Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch believes his current squad, which is 10-0 and rated No. 1 in the Chicago area going into Saturday night's game against crosstown rival Wheaton North in the second round of the Class 7A playoff, is better than last year's state championship squad.
In fact, Muhitch believes his 2010 powerhouse, which is averaging 43.7 points per game and has allowed only 73 points, is even better than WW South's celebrated 1998 state championship team that has been ranked with the best teams in state history, including St. Rita 1971, Evanston 1971, Joliet Catholic 1975, East St. Louis 1985 and Fenwick 1962.
"At the beginning of this season, I felt we had the potential to be as good as 1998, because of (quarterback) Reilly O'Toole," Muhitch said. "We had a good defense in 1998. This year's defense is similar, a lot of unheralded kids playing great defense who nobody knows about."
Muhitch was defensive coordinator on coach John Thorne's staff in 1998. The Tigers boasted perhaps the most prolific offense in state history. They swept through a 14-0 season by averaging 43.9 points per game and closing with a 42-14 rout of Barrington in the state finals. They had a running clock in seven games. Muhitch's defense recorded four shutouts and permitted only two opponents to score more than two touchdowns.
The offensive statistics were mind-boggling. Quarterback Jon Beutjer passed for 3,946 yards and set a national record with 60 touchdown passes. In the state final, he passed for 490 yards and six touchdowns. He completed 65 percent of his passes and had an incomprehensible quarterback rating of 210.7. Wide receiver Jon Schweighart, described by Thorne as the best player he ever coached, caught 94 passes for 1,572 yards and26 touchdowns. Wide receiver Eric McGoey caught 60 for 1,274 yards and 21 touchdowns. Running back Corrice Burns rushed for 1,354 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"Beutjer was a pure thrower but O'Toole is the most accurate passer in the history of the program. He has completed 74 percent of his passes--and he can run, too," Muhitch said. "I felt this offense could score points and we have. We haven't tried to throw the ball 30 times a game, as the 1998 team did.
"We emphasize balance between running and passing. I'm impressed with how far our defense has come and has been able to withstand while giving up only seven points per game and 200 yards in total offense with three major players out of the lineup. Plus, I think our road to the state finals will be tougher this year than it was in 1998 or last year."
Despite losing linebacker Jack Eshleman, the team's leading tackler who broke an arm in Week 6, kicker/defensive lineman Brian Welker and linebacker Brandon Peterson, who replaced Eshleman but missed the last two games with a broken wrist.
Eshleman might return in the next week or two. Until then, Muhitch will rely on defensive end Will Davis, noseguard Sparty Chino and free safety Caleb Bednarz, who also doubles as one of the most dangerous punt and kickoff returners in the state. The defense has allowed only three touchdowns in the last four games.
Meanwhile, nobody has figured out how to slow down WW South's offense. The Illinois-bound O'Toole, who is favored to claim the Sun-Times Player of the Year award, has a superb quartet of receivers in Titus Davis, Travis Kern, 6-7 tight end Jason Schuman and Ryan Crowe. Muhitch rates Titus Davis, a 6-2, 175-pound senior, as "the best receiver in the program since Schweighardt in terms of being a playmaker and a deep threat."
O'Toole, who has passed for more than 2,000 yards, runs a balanced offense that also features running back Matt Rogers, who is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing for the season, and junior fullback Dan Vitale, a 6-2, 190-pounder whom Muhitch describes as "my Division I player for next year."
O'Toole, Rogers and Vitale are protected by an offensive line that is anchored by Kansas-bound Luke Luhrsen, a 6-5, 290-pounder who rates with former WW South stars Will Matte (Indiana) and Dace Richardson (Iowa).
Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens agrees that Muhitch's current squad is better than last year's state champion.
"They're all back on offense, the tailback (Rogers), quarterback (O'Toole), the big lineman (Luhrsen) and three good receivers. O'Toole is a year older. It's hard to prepare for them," Wilkens said.