Thornton falls short to Downers North

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Thornton falls short to Downers North

By Tony Baranek

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Another time, another situation, and the pair of 92-yard touchdown plays Thornton quarterback JoWahn Brown combined on with wide receiver Jauan Wesley during the final three minutes might have gone down in playoff folklore.

Instead, it was window dressing in a game already out of reach.

Just started executing too late, I guess, a sad Brown quietly said after the Wildcats crash-landed Friday night in a 29-13 second-round Class 7A loss to visiting Downers Grove North.

Indeed, the two scores came too little, too late. North built a 29-0 lead before Thornton was able to find the end zone.

A power surge knocked out the scoreboard for a time, but it was running thunder that knocked out the Wildcats.

Downers Grove North (7-4), eighth-seeded and having already shocked No. 1 seed Batavia, stunned No. 5 Thornton with the powerful rushing duo of Kyle Leto and Brandon Salter, who combined for 194 yards rushing and each scored a touchdown.

The Wildcats, who turned the ball over twice in the first six minutes and trailed 19-0 at halftime, saw their season end at 8-3.

Until the late back-to-back highlight-reel plays, the best moments of the night for the Wildcats probably were their first two plays from scrimmage, runs for six and eight yards by Jamal Towns.

On the next play, Browns pass to DAndre Fuller resulted in a three-yard loss. Worse yet, on the next snap Brown was intercepted by Norths Michael Dashut.

The Trojans moved the ball from Thorntons 24 to the 7 before a fumble recovery by the Wildcats Ronnie Cross stopped the threat.

Two plays later, though, Thornton receiver Jason Towns caught a pass, but fumbled after a 12-yard gain.

This time North cashed in, scoring on its first snap on a 17-yard run by Leto.

On their next possession, the Wildcats went back to Jamal Towns for runs of 15 and two yards. But back-to-back sacks of Brown stalled the drive.

North followed with a 76-yard drive, every yard gained on the ground. One of those rushes was a crusher, as North punter Gareth Jones faked from the Thornton 49 and gained six yards for a first down.

And we were playing for the fake, but they still got it, Thornton coach Bill Mosel said later. It was just one of those things.

North later scored on the drive on a 2-yard sneak by quarterback David Edwards, and added another TD on a 3-yard run by Salter to take a 19-0 lead into intermission.

For Thornton, it was simply a frustrating night on both sides of the ball. Brown wasnt able to even target Wesley until a seven-yard play on the Wildcats first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Brown spent a lot of time fleeing tacklers. He was sacked five times.

North added to its lead in the second half, scoring on a 30-yard field goal by Jones and a 2-yard run by Edwards.

They did a good job, Mosel said. They took it to us. They handled us up front, and youve got to take your hats off to them.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Jimmy Butler is heading to his third straight All-Star Game, and for the first time he'll be in the Eastern Conference's starting lineup.

CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill reported that Butler was voted an All-Star starter.

Butler has been sensational this season, averaging a career-best 24.8 points (tied for the 10th-best mark in the league entering Thursday's games), 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest through 41 games. He's shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

Butler previously made Eastern Conference All-Star squads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, though this is his first time in the starting five.