By Marty Farmer
The Fenwick High School football team certainly had a season to remember last year.
The Friars enjoyed arguably the greatest season in program history with a Class 7A state playoffs semifinal appearance, Chicago Catholic League Green Division title and 11-2 record. The talent-laden roster featured All-State players Jacob Keller (quarterback) and Mike O'Laughlin (wide receiver), workhorse running back Conner Lillig, and defensive stalwarts Brett Moorman, Ellis Taylor and Jacob Kaminski.
Fenwick also enjoyed its new digs, playing home games at Triton College in River Grove.
For all their success, however, the Friars will be remembered most for their controversial 18-17 loss to visiting Plainfield North in the 7A semifinals. The officials incorrectly ruled on the last play of regulation in a game Fenwick should have won before the play was even completed.
Facing a fourth down-and-15 deep in Fenwick territory in the closing seconds of the game, Keller threw the ball downfield for an incompletion.
The officials called an intentional grounding penalty on the play and awarded Plainfield North the ball and an untimed down on the Fenwick 5-yard line.
The Tigers kicked a game-tying field goal. In overtime, Fenwick regained the lead at 17-10 on Lillig's 1-yard run. But Dillon McCarthy scored a TD and added a two-point conversion run, lifting Plainfield North to victory.
The rules are a game can end on an offensive penalty (like Keller's intentional grounding); it can't end on a defensive penalty. In fact, the officials' incorrect ruling shouldn't even have been allowed since the game was over after the clock struck triple zeroes.
"After the game, it quickly got around that the officials made a mistake and the wrong call was made. The game should have been over," Kaminski said. "We thought we could turn the call around and make things right.
"The IHSA wouldn't take our appeal and then Fenwick took the IHSA to court. We thought for sure we could get it overturned but it just didn't happen."
While their 2016 postseason fiasco is impossible to forget, the new-look Friars are focused on the upcoming season.
Fenwick graduated a lot of key players (particularly on offense), but the cupboard is far from bare regarding returning talent.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound O'Laughlin is the headliner on offense. The West Virginia recruit caught 54 passes for 939 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
The Friars' other top player on offense is 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman Austin Glazier. He verbally committed to Fordham this summer.
Sophomore Danny Cronin and senior George Lagios are in a battle to replace Keller at quarterback. Both performed well in last week's team scrimmage at Triton.
Senior Jason Ivery is slated as the team's top running back.
Defensively, Fenwick appears set with the return of seven starters. Kaminski returns with plenty of confidence after a breakout freshman campaign at defensive end. He recorded 7.5 sacks and 35 tackles (including five for a loss) in 13 games in 2016. Twins Lorente and Lorenzano Blakeney are returning cornerbacks poised to lead the secondary. Other top players include seniors like defensive end Bobby Farnan, defensive tackle Mike Leopold, strong safety Joe Rafferty and Ivery at linebacker.
Offensive linemen Anthony Leopold and Sean Carpenter, wide receiver Jack Polston, linebacker Ian Moran and defensive lineman Konrad Skowyra should contribute this season as well.
Fenwick has an excellent chance to repeat as CCL Green champs although Montini and De La Salle are contenders. The Friars have several difficult road games this season at Montini (Sept. 8), Loyola (Sept.23) and Providence (Oct. 6). The Friars also close out the season against rival De La Salle at St. Rita on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 1:30 p.m.
Fenwick opens the season against visiting Bowen on Friday, Aug. 25 at Triton. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.