O’Brien: Week 1’s four downs

Phillips quarterback J'Bore Gibbs carries the ball against Loyola on August 26, 2017. Allen Cunningham /For the Sun-Times.

A look back at the key talking points, best performances and interesting moments from Week 1.

FIRST DOWN: Phillips didn’t just beat Class 8A powerhouse Loyola this week. The Wildcats also made news by deciding to move up two classes in the playoffs. Phillips, which won the Class 4A state title in 2015, was expected to be in Class 3A this season. The Illinois High School Association lists Phillips’ enrollment as 528.

Wildcats coach Troy McAllister has larger plans for his program than small school state titles. He decided to petition the IHSA to move up to Class 5A. It’s a bold, optimistic and inspiring decision.

“It’s like scheduling Loyola,” McAllister said. “We want to push our program. With the way Chicago Public Schools is headed we are really, really nervous about enrollment over the next four to five years. This new application system is not going to be good for neighborhood schools. Our numbers may drop even more. We have an opportunity to do something great. We want to push our young men. We want them to be at the highest level and compete with the top teams. That’s how we felt.”

That’s forward thinking. Instead of silently watching Phillips’ enrollment numbers dwindle and then reaping the benefits by winning “easier” state titles, McAllister took action to make the Wildcats’ football program a beacon of success and hope, something that could help keep the school alive.

Imagine if some of the city’s top basketball programs did the same.

SECOND DOWN: Speaking of the difference between basketball and football, take a look at where and who the Super 25 football teams are playing in Week 2.

No. 5 Loyola is hosting a California team. No. 7 Homewood-Flossmoor is playing in North Carolina. No. 8 Marist will be in Indiana and No. 12 Stevenson is hosting a Michigan team.

That just isn’t good for the sport. As Week 1 showed, nothing is better than the best local teams playing each other.

Football scheduling is a mess. Athletic Directors and coaches have numerous problems getting schedules worked out. Sometimes it is a conference issue. Powerhouse programs have trouble getting games because teams need their five wins to get into the playoffs. That leads to scheduling out of state games.

The number five is meaningless. The IHSA needs a new formula to determine which teams make the playoffs, a way to reward teams for playing the best competition. Mount Carmel should have made the state playoffs last year, who cares about five wins. Fix it.

THIRD DOWN: Back to Phillips again. The Wildcats earned two downs this week. McAllister made another interesting point after the win on Saturday night. This is a much different team from his past groups. Those kids thrived on the underdog role. They were brash and loud, wanted to make sure everyone knew they were coming to make history. It made sense, they were trying to win a state title, something on Public League school had ever accomplished. Now the program has evolved into a group that expects to win. That’s a big difference.

“They have this quiet vibe about them which we love,” McAllister said. “It allows us to really coach and push them. Tonight we were pushing them to compete and they showed us something that we thought they had in them, but you don’t know in Week 1 if your team has it. They expect it. They expect to win, they expect to do great things and it carries over with the whole team.”

FOURTH DOWN: Prairie Ridge, the preseason top-ranked team, dropped to No. 2 this week. Don’t think that takes any of the sparkle off Samson Evans and the Wolves. Maine South’s win at Glenbard West was so impressive that it probably didn’t matter what Prairie Ridge did, they were bound to drop this week.

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