Glenbard West was not supposed to be in this position. After winning two of the past four state titles at the 7A level including last year’s championship, the Hilltoppers were moved up to 8A this year to face stiffer competition. However, despite two regular season losses it’s been business as usual for West in the playoffs, as they took down a higher ranked Nequa Valley on the road before beating #2 Homewood-Flossmoor at home and finally last week cruising to a 38-21 victory at Edwardsville.
Their greatest test yet, and potentially the greatest test this team has faced in recent memory, comes 1 pm Saturday at Duchon Field as the Hilltoppers host #1 Loyola Academy. Not only is Loyola ranked #1 in the state, they are also ranked 29th in the country. West meanwhile is ranked a respectable 164th.
Let’s get real though, these rankings mean nothing. They meant nothing to West when this tournament started and they should continue to mean nothing on Saturday. In an interview after the game against #2 Homewood-Flossmoor, Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet had this to say about his team:
“This is not a team that was playing like this eight weeks ago, seven weeks ago, five weeks ago. We just started figuring it out. Bunch of faceless guys, but they’re playing so well and now they believe.
“We don’t talk about, ‘Let’s not get intimidated by H-F.’ They know the kind of game we need to play to win, and they played it to a tee. Small ball, let’s move the chains. Our kids are amazing. They blow me away.”
Those two losses West had early in the season also seem to have fueled this team as they pursue what would be the first 8A championship in school history. GW’s star running back Ryan Diver explained the team’s mentality:
“For our seniors, those were our first two losses of their whole Glenbard West career,” Diver, a junior, said. “It kind of felt like we lost a lot of hope. But it helped us find a new team, really helped us get through games like this. We don’t want to be on that side anymore. So those games really benefited us.”
Diving into the numbers, on offense Glenbard is averaging 35 points per game, compared to Loyola at 40.5 points per game. On the defensive side of the ball, Loyola is allowing an average of 13.7 points per game, compared to Glenbard at 12.9 points per game.
To win this game West will need to play their game, which is controlling the clock on the ground and playing stifling defense on the other side of the ball. That may be easier said than done against the reigning 8A champions, but it sounds like this team of Hilltoppers may be up to the task.
Another factor in this game may be the weather. The current forecast is for a high of 40, with 25 mph winds coming out of the WNW, which means teams driving into the west endzone will be going straight into the wind. The weather may dictate a style of gameplay that would seem to favor West, but it could also simply mean this game will be more unpredictable than ever.
While it would have been great to sit in the stands at Duchon and enjoy a 73 degree afternoon like it somehow is today, we will get to enjoy typical November football weather, and I will bundle up like I have so many times in the past. Don’t forget your long undies.