Phil Pash’s Sports Notes

Phil Pash’s Sports Notes

By Phil Pash

Bears Lose Wheels: It was going the Bears way. It really was. They were playing well enough to control things and keep the Packers’ Brett Favre off the field. They led 14-6 at the half, and even Richard Petty, the King of stock car racing, said he and his grandkids were enjoying it.

He said he brought the grandkids up to Green Bay to see the Bears-Packers, and, oh yes, to just mention that NASCAR on Fox returns in just two short months with the Daytona 500.

Using racing parlance, the wheels came off for the Bears after that. It looked like they were about to punch in another touchdown in the third quarter and go up 20-6. Marty Booker had an apparent TD on a play on which pass interference also was called.

The refs ruled the pass incomplete and the Bears challenged. They lost the challenge, but still got a first down at the Packer one on the pass interference call.

On the very next play, Green Bay nose tackle Rod Walker timed the snap to snatch the ball from Bears center Olin Kreutz in a most unusual play. The Packers then marched the length of the field to score and took the lead minutes later on a field goal 16-14. Green Bay went up 30-14 before the Bears scored again in the closing seconds.

The win clinched the NFC North title for the 9-3 Packers, while the Bears fell to 3-9 and into a tie with the Lions and Vikings. The only team to wrap up a title so far, the Packers also are 6-0 at home this season. Favre now is 33-0 at home in temperatures of 34 degrees or below, and he beat the Bears for the 18th time in 22 tries.

But five turnovers were the Bears’ undoing. That and losing Anthony Thomas in the first half with a broken right index finger. The Packers lost Ahman Green to a knee injury in the third quarter, but rookie Tony Fisher, an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame, played like a veteran, running for 91 yards and a touchdown in 17 carries.

Plus, consider this: The Bears’ middle linebacker Brian Urlacher had only one tackle and six assists, which are meager stats for him. Where was he all day?

The Bears still lead the series 83-75-6 after 164 meetings.

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Joy in South Beloit: Imagine, if you can, the pure joy and pride in South Beloit these days. Buttons still must be popping off expanded chests, and everyone is walking a little taller. There hasn’t been this much excitement since former Illini Perry Range starred for the SoBo basketball team.

Their high school football team, not known for too many grand things, won the state Class 1A title on Friday, pasting previously unbeaten El Paso 50-22 in Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus, Champaign. The heroes were treated to a huge welcome home on Friday night in South Beloit City Park.

Then on Monday, the 252 students got to spend their first day in their new school on Prairie Hill Road. That state championship trophy became the centerpiece in a brand new trophy case.

It is the first state title of any kind in South Beloit’s history. And the SoBos are only the fourth Winnebago County school to win a state football crown — and the first in 1A, for the smallest schools.

Rockford East won the state 4A crown in 1974, Rockford Guilford took 5A in 1982, and East captured 5A in 1985. Only three other county schools have managed to play for a state football title — Rockford Boylan in 5A in 1975, Durand in 1A in 1985, and Rockton Hononegah in 4A in 1985.

The 1985 season was a historic one for Winnebago County teams as three went to the state finals. East won, and Durand and Hononegah came home second.

Even though there are a lot of big schools up here in the northwestern part of the state, that 1A crown still is highly coveted. By winning, South Beloit gets to sit at the head table with area small-school football powerhouses like Galena, Sterling Newman, Stockton, Freeport Aquin and the 1989 Orangeville team coached by Harlem’s Brian Benning.

South Beloit lost only one game all season, on Sept. 20 to rival Poplar Grove North Boone 30-27. That loss was avenged in the regular-season finale 27-6. In the playoffs, the SoBos ousted Milledgeville, Galena, Aquin and defending state 1A champ Kewanee Wethersfield.

The 1999 South Beloit team went 0-9, but since then the Drew Potthoff-coached SoBos have turned it around with records of 3-6, 7-4 and now 13-1. This year’s seniors were freshmen in ’99. Last year, in only the school’s fourth playoff appearance, the SoBos finally got past the first round. But they lost to eventual champ Wethersfield in the second round 41-22.

This year, it was all the way, giving Potthoff a 41-42 record after seven years at South Beloit. He previously coached at Effingham and Sycamore.

Hats off to the SoBos and all their fans.

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Cubs Are Coming: The Cubs Caravan is coming to Rockford Jan. 15 at the Clock Tower Inn, and we’re apparently getting the “A” team led by new manager Dusty Baker. Others scheduled to be here include pitcher Mark Prior, outfielder Corey Patterson, infielder Bobby Hill, and coaches Billy Williams and Gary Matthews. Where’s Ernie?

Tickets priced at $20 are available at Canterbury Books, Tom Harmer’s and the Clock Tower, all in Rockford, and Belvidere Auto Clinic.

Matthews, who played with the Cubs from 1984-87, will be the team’s hitting coach. He had the same job at Milwaukee last season.

Other new coaches on Baker’s staff will be Dick Pole, bench; Wendell Kim, third base; Gene Clines, first base; Juan Lopez, bullpen; and Sonny Jackson, special assistant.

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No Title Game for NIU: Northern Illinois University’s football season in all likelihood ended Saturday night when Toledo beat Bowling Green 42-24 for the Mid-American Conference West title. The Rockets now will play at MAC East champ Marshall for the conference crown.

Toledo beat NIU the previous week 33-30 in the final minute of play, giving the Huskies an 8-4 season mark and 7-1 MAC mark. Toledo also was 7-1, but gets the title by virtue of its win over NIU. Watch, some 8-4 teams will get bowl bids and some with worse records than 8-4 will go.

But those programs will have bigger followings than NIU, and bowl games are all about money.

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