me the coaches around the conference are on the phone, figuring out what to do about the lightning. It looks like playing all the conference games tomorrow afternoon is likely. That means I’ll have to miss the actual game, only getting to see four plays. Expecting to see a great game in October, only to have my hopes dashed at the last minute has now become routine for me. I am, after all, a Mets fan.
8:36: A minor miracle. The teams will take the field in five minutes and then have a few minutes to warm up. Play resumes at 8:50. Thank you, Mama Nature.
9:40: I retreat to my car again for halftime. My extremities barely function. The Tigers are up 6-0 in a mud-bath. As predicted, the middle of the field has transformed into soup. My fingers have transformed to icicles.
11:15: Naperville North pulls it out 7-6. I’m not sure how indicative this game is how just how good these teams are. Both appeared severely hampered by the weather. Time to hit the road and head back to Chicago.
12:15 a.m.: I arrive back at House’s apartment. I quickly file a story, pack some clothes, and prepare to take off early in the morning. As I lay on the couch flip through the TV channels, I’m torn between watching “Criminal Minds” and “Down Home with the Neely’s” Halloween edition. Crime or caramel? Sleep wins out.
3:53: While I sleep, the kind representative from the City of Chicago lets me know that my New Jersey license plates are not welcome in the residential parking zone on Sheridan Ave. It’s a $60 lesson learned.
6:00: My alarm goes off. Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” does not sound as pleasant on four hours of sleep. My breakfast of champions, steel cut oats, cook on the stove as I hop in the shower. After I eat, I rush out the door and fill up on gas at $3.48 a gallon, by far the most expensive I’ve seen in two weeks.
8:58: While cruising along on I-90E somewhere in Indiana, I pass a billboard that reads “LlamaShowcase.com” Note to self: Ask colleague, Senior Writer and Indiana native Dave Krider about this. Dave’s areas of expertise include Indiana sports history, high school basketball, and wildlife indigenous to South America.
11:35: I stop for gas in Ohio. It’s nearly a dollar cheaper at $2.54. I’m still several hours from Massillon. However, I forget to take into account the time change. I lost an hour moving into the eastern zone. Instead of being 45 minutes early, my handy GPS predicts I’ll be 15 minutes late, which, when covering high school football games, is anything but fashionable.
1:43: After six hours and six dozen Lil’ Wayne songs worth of driving, I’m getting close. I’m not sure when Lil’ Wayne became more popular than all other performing artists on the radio combined, but it definitely did not make the drive go any faster.
2:12: I finally pull into Massillon. Kickoff was 12 minutes ago. Along Lincoln Ave., every single street light post over a stretch of several blocks has a “Beat McK” sign. Crazy. The streets are barren. My guess is there must be some football game going on in town?
2:20: Taking liberties at a nearby park, I create my own parking spot. Here’s to hoping the Massillon parking police are a bit friendlier than in Chicago.
2:35: This game is unreal. Some 15,000 people are here easily. After five minutes on the sideline, I already see why Justin Turner is a huge deal. He intercepts a pass in Massillon’s own end zone. How did Jim Tressel let him escape?
2:47: Massillon’s Bo Grunder has had an eventful few minutes. In the past 15 minutes, he has scored on a 48-yard reception, intercepted a pass which he returned inside the McKinley 20, only to have McKinley strip him and recover the ball. Now he just fumbled a punt return. The Tigers cling to 10-0 lead.
2:51: I finally have an up-close encounter with Obie XXXIX (39), the living, breathing tiger who serves as Massillon’s mascot. I approach his cage, smiling and waiving in a friendly fashion. Obie responds with a triumphant sigh, which I have yet to interpret, and then resumes his nap while his handlers pay more attention to the action between the sidelines.
3:15: The Tigers band performs “Eye of the Tiger” at halftime, complete with simulated band member boxing matches, mimicking scenes from “Rocky.” Classic.
3:21: Matt Anderson and Jaro Pylypczak from the Nike 5 Days 2 Friday Road Tour are kind enough to give me a Massillon “blackout” t-shirt. They are now in the running for Spiewak Road Tour MVP. I also see MaxPreps’ own Nick Reasons roaming the sidelines.
3:57: Justin Turner continues to cement his legacy at Massillon, with a 26-yard touchdown run to make it 17-0.
5:35: Hearing rumors that Massillon shuts down after a win against McKinley, I high-tail it out as soon as the game ends. About an hour later, I’m here in Parma, Ohio, across the street from Byers Field. I’m stopping for a bite to eat at an Ohio landmark, Red Lobster, as St. Edward and St. Ignatius fans pour into the parking lot.
6:55: I bump into Greg Ladky from Rivals.com down on the sideline. It’s the third time in just over a month that I’ve run into him at a game, each time in a different state. I’ve also seen him at the sidelines of St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.) vs. Good Counsel (Md.) and Mount Carmel vs. Loyola Academy in Chicago. He and I share equally vibrant social lives.
7:01: St. Ignatius, the home team, introduces its players by first mentioning what grammar school each player attended. I have never heard this before, but for a school that has students from a myriad of Cleveland-area grammar schools, I think it’s fitting. It reminds me of the old Chicago Bulls teams, and their dramatic introductions. I recall my grammar school stardom of years past at good old Public School #14.
7:37: St. Ignatius leads 13-0 at the end of the first quarter. After watching two run-heavy games, it’s fun to see a team like the Wildcats that likes to air it out.
8:10: Halftime is here and I head to my car again, still parked at the Red Lobster. I get an update on the second biggest game in Ohio tonight, some team from Columbus against Penn State.
9:00: It’s getting a bit out of hand, as St. Edward can’t seem to get anything going on offense. Looks like this rendition of “The Holy War” will go to the Wildcats.
9:50: St. Ignatius pulls it out 34-12 and I’m finally leaving. I drive to Chagrin Falls to crash at a friend’s house. Three games and three cities in 24 hours have worn me out. In the morning, I’ll retreat back to the Garden State, where we don’t pump gas, we pump fists.
See the Video
Wheaton-Warrenville South vs. Naperville North
Massillon vs. McKinley
St. Ignatius vs. St. Edward