Lots of thoughts and impressions from this weekend's IHSA state final games at Huskie Stadium on the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
So how did NIU fare? Overall NIU drew pretty high marks as a first-time host of the IHSA state football final games.
So what worked? Huskie Stadium again is just a more intimate setting for the state final games. The stadium looked and sounded more full than Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The design of Huskie Stadium allows for the fans to feel like they are literally sitting on top of you on the sidelines while also allowing the fans sitting in the front rows an unrestricted view of the field.
The Huskie Stadium staff seemed very friendly and helpful and seemed to be genuinely happy to have the games. NIU was also able to utilize its latest facility additions including the Chessick Practice Center facility along with the Yordon Center. Each team had warm-up sessions inside the Chessick Practice Center before each game and impressed many players and coaches.
Issues? Not too many major issues to report. A few issues such as the bottleneck between the Class 6A game and the Class 7A game with fans coming and going was resolved pretty quickly. Huskie Stadium from an overall facility standpoint is not Memorial Stadium in many regards. The press box needs renovation and the overall facilities and fan amenities are older.
— Overall numbers? Again the official attendance numbers have yet to be released, but from an eyeball standpoint I can say that the attendance was up in 2013 compared to the past several years.
— Best fan showing? Hands down that goes to Batavia. Batavia is one of the closest schools to DeKalb, and the Bulldog fans came out in droves. To be fair Batavia back in 2006 also had one of the best overall numbers when they played in Champaign for the Class 6A state title. Batavia's overall community support has never been an issue and came out for the 2013 Class 6A state champions on Saturday in record numbers.
— Best student section? I have to go with Lake Zurich, though both Batavia, Naperville Central and Loyola get runners-up awards. I give the nod to Lake Zurich. The Bears fan section, despite its team losing 30-0 late in the game began taunting the somewhat quiet Mount Carmel fans with "We Can't Hear You." When the Mount Carmel fans started chanting "Scoreboard," the Lake Zurich student reply? "We Have Girls." Classic.
— Class 5A state champion Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin no question used the whole "the North bracket was so much better" argument all playoffs long as motivation. Yet as far as I'm concerned, anyone who knows Class 5A knows that the overall quality of the Cyclones' program was never a question here. The issue was SHG playing four previous playoff games and winning those four games by scoring a combined 186 points. The Cyclones set a state record for the most points scored in a season (744), yet if they played in a less geographically balanced bracket, would we have seen at least better overall state-playoff games? Let the argument continue.
— The only media type I saw or talked to outside of the greater Springfield area to take Sacred Heart Griffin over Montini before the Cyclones stunning 38-28 win on Saturday? IHSA-TV's play-by-play man Dave Bernhard told me on Tuesday he liked the Cyclones to pull of the upset win. Bernhard is now 1-215 overall in upset state title picks.
— Did you know? Sacred Heart Griffin used several game balls from Washington in it's 38-28 win over Montini Catholic on Saturday?
— Lake Zurich head coach Dave Proffitt gets the telling-it-like-it-was-award. Proffitt, in the postgame press conference on his thoughts about the 30-0 loss to Mount Carmel in the Class 7A state title game: "Well, that was an old-fashioned butt whipping."
— So my vote for the top-ranked team in Illinois? Much like the final Chicagoland polls, Mount Carmel (13-1) gets my take here state-wide as well. The Caravan, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in Illinois played well all season long with the only loss coming to Class 8A runner-up Loyola Academy (12-2), 24-17, in a game that was delayed by weather and finished the following day. Unfortunately I wouldn't expect any Illinois team to finish extremely high in any of the final 2013 season national high school polls. Playing a run-based/ball-control offense and tough as nails defense just doesn't draw many glamour votes nation-wide.
— So where was Hiesman-candidate NIU quarterback — and former Mount Carmel star — Jordan Lynch on Saturday night at Huskie Stadium? In the stand with some friends. While most other top collegiate players in the same position as Lynch would be on the sidelines grabbing up camera time, Lynch remains as grounded and as humble now as he was at Mount Carmel.