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South Elgin quarterback Rob Cuda leads the Storm into a showdown against rival Bartlett on Friday night at Millennium Field in Streamwood. | Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media

Bragging rights won’t be the only prize at stake when Bartlett and South Elgin renew their fierce football rivalry Friday night at Millennium Field.

The host Hawks enter the contest needing a win to keep their chances of claiming a third straight Upstate Eight Valley championship alive. A victory for Bartlett (5-2, 3-1) would also clinch the program’s 12th trip to the playoffs in 13 years.

Meanwhile, the Storm has no room for error entering the final two weeks of the regular season if it wants to avoid a second straight year without a postseason appearance. Fresh off back-to-back losses, South Elgin (3-4, 2-3) must win Friday night and again next week at St. Charles North to extend its season.

“I don’t think we needed to add anything to the game, but that is a sidebar,” South Elgin coach Dale Schabert said of the importance the contest holds for both teams. “Our kids know what’s at stake and they’re looking forward to it. Hopefully it’s a good ball game and the fans get their money’s worth.”

The Hawks own a 3-1 lead in the all-time series against the Storm going into a showdown that figures to be a contrast in styles. South Elgin junior quarterback Rob Cuda attempted 32 passes in last week’s 35-26 loss to Lake Park, which is four fewer than the 36 passes Bartlett’s quarterback committee has thrown all year.

The lack of an aerial attack comes as no surprise considering the Hawks have running back Aaron Everson at their disposal. The senior is by far the area’s top rusher with 1,447 yards and 23 total touchdowns this year, and he has topped 230 rushing yards in five of Bartlett’s seven outings.

“That power game they’ve got, when you watch it, it’s impressive,” Schabert said of Bartlett’s ground attack. “The linemen block well and they’ve got a great tailback. You can’t even give (Everson) a sliver with as fast as he is. He’s a physical runner, and if you give him a lane he’s going to hit it.”

The Hawks also boast a talented defense led by Central Michigan recruit Chris Kantzavelos, who has built a reputation for wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks with his play at defensive end. Senior linebacker Kevin Kirchhoff is a three-year starter and another key contributor for the unit, which held Larkin to 136 total yards in last week’s 24-7 win.

While Bartlett’s ground-and-pound approach certainly isn’t flashy, no one can argue its effectiveness.

“Don’t take anything away from the offense,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. “If we can get three-and-outs on defense and the offense can take some time off the clock by grinding out possessions, that’s our game plan.”

Cuda has completed 105 of his 217 passes for 1,460 yards and 18 touchdowns for South Elgin. His top target is senior receiver Joe Crivolio, who has 35 catches for 443 yards despite sitting out last week with an injury.

Schabert said Crivolio has a good shot of returning to action Friday, but the Hawks know they’ll have their hands full regardless of who is split wide for the Storm.

“The quarterback, if he has time, he does a great job,” Meaney said of Cuda. “They’ve got tons of yards passing, so we’ve been working on the pass defense all week.”

Junior receiver Tyler Christensen has 23 catches for 411 yards for South Elgin and has also developed into a key contributor at defensive back and on special teams. Junior Nate Marotta is another player who has a big role in all three phases, particularly as a leader of the defense at linebacker.

“There’s a lot of kids that help make a team, but Marotta and Christensen have stood out a little bit,” Schabert said.

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