8A: Can Mount Carmel stop Glenbard North's Jackson?

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8A: Can Mount Carmel stop Glenbard North's Jackson?

Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens is building a case for Justin Jackson as the Player of the Year in Illinois.
"I wouldn't trade him for anybody," Wilkens said.
Ty Isaac? Matt Alviti? Chris Streveler? Aaron Bailey? Laquon Treadwell? Tom Fuessel? Brandon Mayes? Joey Borsellino? Kendrick Foster?
"He never comes off the field. He has rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 36 touchdowns. He plays every down on defense as a cornerback. He makes plays on offense and defense. We lost our punter so he punts, too. In the fourth quarter, he wants the ball in his hands so he can make plays."
"That's not all. He is one of our best leaders. He has a 5.0 grade-point average on a 5.0 scale in honors classes. He also competes in basketball and track. He is a well-rounded young man. Above all, in the third and fourth quarter, he still is breaking long runs. He has great stamina for all the pounding he takes. He amazes me."
Jackson, a 6-foot, 175-pound junior, has been even more amazing in the state playoff.
In a 31-24 victory over Fremd, he rushed 32 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 23-14 victory over Stevenson, he powered 48 times for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
In a 27-23 victory over Maine South, he carried 36 times for 212 yards and four touchdowns.
In a 27-24 victory over Loyola, he rushed 46 times for 230 yards and three touchdowns.
Where would Glenbard North be without him? The Panthers (12-1) have won their last seven games by margins of 6, 2, 7, 7, 9, 6 and 3 points. They'll put the ball in his hands on Saturday night in the Class 8A championship game against Mount Carmel (12-1) at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
"I like to have the ball in my hands all the time," Jackson said. "If they called my number on every play, I'd prefer it that way. I feel like that's what we do best--run the ball."
Mount Carmel defensive coordinator David Lenti is bracing for the challenge. "It is a challenge to take away an opponent's No. 1 asset. Jackson is the best running back we have seen all year. He has great breakaway speed. Someone said he reminds him of Gale Sayers and Eric Dickerson," Lenti said.
"The key to his success is he doesn't take a lot of big hits. He has such good moves. He is so elusive. We've watched a lot of film and we haven't seen anyone lay a hammer on him."
"Jackson is in select company. He makes a lot of good things happen," Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said.
Jackson credits his offensive line. And he doesn't hesitate to name every one of them. And please spell the names correctly. Left tackle Chris Edwards (6-foot-1, 285 pounds, junior). Left guard D'Angelo Hodges (6-foot-3, 285 pounds, senior). Center Marcus Perez (5-foot-10, 225 pounds, senior). Right guard Mitch Siver (5-foot-10, 280 pounds, senior). Right tackle Eric Graham (6-foot-2, 255 pounds, junior). Tight end Bryan Leckner(6-foot-5, 200 pounds, senior).
Don't forget fullback Shawn Lenahan (5-foot-11, 220 pounds, senior). "He's my man. He's done a great job all year. He kicks out the big guys. He brings a punch," Jackson said. One more thing: Perez, a defensive tackle, is in only his second week as the starting center. He replaced Ethan Hernandez, who was injured.
"Any talk about Player of the Year starts with team success...the wins, the DuPage Valley Conference championship, going to state. All the credit goes to the offensive line. They are blocking for me. What is really important is for us to win the state title. We've been second three times (1991, 2000, 2007). It's time to take the next step as a program," Jackson said.
"I feel like we have gotten better over the past few weeks. Our running game has improved so much. Ball control and time of possession is important. The best way to beat a spread team is to control the ball.
"Last year, we were intimidated by Loyola's size (in a 28-13 semifinal loss). But we we prepared well this year. We were more confident. We executed this year. We won the line of scrimmage. I was proud of our team effort. We won as a team."
Unlike the Mr. Basketball award which annually recognizes the state's top basketball player, there is no Mr. Football award in Illinois. So there are more than a few Player of the Year selections. Perhaps the most respected is the Chicago Daily NewsChicago Sun-Times award, which dates to 1951.
Jackson could be only the third junior to be honored. The others were Vocational's Dick Butkus in 1959 and Joliet Catholic's Ty Isaac last year. Butkus was injured most of his senior year and didn't repeat. Isaac's senior year also has been riddled with injuries.
"Wow. Butkus. That's a nice class to be in," Jackson admitted.
He has made his reputation largely on two plays that are the steak and potatoes of Glenbard North's offense.
"They are called power and joker," he said. "It's the same play. On power, the fullback kicks out the defensive end and the guard pulls through to hit the linebacker. On joker, it is switched with the guard kicking out and the fullback pulling through. They are our trademark plays."
To beat Mount Carmel, Glenbard North must control the ball and the clock with Jackson, then slug it out with the Caravan's defense.
"If it was just the split-back veer, it would be so much of a problem," Wilkens said. "But they do so much more with the veer. It is hard to simulate the footwork of the quarterback. It isn't easy to prepare for them in five days."
Providence coach Mark Coglianese, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 17-0 in Week 9, agrees with Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti's assessment that he has the best kicker (Ivan Strmic) and punter (Joe Pavlik) in the Catholic League.
"The kicking game is a big strength for them. Field position can be important in a big game," Coglianese said. "They run the option as good as anyone, with the precision of a surgeon. And they will exploit any mistake that you make. They aren't overly big on defense but they are fast and physical and get to the ball and make plays. On paper, they don't look like one of the best Mount Carmel teams but they find ways to get it done."
Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti thinks one of the major strengths of this team is its selfless attitude. All egos are checked at the locker room door. "It's the 'we' thing, not the 'me' thing. Last year, our team was 'me, me, me.' These kids realize that doesn't work. They do what the coaches tell them. They realize we have have had a lot of success by listening to the coaches," he said.
"To get kids to learn to defend the split-back veer in a short time is difficult," said Lyons coach Kurt Weinberg, whose team lost to Mount Carmel 45-10 in the quarterfinals. "Give them different looks. Don't sit in a base defense or they will figure you out. You have to score early. They aren't built to score quickly or score from behind.
"A team that can throw the ball well can give them trouble. They do a good job of letting you get deep. The area in the middle of the field, from 8 to 12 yards, must be attacked. They are so adept at making adjustments on offense. Whatever look you show them, they have seen it before. You have to try to stay a step ahead of them."
And hope Justin Jackson is moving the chains.

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

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After getting another signature win at Maryland, does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

Does any Big Ten team have two better conference wins than Minnesota?

The Golden Gophers went on the road and defeated a ranked group of Maryland Terrapins on Wednesday night, and they did so in impressive fashion, scoring an 89-75 victory in College Park.

Team this win with the win at Purdue back on New Year's Day, and there's no better pair of league victories to be found.

More importantly though, the Gophers, at 9-6, are now the No. 4 team in the Big Ten standings.

It's all a part of a quality NCAA tournament resume for the Gophers, who are closer to lock status after Wednesday's win than they are to being on any sort of bubble. With mediocrity running rampant through the Big Ten this season, Richard Pitino's 21-win squad should be well on its way to an appearance in next month's Madness, which would be the program's first since he took over as head coach.

The resume looks pretty strong at this point, especially after Wednesday. Minnesota can now claim wins over Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern — all three of those conference victories coming on the road. In the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Gophers beat Arkansas, the Razorbacks seemingly heading to the tournament themselves. The only loss from the non-conference portion came on the road at Florida State, one of the highest-ranked teams in the country.

So it's safe to say Minnesota will go dancing.

Wednesday's 14-point beatdown of the Terps saw the Gophers shoot 50 percent from the field on the night and 54.5 percent from the field in the second half. Five players scored in double figures: Dupree McBrayer with 18, Nate Mason with 17, Akeem Springs with 16, Jordan Murphy with 15 and Amir Coffey with 13. Minnesota didn't win the rebounding battle but scored 15 points off 10 Maryland turnovers and marched to the free-throw line, going 17-for-20 from the charity stripe while Maryland was just 8-for-13 there.

The second half was a rout, the Gophers outscoring the Terps 55-40 over the final 20 minutes and rattling off two separate 9-0 runs to burst away from the No. 24 team in the country.

The overtime win at Purdue on the first day of 2017 might go down as a bigger win considering the Boilermakers are closing in on the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. That win, too, came by an impressive-enough margin, 91-82. But Minnesota dominated Maryland over the final nine minutes or so and turned in a double-digit victory on the road against a team that lost to that same Purdue team on that same court by just a point two and a half weeks ago.

The Gophers are now on a six-game winning streak and are piling up wins in a fashion that's making them look like one of the Big Ten's finest. A 3-1 start to conference play that extended its overall record to 15-2 was dampened by Minnesota's five-game losing streak that featured losses to higher-echelon teams like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Maryland, plus road losses at Penn State and Ohio State. But since have come six straight wins. While the caliber of opponent hadn't been terribly impressive until Wednesday, the Gophers can now boast nine conference wins. Only three teams have more.

It's now worth watching how high Minnesota can climb in the Big Ten standings before the conference tournament just two weeks from now. If the season ended today, the Gophers would already be in possession of one of those highly coveted two-day byes. But Minnesota is just a game back of Maryland and just two games back of Wisconsin, who the Gophers play in the regular-season finale.

Like Pitino told his team after Wednesday's win: "No more talk about (just making) the NCAA tournament. We're talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament."