Downers Grove North wins with split-back veer

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Downers Grove North wins with split-back veer

Mount Carmel isn't the only football team that specializes in the split-back veer offense. Downers Grove North has been running the Houston version since 1986 and coach John Wander thinks he has what it takes to punch a ticket to state finals in Champaign this season.

After a 5-1 start, the Trojans lost their last three regular-season games to finish sixth in the seven-member West Suburban Silver Conference. But they bounced back to eliminate previously unbeaten Batavia 38-26 and favored Thornton 29-13 in the first two rounds of the Class 7A playoff.

Downers Grove North (7-4), coming off 1-8, 2-7 and 2-7 seasons, will be an underdog again Saturday when it meets Benet Academy (10-1) in a quarterfinal test in Lisle. So what's new?

"We limped in but that's the way it happened," coach John Wander said. "We played two good games (against Proviso West and Hinsdale Central) but Glenbard West dominated us.

"I credit our conference. We never had an easy game. Six of the seven teams made the playoff. In our conference, you see every offense and defense there is. Our kids were road tested. We run the option. Not a lot of teams run it outside our conference. That's an advantage."

Wander, who became head coach in 2002, picked up the split-back veer from his predecessor, Pete Ventrelli, who introduced it in 1986 after succeeding 31-year veteran Dick Carstens. Ventrelli's 1990 team finished second in the state. Wander, who was Ventrelli's offensive coordinator, used it to win the state title in 2004.

Why the split-back veer? Outside of Mount Carmel, few schools, high school or college, employ the offense. "That's one reason. Other schools don't see the offense very often and they don't have much time to prepare for it," Wander said.

"Also, audibles are built into the offense. You teach a quarterback well and if the backs hit the line hard and the linemen come off the ball, you can have success. The spread is the fad now. But we can always find a couple of running backs at our school who are good dive backs."

Wander, who enjoyed great success with 12-1, 12-2 and 9-2 teams in 2004-06, describes himself as a running coach.

"You need a great tailback in the I formation. But if you have a good quarterback who has a good understanding of reads and our offense, we can play with anybody," he said.

He has that type of quarterback this season. But it took 6-foot-6, 215-pound sophomore David Edwards to grow into the position. The cousin of former Downers Grove North stars Tommy and Garrett Edwards, the 15-year-old is one of the best young prospects that Wander has had.

"His toughness and running ability is off the charts as a sophomore," Wander said.

Edwards operates with junior Kyle Leto and senior Brandon Salter at the two running back positions. Salter, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior who also plays outside linebacker, have given the Trojans a reliable 1-2 punch.

Against Batavia, Salter carried 19 times for a career-high 224 yards and two touchdowns, breakaways of 55 and 84 yards.

"That triple option is kind of hard to defend," said Batavia linebacker Cullin Rokos. "You don't know who has the ball and sometimes you catch someone guessing."

Against Thornton, Salter and Leto combined for 194 yards rushing and each scored a touchdown.

"In the last 10 years, this is our fourth quarterfinal team," Wander said. "We've been down for the last three years. But this year's team has better athleticism and better line play."

It also has Salter, whom Wander describes as "the loose hanger on our team, a great kid, a loosey-goosey kid, a go-with-the-flow type of kid who keeps everybody else loose on the team. He does his thing. He has his role. I love to yell at him but it's just for fun. I love him," the coach said.

Salter admits it is all in fun. After three losing seasons, after losing the last three games of the regular season, football is fun again. It always is when you are winning. Especially when you are carrying the ball a lot and scoring touchdowns.

"I'm the guy who keeps everybody from being uptight. I loosen them up a bit," he said. "I've always been that kind of kid. When it gets down to serious business, I can be serious. But there is a time when you don't have to be serious."

This is a time to be serious, especially in the wake of last year's disappointment. "Last year was aggravating. I felt we were a pretty good team but we couldn't put it together. We should have been better than 2-7. We had the pieces to be decent but we couldn't pull it out," Salter said.

"This team meshes better than last year. I don't know what happened with the last three games of the regular season. Some kids were too loose. But in practice before the playoff, everybody got serious and buckled down."

A year ago, Salter started at linebacker. In the summer, however, Wander came to him and said: "You are our primary running back." What could be better than being a running back in a run-oriented offense?

"I was excited. I kind of thought it was coming. I was the main backup last year and the two starting running backs were seniors. (Wander) had to be looking for somebody," Salter said.

He knew he had to get stronger to absorb all the hits and pounding he anticipated he would take as a primary running back. In the off-season, he concentrated on lifting weights. "I had to be ready to take hits. I don't go down as easy," he said.

Salter admits he doesn't understand why Downers Grove North runs a split-back veer offense instead of the more popular spread. Even his friends often ask him why nearly every other school runs a spread while Downers Grove North prefers to run, run and run some more.

"Why we run it is difficult to understand. Why not a shotgun or spread that everybody else runs? The spread looks like more fun," he said. "We win in a boring way. We pound it four yards a play up the field. Other teams are throwing the ball and it looks like more fun. All the colleges run the spread. It's a big-play offense."

But many spread teams are packing in their equipment and Downers Grove North and its old-fashioned offense is in the quarterfinals. More important, Salter said, he likes to carry the ball. In a spread, he wouldn't see it very often.

"That's what I like about this offense," he said. "I carry the ball 19 to 25 times a game. I've rushed for about 600 yards. Leto has done the same. It's hard for other defenses to understand what is going on. There are so many options. At any time you can get a big breakaway because of a good ball fake by the other back."

Dioner Navarro earns his day off, helps White Sox outlast Twins in 10 innings

Dioner Navarro earns his day off, helps White Sox outlast Twins in 10 innings

MINNEAPOLIS -- Dioner Navarro has big plans for his first day off since July 17.

“Sleep -- a lot,” he said.

The catcher ended a stretch of 13 games in 13 days with a one-out RBI double to send the White Sox to a 6-5 victory over the Minnesota Twins in 10 innings in front of 27,914 at Target Field. Navarro, who has started 12 of 13 games and finished the July 22nd contest, doubled in Avisail Garcia with one out after the outfielder started the 10th inning with his second double in five trips. David Robertson pitched a perfect 10th to convert his 25th save and snap a three-game losing streak for the White Sox, who are 51-53.

“Dio has had a long run too of games in a row,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s nice to see him get after it. He knew he wasn’t going to be in there (Sunday), so I don’t know if that’s motivation or not. He earned it.”

The White Sox had to overcome a number of mistakes to win for the first time since Tuesday. They committed three errors over two plays in the third inning, blew to a two-run lead when Eduardo Escobar hit a three-run homer off Matt Albers in the eighth inning and survived rookie pitcher Michael Ynoa’s bases-loaded jam with two outs in the ninth.

Pitching for the first time since July 17, Ynoa induced a pop out off Brian Dozier’s bat to end the threat. He earned his first major league victory after Cabrera doubled to left off Fernando Abad. The White Sox tied it at 5 in the top of the ninth on Melky Cabrera’s two-out RBI single off Brandon Kintzler. Tim Anderson, who went 3-for-5, scored the tying run after he doubled with one out.

Justin Morneau doubled, homered and drove in two while Cabrera went 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Todd Frazier missed a second straight game with flu-like symptoms and Adam Eaton was held out of the starting lineup to rest several bumps and bruises. Eaton entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 10th inning.

“It doesn’t matter how you do it, just do it,” Navarro said about Ynoa, although it could easily have been about the entire team. “He did a great job. He made pitches when he needed it. He got out of the inning, and he kept us in the game.”

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Same as he has all month, starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez put the White Sox in prime position to win.

Gonzalez finished an outstanding July by limiting Minnesota to two runs (one earned) and six hits with a walk and five strikeouts. He had a 2.50 ERA in six July starts.

With the bullpen still in need of rest, Gonzalez pitched into the seventh inning. Byron Buxton’s RBI groundout made it a 4-2 game. But Gonzalez, who threw 114 pitches, struck out Robbie Grossman with a man on second to end the seventh.

White Sox starting pitchers have a 1.71 ER in the team’s last seven games.

The bullpen hasn’t had as much success.

A day after he took the loss, Dan Jennings, issued a leadoff walk to Joe Mauer in the eighth and recorded an out before he gave way to Albers. Albers walked Dozier before Kurt Suzuki lined out to center.

Escobar ripped the first pitch he saw from Albers, a 93-mph sinker, out to deep right to put the Twins ahead 5-4.

“We have a good squad, things haven’t been going our way but we have to keep grinding,” Gonzalez said. “Some things we can’t control. Our bullpen has been struggling, but it’s part of the game. Alberts made a really good pitch down and sometimes it doesn’t go our way and it’s tough to understand. But that is the way baseball is.”

Adam Eaton: Players at fault if White Sox become sellers at trade deadline

Adam Eaton: Players at fault if White Sox become sellers at trade deadline

MINNEAPOLIS — If the White Sox trade away assets over the next two days, Adam Eaton said the blame is all on the players.

The right fielder, who was held out of Saturday’s game to rest bumps and bruises, said the White Sox have enough talent to be successful in spite of their injuries. Even with an improved roster, the White Sox entered Saturday with 50-53 mark as they’ve been inconsistent all season. While Eaton doesn’t want to see any of his teammates dealt before Monday’s 3 p.m. CST nonwaiver trade deadline, he could understand if they are.

“Oh yeah, and it’s our own fault,” Eaton said. “It’s the players’ fault. We play up to what we’re capable of playing, and it’s not even a discussion. Rick has gotta do what he’s gotta do to put us in the best position to be good now and later. Whatever he has to do, we’ve got to accept it as players because we put ourselves in this position.”

Eaton admitted he wasn’t in a very good mood before Saturday’s contest. He said the team’s losing ways haven’t been enjoyable — “losing sucks, man.” Disappointed with the team’s play since their 23-10 start, Eaton pointed at consistency as the club’s biggest issue. He didn’t cite injuries to a number of key players, including center fielder Austin Jackson and relievers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam.

“(Injuries are) part of the game,” Eaton said. “It’s no excuse on our end. When one guy goes down the next guy’s gotta pick it up, gotta fall in the line and find a way to get it done in some way, shape or form. I don’t think we lean on that at all as a crutch. We’ve got the talent here in to win, and at the end of the day it’s being consistent and finding a way to get it done day in and day out. Anybody can do it for a month. You’ve got to be consistent. You can’t be too high or be too low or the game will find you and show those inconsistencies.”

Sunday on CSN: Fire look to extend home unbeaten streak against Red Bulls

Sunday on CSN: Fire look to extend home unbeaten streak against Red Bulls

The Kennedy Igboananike trade shifted focus a bit towards next year for the Chicago Fire, but on Sunday the focus returns to the field.

The Fire host the New York Red Bulls and the game will be televised live on CSN. Coverage starts at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live. The game willl also be simulcast with a Spanish language broadcast on CSN+.

Since going 1-5 to start the season, the Red Bulls (9-9-4, 31 points) have looked like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and sit second in the standings. The team’s recent run has caught the attention Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.

“We are looking at the next game against one of the best teams in the league, in my opinion,” Paunovic said. “I would say performance wise the best team because in the style they play, it’s fantastic. I think they have very, very good players.”

[SHOP: Get a hold of your own Fire home jersey here]

The Red Bulls are playing better of late, but have not succeeded much on the road. New York is 1-7-3 on the road and 8-2-1 at home.

The Fire (4-10-5, 17 points) remain in last in the conference, but have an eight-match unbeaten streak at Toyota Park.

“It’s important to stay strong at home and it’s important for our fans to see that we can compete against one of the best teams in the league here at our field with all our field,” Paunovic said.

Fire midfielder Razvan Cocis will miss his second straight match due to injury and Joey Calistri was still listed as questionable. With Igboananike gone, forward depth for the Fire is very thin, especially if Calistri is unavailable.

Brandon Vincent’s availability is also in question after playing in the MLS All-Star Game on Thursday. He only logged 33 minutes, but factoring in cross-country travel and just two days rest, Vincent may not play.

The Red Bulls have the same situation with Sacha Kljestan, who played 41 minutes in the All-Star Game. Kljestan leads the league with 12 assists and also has five goals. Bradley Wright-Phillips has also been hot of late. The English forward has 11 goals after not scoring in the first seven matches of the season.

“Sacha Kljestan is playing at an MVP-caliber level and Wright-Phillips has seemed to find the scoring touch again,” Fire defender Eric Gehrig said. “They had a great year last and they’re starting to turn it on now, but we’re at home. We know that if we bring our best game that we can compete with anyone at home. It’s an important three points, especially with our road form we know that we have to snatch these points up and we’re looking forward to it.”

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls

When: 6 p.m. Sunday (coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live)

TV: Comcast SportsNet (simulcast in Spanish on CSN+)

Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.