By Michael Wojtychiw
The Prep Bowl has long been a Chicago-area staple. The annual battle between teams from the Chicago Catholic League and Chicago Public League dates back to 1927, when Mount Carmel of the CCL faced off with Schurz of the CPL, a 6-0 Mount Carmel win.
The games are no longer played at Soldier Field, as they were during much of 1900s, but the game still means as much as it did then as it does today.
That was evident when Simeon and Fewick took the field at Triton College the morning after Thanksgiving, representing the CPL and CCL in the 92nd Prep Bowl featuring teams from the two leagues.
While some were recovering from their Thanksgiving dinners the day before, thousands were at Triton’s Jordnt Athletic Complex to watch a game that came down to the last play of the game. Fenwick’s Luis Avalos lined up for a potential game-tying field goal from 43 yards away with just seconds remaining
“I think it was a matter of two great games played by two great teams that are well coached,” Fenwick coach Matt Battaglia said. “It went back and forth and it came down to the last second.”
“I was just hoping for a strong wind,” Simeon coach Dante Culbreath said. “I was hoping for a strong wind to come in.”
“This was amazing for all of us,” Simeon’s Andre Crews said. “A lot of these seniors, we played together for all four years, We had motivation to come out here and win.
“You just have to pray, pray to God. It’s such a nervous feeling.”
Crews and his squad’s prayers were answered when they saw Avalos’ kick sail just wide left, preserving the 33-30 win, the first CPL win in the game since the Wolverines did it in 2017.
And like they did in last weekend’s city-title game win over Taft, they did it with late defensive stands.
Against the Eagles last weekend, the Wolverines made stops on the Eagles’ final two possessions to preserve the win and after another back-and-forth affair, had to do so again Saturday.
On a fourth-and-17 on the Simeon 44, with two minutes, 40 seconds remaining, Friars quarterback Marek Hill was sacked by Simeon’s Antwan Roquemore, giving the Wolverines the ball back with just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
“It’s just been persistence in practice,” the Simeon coach said. “We practice for the fourth quarter, half our practices are about the fourth quarter.”
As has been the case many times during the season, Crews was the bellcoe for the Wolverines’ offense piling up large chunks of yardage every time he touched the ball.
The Wolverines got on the board quickly to start the game, with quarterback Keshaun Parker connectin on a 27-yard touchdown pass to Malik Elzy not even two minutes into the game.
After the Friars took an 8-7 lead on a pass from Hill to Rowan White, Crews took the next drive over, running for 53 yards, including a two-yard score to give the Wolverines a 13-8 lead after their extra point attempt was blocked.
Crews, who was named the game’s MVP on the Simeon side, scored on a 51-yard touchdown run to give the Wolverines a 19-8 lead at the half, gviing the senior over 150 yards rushing at the half.
“It was really just me knowing I had to go,” he said. “When I see the hole, I have to punch it, no stutter step, nothing. Just get to the whole and punch it.”
However, after the half, it was Fenwick whose offense going going thanks to the hard-naosed running of Luke D’Alise, who shined on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. The junior, who was named Fenwick’s MVP after the game, rushed for 162 yards and a 5-yard touchdown to draw the Friars to within 26-23, just over a minute into the fourth quarter.
“He’s a kid (Luke D’Alise) who does everything for the team,” Battaglia said. “It’s never about himself. He leaves it all on the field every practice, every game.”
D’Alise also had two interceptions for the game, but it was Elijah Romeus’s interception with seven-and-a-half minutes remaining that led the Friars to getting the lead thanks to a 63-yard Hill pass to Dennis Moore.
Down for the first time, 30-26, Simeon took over at the Fenwick 48-yard line, Crews took a screen pass down the left sideline for 48 yards and the Wolverines were back on top 33-30 with just under five minutes to go.
“That was the play call all the way,” Crews said. “The whole play design, I was supposed to get the ball off the screen, our wide receivers come out to get the block and they did. Salute to my wide receivers.”
“Oh, Wow. That guy (Andre Crews) is shifty and hard to tackle,” D’Alise said. “He’s one of the better backs we’ve gone against this year. He’s going places at the next level.”
Even though neither team finished its season in Champaign like 16 other teams in Classes 1A-8A, playing on the day after Thanksgiving is something that is an accomplishment for both teams and one they took with honor and seriously.
Fenwick was looking for its first Prep Bowl title since 20010, when it shut out Curie 6-0 and was playing in its 11th Prep Bowl in its program history.
“This has been an amazing experience with me and these boys,” Culbreath said. “It’s the last game of the year, this is where you want to be. We didn’t hear our mark by winning the state title or playing for the state championship, but the Prep Bowl is a step and I’m happy we were able to finish this for our fans and our great seniors that have been working hard for four years.
“This is an experience for the young guys to build off of. That’s what we’re trying to do, build off of this for next year, for our young guys. The older guys sent a message that you can be good, you can win championships, you can be successful.”
“I think if any team opts out of this (the Prep Bowl) they are dead wrong,” the Fenwick coach said. “Only eight teams win a state title, and 16 teams get to play for a state title. We have over 500+ teams playing football in the state – so we were excited to keep playing football and competing for a Prep Bowl championship.”
“It was just exciting to be around my teammates and celebrate our last game together,” D’Alise said. “It was fun to have this journey with this group. We’ve won a state championship together and had a chance to win today.too. Everyone was definitely excited to play in the Prep Bowl.”