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Benet's Porter Ontko, center, breaks through the Oswego defense during their playoff game at Benedictine Stadium in Lisle on Friday, November 2, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Leading his alma mater back to the state quarterfinals for the first time in nine years, third-year Benet coach Pat New undoubtedly has perspective to understand where his team currently sits.
A senior on the 1986 team that set the Benet record for wins with 11, New’s second-seeded Redwings will attempt to match that number with a victory Saturday afternoon at eighth-seeded Downers Grove North in a Class 7A state quarterfinal.
“I recently told my wife, ‘This is exciting. If we could get to 11 wins, I’d feel pretty good about it. I contributed to 11 wins as a player and now I’ve contributed to 11 wins as a coach,’” New said. “I think for our players, those guys are so focused on trying to meet my five-game challenge I set for them after the regular season and they’re really focused on taking one game at a time. So the 11-game thing is probably more exciting for me than my players.”
An 11th victory would put Benet into its first state semifinal since 1984, but a Downers Grove North team that has pulled off a pair of road upsets in the past two weeks stands in the way.
Winning a combined five games during the last three years coming into 2012, the Trojans are making their first state quarterfinal appearance since 2008 and their fourth state quarterfinal appearance in the last 10 years. Downers North upset top-seeded Batavia and fifth-seeded Thornton in consecutive weeks.
“Well, No. 1, I believe our conference (West Suburban Silver) got us ready for that,” said Downers Grove North coach John Wander. “We lost a real tight Week 8 game against Hinsdale Central and we went for two and lost 21-20.
“Glenbard West, who’s still undefeated in the brackets also, was our Week 9 game and I believe that the West Suburban Silver got us ready for the playoffs. I know we would have liked to win two of those last three games at the end of the year but we didn’t. But our kids didn’t quit and here we go.”
Downers Grove North (7-4) is led by running backs Brandon Salter and Kyle Leto, both over 600 yards rushing, within its split-back veer option offense piloted by sophomore QB David Edwards.
Salter ran for 224 yards and two scores in the Trojans’ 38-26 first-round upset of Batavia, and Salter and Leto combined to run for 194 yards and two TDs in the Trojans’ 29-13 second-round victory at Thornton last week.
The split-back veer option offers a different look for a Benet defense that has posted four shutouts and has been the linchpin of its 10-1 record.
“It’s something that we haven’t seen before,” New said. “So we’ll be forced to practice stuff that we’re not used to. So that in of itself poses a challenge to us. … I’ve always thought it’s a great idea to run an option attack, simply because you’re forcing teams to prepare extra for you and that’s kind of what we’re doing. You’ve got to really spend time on playing disciplined defense.”
Needing to find a way to protect the ball better than it has in its first two playoff games, Benet will counter with an offense that’s averaged 34.6 points a game behind sophomore quarterbackd Jack Beneventi, junior running backs Porter Ontko and Nick McTarnaghan and a receiving corps led by Jack Euritt, Jack Toner and Nick Surges.
Ontko’s career night last week against Oswego, which saw him rush for a career-high 209 yards and two touchdowns while chipping in with a pick-six as a safety on defense, bodes well for a running game that had recently been stymied while puttting more responsibility on Beneventi’s plate.
“I think they’re (Benet) a very good football team. That’s why they’re 10-1,” Wander said. “Offensively, they have their sophomore quarterback and a lot of weapons. So by running the ball, we hope to keep those guys off the field for as long as we can.”
For a pair of programs that haven’t enjoyed much success in the last few years, Saturday afternoon marks an opportunity to continue an unexpected journey on the road to Champaign.
For Benet, that means ignoring seeding and focusing on the nuts and bolts.
“I’ve always said people say, ‘Well, you don’t have to face a 9-0 Batavia,’” New said. “Yeah, but we have to face the team that beats Batavia. When you’re in the playoffs, every game is gonna be a dogfight and these guys are gonna bring their best and everybody’s fighting for their playoff life.”