West Aurora's band certainly is an impressive group. They are strong in numbers, they sound great, they get the crowd in the game, and they put on quite a halftime show.
This year though, West Aurora senior linebacker Brandon Warren wants to make sure the Blackhawk fans know something else.
"We've always had great fan support, but last year they would leave after the halftime show," Warren said. "This year they were into it the whole game. It's the atmosphere. Just totally different. The stands were packed."
Those fans came out to see the first game with new synthetic turf at Ken Zimmerman Field, and Warren got the Blackhawks off to a fast start with a defensive touchdown on St. Charles East's first play from scrimmage.
West Aurora raced to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter of its eventual 20-7 victory in Nate Eimer's first home game as coach.
It wasn't a complete thing of beauty besides the field itself as West Aurora's (2-0) offense turned the ball over 3 times and committed 9 penalties. That was enough to leave Eimer with a bittersweet taste.
"Coaching the offensive side of the ball I was a little disappointed," Eimer said. "We have to get some things figured out. The defense carried us just like last week. They have been that way all summer."
After West Aurora punter Alexander Pope pinned the Saints at their 1-yard line, defensive coordinator Tony Melchiori came with a blitz. Warren shot through, knocked the ball loose and fell on it just before it went out of the back of the end zone for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead just 1:30 into the game.
"The gap opened up and I popped the fullback and the ball just came out," Warren said.
St. Charles East (0-2), now without an offensive touchdown for 8 quarters to open the year, didn't get much going. The Saints defense held most of the night except for two quick strikes in the second quarter. Nate Zinzer delivered the first on an end around, taking the ball 25 yards for a score and a 13-0 lead with 7:22 left in the second quarter.
The Blackhawks used a little trickery for their final points. On a 4th-and-6 play, Isaac Parker shifted from receiver to quarterback, and lobbed a ball down the left sideline that Anthony Oros made a fingertip grab and raced in for a 36-yard touchdown.
The Saints followed on the ensuing kickoff with Nick Devor's 98-yard kickoff return for their only points. Devor, the team's nose guard, also is an elite track hurdler who coach Mike Fields shifted to the kick return team this week.
"Honestly I've never touched the ball before," Devor said. "That was the first time ever. I saw a hole and I just took it. It wasn't me. It was all my blocking."
The Saints weren't able to build any momentum from Devor's return. Quarterback Dean Bowen left the game at halftime with an ankle injury after completing 1 of 6 passes for 28 yards. Charlie Fisher played the second half and went 3-for-10 for 28 yards.
All four of the completions came to running backs as the Saints couldn't get a downfield passing game going. Carter Reading led St. Charles East's ground attack with 63 yards, but West Aurora out-rushed the Saints 237-100 and outgained them overall 303-156.
The Saints turned the ball over 4 times and had 8 penalties. The teams combined for 7 turnovers and 17 penalties.
"It's mental errors," Fields said. "Right now we're shooting ourselves in the foot. I thought our defense played their hearts out. Penalties killed us.
"I know those young men are feeling the sting of it now but we truly did take a step forward."
Shon Enoch led West Aurora with 139 yards on 21 carries.
The Blackhawks replaced longtime rival Elgin on the schedule with St. Charles East in part to try to get more playoff points and end their drought that dates back to 1994. Now they might need help from the 0-2 Saints who have another tough matchup next week hosting Geneva.
"The way I look at it is we have to get to six wins and not worry about it," Eimer said. "And if we end up at five, sure we'll be their biggest fans. They are a quality team and gave us all we could handle."
Tim Leibforth recovered a fumble and Anthony Niemiec intercepted 2 passes to lead the Saints.
"We're climbing a mountain," Fields said. "Right now we're still at the foothills. I thought we took a lot of steps forward. I know the score wasn't indicative of that."
"We got better today," Devor said. "We just need to fix things. We have a lot to work on."