Can Montini win four state titles in a row?

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Can Montini win four state titles in a row?

Montini coach Chris Andriano has made a deal with the Lombard school's administration. At 60, he is completing his 33rd season. Two more years and he will call it a career. But he wants to go out with a flourish. How about four state championships in a row? Maybe more?

"I felt we could win again this year," Andriano said as he put the finishing touches on his game plan for Saturday's Class 5A quarterfinal game against unbeaten Marian Central in Woodstock.

"I felt we had the talent and leadership and returning players to make a deep run in the playoff. We have a great rivalry with Marian Central. It is for the prize. To get to the top, you have to beat them.

"We play each other so often. We know we have to go through each other at some point if we want to be state champion. When you play each other twice a year, it is a respectful rivalry but it develops into a mentality that you know they are waiting for you."

In each of its four state championship seasons, Montini had to defeat Marian Central en route to the title. Marian Central ousted Montini in 2006 and 2007 but Montini prevailed in 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Saturday's game could be Montini's toughest test yet. Marian Central won their conference match-up 49-24 in Week 7, overcoming a 24-7 deficit behind a sensational performance by Minnesota-bound quarterback Chris Streveler. He completed 17 of 19 passes, ran for four touchdowns and passed for two more as Marian Central rallied to win.

"Streveler is the best quarterback we have ever played against, better than Tom Fuessel of Lincoln-Way East," said Andriano, referring to the Northern Illinois-bound quarterback who beat Montini 20-14 in Week 2.

"He is smart, accurate and can really throw. We couldn't contain him. He is as complete a player at quarterback as you will find. You have to limit him in his ability to run. You have to make him throw. If he scrambles and takes off, he is devastating."

Andriano compares his 2012 squad favorably to his last three state championship teams. "We have the same mentality, the same drive and motivation. The difference is this year's team isn't as explosive on offense. We don't score as quickly or in bunches as in the past. We have to be smarter--and this is a smart team," he said.

For example, Montini was trailing Aurora Christian by four points with two minutes to play and Aurora Christian had the ball. But Montini's defense stripped the ball at the 50 and the Broncos scored with a minute remaining.

"Those are the kinds of things our kids do," Andriano said. "They are prepared to play 48 minutes."

Montini survived another heart-stopping experience last Saturday, beating Sycamore 24-22 on Andrew Harte's 34-yard field goal as time expired.

"It was a real test of our preparation and perseverance," Andriano said. "We gave up the lead with 30 seconds left on a two-point conversion. But our kids have that mentality. We had a great 35-yard kick return to the 50 that gave us life. It gave us an opportunity to believe we can get this thing done. We executed three plays in a row to get into position to win the game. I thought it was over. But our kids just believe."

Andriano rates Harte as the best kicker he has had. He has set a state record with 102 extra points in a row. Eighty percent of his kickoffs land in the end zone. He converted a 54-yard field goal against Aurora Central Catholic. An outstanding student, he hopes to attend Yale.

Andriano concedes he doesn't have any five-star players in a class with last year's star, Jordan Westkerkamp, now a freshman at Nebraska. But he describes Joey Borsellino as "this year's Westerkamp." He is a 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior who plays several positions and is a leader and playmaker.

"He is Montini," the coach said. "He loves and eats and breathes Montini, like Westerkamp did. He is demanding. He understands what it takes to win. He has the history of Montini in his memory. He brings an intensity and flavor for football. He loves the game. He makes a lot of plays for us."

One he won't forget happened against Aurora Christian. He stripped the ball, recovered the fumble and caught the game-winning touchdown on a 20-yard pass with a minute to play. After missing two games with an injury, he has emerged as a difference-maker as a wide receiver, defensive back and quarterback in the Joe-Cat formation, Montini's version of the wildcat.

"What impresses me about our team is we are very versatile. We have a lot of guys who can move around and make plays," said Andriano, referring to Borsellino, Mark Gorogianis, Alex Wills and Dimitri Taylor. "And we have been making a lot of big plays lately."

At Montini, the Borsellinos are a family tradition. Joey's father and uncle played at Montini in the 1970s. His father is the offensive coordinator. His half-brothers played at Maine South. His cousins played at Montini. In fact, Joey is the eighth Borsellino to play at Montini.

Joey has been playing football since he was 4 years old. He started in flag football but in his first game he tackled an opponent. "I didn't know about the flag," he said after being penalized. His father immediately put him on a tackle team, the Lombard Falcons.

Joey, who is being recruited by Eastern Illinois, Illinois State and Western Illinois, believes the 2012 squad is as good as the recent state championship teams, even without Westerkamp.

"Sure, there are a lot of big differences. But we are as good as we have ever been," he said. "We have it. We always love each other. We do anything to win the game. No matter what is happening, we can win the game. We have that this year, too, what all of our teams have had."

He said the Aurora Christian and Sycamore games are good examples.

"Against Aurora Christian, we were down by one point with 24.9 seconds left when we took the ball. It was a perfect example of how tough we are. We play as one. It showed how we truly believe we aren't out of a game no matter what the situation is," he said.

But Joey is the last of the Borsellinos--and he wants to be sure that he leaves a legacy. "It is my senior year and any senior would say it is different from other years. I was used to Westerkamp being the main guy and me being the complement. Now I am the main guy on the offensive side of the ball," he said.

"Sure, there is pressure. But I like it. It's good pressure, pressure on me to perform, to see if we can win four state titles in a row. We are expected to get back there again. But the Marian Central rivalry has been building up over the years. They beat us in the regular season and we beat them in the playoff or vice-versa. We play for the conference title, then play to get to the state final. So it's a big game both times."

How Cubs plan to deploy Javier Baez in the playoffs

How Cubs plan to deploy Javier Baez in the playoffs

CINCINNATI – Using common sense and Geek Department probabilities, Joe Maddon wants to know where the ball should be hit before deciding where to play Javier Baez, the kind of elite defender the Cubs manager envisions when he talks about creating a Gold Glove for super-utility guys. 

“I just like to put him where the most action may be,” Maddon said. “He really provides a lot of coverage on slow rollers. He’s got the arm. He’s got the flair.”

With lefty Jon Lester facing a Cincinnati Reds lineup stacked with right-handed hitters, Maddon started Baez at third base on Saturday at Great American Ball Park, where the Cubs gave a potential sneak preview for their Game 1 playoff lineup.

Baez has been credited with 17 Defensive Runs Saved this year while moving between second base, shortstop and third base, putting together a package of highlight-reel plays and giving Maddon even more freedom with his lineup and in-game strategy.

If offense will be at such a premium in the postseason – putting an even stronger emphasis on pitching and defense – could Baez become an everyday player in October?

“Not 100 percent,” Maddon said. “You catch a lead, he’ll be in the game. I think that we still may go with an offensive matchup – and then hopefully grab a lead – and then get him in there. Do that kind of a thing, not unlike what we did last year with ‘Schwarbs’ (Kyle Schwarber), as an example, (where you) pull him and move everything around.

“I haven’t decided, but that would be my first inclination.”

[SHOP: Buy a Javier Baez jersey]

The Cubs lead the majors in defensive efficiency, a breakthrough that has contributed to 102 wins and helped Lester and Kyle Hendricks put up Cy Young Award-worthy numbers, giving this group an overall dimension that could separate them from the franchise’s previous playoff teams.

“That’s where our pitchers have just been able to relax,” Lester said. “(We) know that: ‘Hey, I don’t have to be so perfect with each pitch.’ We’ve got such good defense behind us that it’s kind of like: ‘OK, just hit it. Those guys will figure it out after that.’”

DeShone Kizer not perfect, but clearly meets the standard for Notre Dame

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DeShone Kizer not perfect, but clearly meets the standard for Notre Dame

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — DeShone Kizer wasn’t perfect, but exact perfection probably doesn’t matter much when you take a flamethrower to something.

That something was Syracuse’s secondary in Notre Dame’s 50-33 win over the Orange Saturday at MetLife Stadium. Kizer threw for 471 yards, 55 short of Joe Thiesmann’s program record and the most an Irish quarterback has ever thrown for in a win. He threw touchdowns of 79, 67 (both to Equanimeous St. Brown) and 54 yards (to Kevin Stepherson) and averaged 13.5 yards per attempt.

Still, what Kizer and coach Brian Kelly were more pleased with was how he played in the second half. Back-to-back quick-strike scoring drives — Kizer connected for that 54-yard touchdown to Stepherson, which Dexter Williams followed with a video game-like 59-yard touchdown run — put the game out of reach awfully quickly after a rocky end to the first half.

“The first half, yeah, you get a bunch of highlights throwing the ball down the field and having one play, two-play drives,” Kizer said. “What we need right now is a way of being sustainable on defense and offense. The second half is a good example of that.”

Kizer didn’t play mistake-free football, though. He missed an easy touchdown when he overthrew a wide-open Stepherson in the first half, and the sack he took late in the second quarter knocked Notre Dame out of field goal range — after which Brisly Estime returned Tyler Newsome’s punt 74 yards to set up an Orange touchdown. And things threatened to get worse when Kizer threw an interception with under 30 seconds left, setting up a Syracuse 40-yard field goal that Cole Murphy missed.

[MORE NOTRE DAME: Defense leaves New Jersey with good vibrations]

Kelly said Kizer tried to do too much late in the first half, but stopped pressing and trying to put the team on his back after those two mishaps.

“That was the conversation I had with him was DeShone, we need to get three points there, you’re trying to do too much,” Kelly said. “And he has a tendency to want to do too much, put too much pressure on himself. And he’s gotta stop doing that. I told him, you do enough. What I liked about him in the second half was that he dropped the ball down, took the easy completions, made the smart decisions and I think he needs to continue to do that. I thought the second half showed the kind of things I was looking for him to do.”

The things Kizer did right emphatically overcame those mistakes. He threw a number of fantastically-placed passes over the middle and consistently looked for easy check down throws. He got both tight ends — Durham Smythe and Nic Weishar — involved in the offense. He rushed for a touchdown, too, his sixth of the year. 

So in front of a bunch of NFL scouts at an NFL stadium — where Kizer could, of course, be playing on Sundays next year — the Notre Dame quarterback turned in yet another strong performance. This time, though, it was good enough to get his team a win.

And it wasn’t perfect, as Kizer was quick to note after the game, but he’ll head back to South Bend pleased with what he did and where he can go from here. 

“This is the sloppiest 50 points I’ve ever been a part of, the sloppiest 400-plus pass game I’ve ever been a part of,” Kizer said. “And I think that’s the best part of about. We’re having fun, we’re having a good time, and there’s still so much room to improve. To come out and play the way we played and have the amount of fun that we had and still know there’s a lot of work to be done, I couldn’t be happier.”