Only two weeks remain in the regular season for Illinois high school football teams, and two talented teams in the west suburbs square off in a Friday night showdown as Naperville's Neuqua Valley hosts Roselle's Lake Park in what's sure to be a physical DuPage Valley Conference clash.
Neuqua Valley has been stout on D all year, allowing no more than 14 points in any game so far, and their multi-dimensional offense has everyone buzzing. Averaging 27.1 points per game in one of the toughest conferences in the Chicago area, the Wildcats can move the football in several ways depending on their opponent. Meanwhile, Lake Park has been solid on defense for most of the season, with the exception being a lopsided result last week against Glenbard North. But the Lancers have struggled to put points on the board, averaging just 11.7 points per game.
Here's a closer look at the key players for each team and why this might come down to the Neuqua defense's performance against the Lake Park offense.
Neuqua at a Glance...
He plays offense. He plays defense. And he's been a big reason for Neuqua's success this season. Did I mention he's just a junior? 2017 WR/S Isaiah Robertson is one of the Wildcats' premier playmakers, and he's been doing damage on both sides of the ball this season. His roots are at receiver, but Robertson has been dynamite in the defensive backfield this season patrolling the secondary.
His knack for big, timely plays and elite athleticism make him a guy that Lake Park will have to track all game, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they try to avoid him at all costs. The threat that Robertson poses alone may free things up for other playmakers like fellow junior Owen Piche.
Piche, like Robertson, plays multiple positions for the Wildcats, including, appropriately enough, wildcat quarterback. The 6'3, 195 pound athlete also has big play ability and provides a worthy counterpunch to Robertson. He's just starting to garner major college attention, but early indications are that he will be a guy with D1 level potential when all is said and done.
Lake Park at a Glance...
It all starts up front for the Lancers on defense. Led by Michigan State pledge Mike Panasiuk, the Lancers have one of the more formidable defensive fronts and will hope to generate pressure on the Wildcats' backfield all night.
Panasiuk is a powerful and explosive bull of a defensive lineman. He really brought his abilities to a new level this summer and moves well for an interior defensive lineman. Sometimes he relies too much on his bull rush, but at the high school level, that isn't as costly as he can overpower most of his opponents.
One of the more intriguing defenders for Lake Park has a lot in common with the aforementioned Panasiuk, the most obvious of which is a last name. Junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk is hoping to follow in his brother's footsteps and continue the family legacy at Lake Park. The younger Panasiuk has a similar frame to his brother, but has longer arms and is more suited for the exterior of the defensive line.