PAXTON -- The Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School varsity football team is hoping to be playing at Zimmerman Field at 2 p.m. Saturday.
However, as PBL entered its Monday practice, there was a possibility that it would not play a first-round playoff game for the first time since 2013.
Its scheduled opponent, Chicago Carver Military Academy, is one of the Chicago Public Schools that have been closed since Oct. 17 due to a teachers strike. The CPS announced that classes were canceled for Tuesday.
According to the IHSA's strike policy, "If football practices have been terminated for a period of at least seven (7) days, but less than fourteen (14) days, a school may not resume competition until after three (3) separate days of practice."
Therefore, any CPS schools, including Carver, who qualify for the 2019 IHSA Football Playoff field will have to resume practice by Wednesday, Oct. 30, in order to meet the practice acclimatization requirements of the Policy and play their first-round playoff games. A first-round playoff forfeit will be ruled if they are unable to return to practice by Wednesday, Oct. 30.
"I think our students understand what's going on. What the CPS workers are doing is stuff they can't take home. You can't take a social worker home. You can't take a nurse home. I would hope that our mayor would be a little more compassionate. Our union is basically asking for the minimum, the basics, and so (the students) are fully aware about that. It's not like our students didn't know it was coming. We did know it was coming," Carver head football coach Frederick Ward said.
"It's a travesty that we have to go through this, but at the end of the day, I think communication is key. I'm a coach who believes in transparency and integrity to let them know what they're facing, and I think people are a lot more wise and can tell that they're the ones who are being affected by this. They know they're not getting adequate attention."
This would mean that PBL would be in the second round of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but head coach Josh Pritchard says his team would prefer to earn its way into the second round.
"Our kids signed up to play football. Four years of playing is all you get," Pritchard said. "They want to play as many football games as possible. We don't want a bye week. We'll gladly play a football game and try our best to win that football game. I know our kids are ready to play a football game. They don't want to be off."
That feeling is, of course, shared by Carver.
"We're very optimistic going into the game," Ward said. "I guess we're focused on hoping the strike ends because if it doesn't, we don't play. We look forward to the game on Saturday. We're very optimistic. We're going to give our best try. We know that Paxton's a very good team, but we also have confidence in our ability as well, and we look forward to a good contest."
Should the Panthers be awarded a win via forfeit, it would not count as a home game for the winning school with regard to the IHSA's playoff hosting policy.
Fifth-seeded PBL would face either either fourth-seeded Farmington or No. 13-seeded Seneca with a win. The Panthers would be at home via a win by forfeit in the first round because Farmington already had a home game in the first round and Seneca is a lower seed.
"Of course, you want to make it to the second round, but we want to earn our way there. If that's what happens, at least we're in the second round, but we've got to first focus on this first-round game and prepare like they're going to end that strike and show up here on Saturday to play the game. I think our kids will definitely be ready. They seem focused so far, so I'm hoping that'll continue through the week."
For PBL (7-2), it was business as usual at Monday's practice, and the plan was for it to be business as usual through the week ahead in terms of preparations for a potential game on Saturday.
"We'll do what we normally do each week," Pritchard said. "We're going to practice just like we're going to play. If we're not able to play the game due to their circumstances, then obviously we'll at least have a good week of practice in. We don't want to just go through the motions, and then all of a sudden, we have to play a football game and now we have to gear back up. We'll do the exact same things we've done every other week to gear up for a football game on Saturday."
Meanwhile, Carver has not played or practice in over 10 days.
The Challengers (6-2) moved their week-eight game -- which they won 55-0 over Chicago Collins -- to Tuesday prior to strike on Thursday, Oct. 17. Their week-nine game against fellow Chicago Public School Von Steuben was canceled due to the teachers strike.
"It has seemed like a quagmire to try to get things done," Ward said. "To be honest, it's going to be a little difficult because you can lose time and rhythm. You have to hope that they obtain the things that you've taught them and then hope for the best when you get to Paxton. We won't have a lot of days to get things done, so we'll have to go into practice overload.
"You have to just be confident in your ability as a coach and definitely have confidence in the young men that you coach. I'm confident that they're going to do their very best. We're not shying away from it. We're going in full-steam ahead, but with that being said, you're kind of going in with blindfolds on because you're not sure what to expect. Hopefully, we can get some things done. If we get a signed contract tomorrow, we'll make some exchanges and then we'll look it over."
Panthers officials were unable to connect with Ward, who is also Carver's athletic director, until Monday morning.
"It was hard-pressed to get a hold of them because the CPS has blocked all of their email addresses," Pritchard said. "We had to contact a few schools they've played through Hudl to try to get some film on them, but we do have film on them."
Though it took a while for Pritchard to obtain some film, he has some familiarity with Carver's style of play.
With Ward coaching the Challengers, Pritchard played against them as a senior at Troy Triad in the first round of the 2006 IHSA Class 5A playoffs. Triad won 56-14.
"It's the same coach running the exact same offense," Pritchard said. "It's a cool experience to know what to expect a little bit from them, but that was 14 years ago. Obviously, they've got different kids there."
Pritchard and his team was unable to obtain Carver's roster due to the strike.
"The hardest thing about playing a team that you don't know anything about
is you don't know anything about the teams they've played either, so it's hard to compare size," Pritchard said.
Carver goes into the playoffs averaging 33.6 points scored per game with its wing-T offense.
"Offensively, they're really fast," Pritchard said. "They've got two running backs that are extremely quick. They want to run the football first and use their speed to their advantage to get to the outside."
Employing a 4-3 defense with man-to-man coverage, the Challengers have yielded 13.5 points per game.
"They're going to try to use their speed to their advantage, so we're going to have to counter that with some physicality," Pritchard said. "Obviously, we're going to have to throw the ball a little bit, too. We just hope that we can come there and get stops early and force them to pass the ball, and we feel like we'll be OK and see where the chips fall there."
The Panthers average 35.1 points scored per game and 14.9 points scored against them.
"We feel like we have a pretty fast team here as a whole," Pritchard said. "It's going to be interesting to see another team that probably has three, four or five kids faster than our fastest kid. That's not how it has been. We feel like we can match speed, but we know that this is a team that, if they get to the edge, we aren't catching them, so we're going to have to contain them and use our physical abilities. If they get to the edge, it'll be a long game for us."
The Panthers have been battle-tested this year as their opponents in the regular season have a record of 41-40. Five of their opponents made the playoffs.
Carver's opponents, meanwhile, are 27-42, with two of those opponents reaching the postseason.
"Obviously, that shows that you're playing quite a few decent teams," Pritchard said. "I feel like we're prepared, but we obviously have to continue to get better. If you feel like you're just done getting better just because it's week 10, then you're gonna be going home early in the playoffs, so our kids are going to keep trying to get better this week and then, hopefully, continue that and have another five weeks to play."
TALE OF THE TAPE
Category Carver PBL
Record 6-2 7-2
Enrollment 489.5 472
Opp. record 27-42 41-40
Playoff opps. 2 5
Avg. ppg. 33.6 35.1
Avg. opp. ppg. 13.5 14.9
Avg. point diff. 20.1 20.2
Cons. playoff app. 1 6
Playoff record 0-4 11-18
Record — 6-2
How they got there:
Week 1 — Chicago Carver 43, Chicago Washington (0-7) 0
Week 2 — Chicago Carver 37, Chicago South Shore (0-8) 6
Week 3 — Chicago Carver 24, Chicago Military Academy-Bronzeville (4-3) 12
Week 4 — Chicago Bunbar (6-2) 32, Chicago Carver 24
Week 5 — Chicago Carver 8, Chicago Whitney Young (4-4) 6
Week 6 — Chicago Carver 56, Chicago Prosser 6
Week 7 — Chicago Amundsen (7-1) 46, Chicago Carver 22
Week 8 — Chicago Carver 55, Chicago Collins (2-6) 0
Week 9 — Chicago Carver vs. Chicago Von Steuben canceled (teacher's strike)
Record — 7-2
How they got there:
Week 1 — GCMS (8-1) 32, PBL 8
Week 2 — PBL 52, Georgetown-Ridge Farm (3-6) 12
Week 3 — PBL 50, Iroquois West (1-8) 0
Week 4 — PBL 22, Seneca (5-4) 18
Week 5 — PBL 44, Momence (1-8) 7
Week 6 — PBL 42, Salt Fork (5-4) 0
Week 7 — Clifton Central (9-0) 29, PBL 14
Week 8 — PBL 43, Watseka (6-3) 15
Week 9 — PBL 41, Dwight (3-6) 21
Players to watch:
Hunter Anderson — He scored two touchdowns and has rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Gunner Belt — He holds the single-game school record for passing yards in one game.
Drake Schrodt — He scored four touchdowns, including three second-half rushing touchdowns, last week against Dwight.