In its heyday, the Prep Bowl was the highlight of the Chicago high school football season. The champions of the Catholic League faced the champions of the Public League at Soldier Field each year. Legendary players like Fenwick's Johnny Lattner played in front of large crowds. In fact, an estimated 110,000 fans (largest crowd ever for an Illinois High School football game) jammed Soldier Field in 1937 to see Austin defeat Leo 26-0.
With the advent of the IHSA football playoffs in 1974, the Prep Bowl has lost a lot of its luster. It might even be reasonable to think that today's Prep Bowl playoffs don't mean much, but try telling that to Fenwick senior offensive tackle Austin Glazier.
"If we win the Prep Bowl, we can still get a ring, so we want to end the season on a good note," the Fordham-bound offensive lineman said.
While there is no doubt that the Friars' goal this year was winning a Class 7A state championship (that dream was dashed with a 35-7 loss at Wheaton North), Fenwick can still finish the season on a positive note.
The Friars took a first step in that direction with a 28-6 Catholic League playoff victory over Leo at Triton College on Friday, Nov. 3.
"We made sure that the boys enjoyed practice this week," Fenwick coach Gene Nudo said. "We approached it like a bowl game and had fun. We played loose and I thought the guys did a good job."
Typically a reserve, senior George Lagios started at quarterback for the Friars.
On Fenwick's second drive, the elusive Lagios tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Michael O'Laughlin. Brian Dowd's PAT gave the Friars a 7-0 lead at the 4:03 mark of the opening quarter.
"George has been working hard every day. I wanted him to have the majority of the reps this week," Nudo said. "George did a great job and the guys around him did a great job."
O'Laughlin, one of the best receivers in the state, also lauded the senior signal caller.
"It felt pretty good, senior-to-senior was nice," O'Laughlin said of his TD grab.
"George is a great kid and he works hard. It was good to see him go into the game. He got out of the pocket and threw a dime."
Sophomore Danny Cronin, the Friars' regular starting quarterback, entered the game in the second quarter. He led Fenwick (7-4) into the Leo red zone, but a 34-yard field goal try by Dowd was aborted due to a bobbled snap. However, on the first play of Fenwick's next possession, senior running back Jason Ivery burst through the right side of the line for a 49-yard touchdown run to boost the Friars' lead to 14-0 with 6:23 to go before halftime.
After stopping the Lions on downs to start the second half, Ivery broke out runs of 46 yards and 20 yards. The latter was a touchdown, extending the lead to 21-0 at the 6:49 mark of the third quarter.
Ivery (12 carries, 128 yards) went over 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Not bad for a guy who made the transition from defense to offense in August.
"The coaches told me I needed 93 yards to hit 1,000 for the season," Ivery said. "That's an elite club to be in, especially for a Fenwick Friar. I'm excited about it. I was a little nervous, but I knew I had to get it."
Glazier took satisfaction in knowing that the offensive line played a large role in Ivery's achievement.
"It feels great knowing that our offensive line can work well as one," he said. "Jason is a great player; he deserves it."
The special teams' unit came up with a big play to account for the Friars' final points. Sophomore Jacob Kaminski blocked a Stephon Howard punt, and Joe Rafferty scooped up the loose ball around the Leo 20 to scamper in for a touchdown. Dowd's PAT made the score 28-0 with 4:01 to go in the third quarter.
The Lions (4-7) broke up the Friars' shutout bid with 3:55 remaining in the game.
Defensively, Kaminski led Fenwick with five blocks, two sacks and a blocked kick. Thomas Hogan and Rafferty contributed two sacks apiece.
Fenwick's next opponent in the Prep Bowl Playoffs will be the winner of St. Ignatius/Marmion on Saturday, Nov. 18.