First playoff game since 2011 scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at TF North
CALUMET CITY, Ill. (October 25, 2023) – TF North senior linemen Damari Dogan, Alvin Lankin III, and Aramis Steward have seen a lot in their four years of high school football. A freshman season delayed and shortened because of the pandemic. Three head coaches. Three wins in their first three seasons.
But it’s all turned around this fall. Under first-year coach and alum Anthony Pignatiello, the Meteors are 7-2 and heading to the IHSA playoffs for the first time since 2011.
They are seeded eighth in the south half of the Class 5A bracket and will host Sacred Heart-Griffin from Springfield at 1 p.m. Saturday, seeking their first postseason win since 2002.
Dogan has been surprised, in a good way, by how this season has played out.
“Me personally, I didn’t think this would ever happen because the team would play around too much and wouldn’t take it seriously,” the 5-5, 175-pounder said. “But after we trusted the coaches and started winning more, the team came together.”
Steward, a 6-4, 270-pounder, was more optimistic.
“I was looking at the schedule when it first dropped,” he said. “I thought it was a possibility. I thought it could happen, I had confidence in the team and the coaches.”
Lankin, a 6-0, 220-pounder, also saw positive signs when Pignatiello and his staff took over in the spring.
“The offseason (work) helped us through and when we saw we could win, we were on the road (to a turnaround),” Lankin said.
Anchors on the line
Having three seniors to anchor the offensive line — they also play on the defensive line — has helped skill players such as Dominic Gradford, Tristan Jackson, and Terrion Long produce plenty of big plays this season.
“All the success we have, at least on my side of the ball offensively, it starts up front,” said Pignatiello, North’s offensive play-caller.
Steward and Dogan start next to each other at left tackle and left guard respectively and cause some double takes, Pignatiello noted, with Steward being 11 inches taller than his linemate.
“But Damari Dogan, he’s the kid — we’ve said it all along, you can’t measure heart,” Pignatiello said. “He’s played as good as any of our linemen all year and pound for pound may be one of our best. … It’s been awesome to have guys who not only have the physical tools to do it but are mentally bought in and understand our system and our schemes very well. And (who) love being linemen — they take pride in being linemen.”
A full season, and more
The chance to play 10 games — and maybe more — as a senior is definitely something Steward appreciates. North had two games canceled in the already-shortened spring 2021 pandemic season and had another cancellation last year when the field lights failed early in the season opener.
“The freshman year, when we only played four games, you feel robbed a little bit,” Steward said. “So it feels great to play in the playoffs, get those extra games.”
Dogan seconds that emotion.
“We haven’t seen a lot of success throughout the few years I’ve been playing,” he said. “But for this to be my senior year and my final year, it’s a great way to end.”
North opened this season with easy wins over Proviso East (40-8) and Thornton (39-7), teams that combined to finish 2-16. Then the schedule got tougher, with a South Suburban crossover at Shepard in Week 3 and the Wooden Shoe-Mushroom Trophy game vs. TF South the following week.
After beating the Astros 28-7 and getting past the Red Wolves 17-14, the Meteors knew they were on their way.
“We hadn’t beat South since 2019,” Dogan said. “So I think winning that game gave us even more confidence, (thinking), ‘We can really do this.'”
“For me it was the Shepard game,” Steward said. “That was a really big week, we had a lot to prove coming off two non-conference games. “People were saying we weren’t real.”
But as the Meteors have been proving all season long, they are for real — and they’re playoff-bound.
- ‘Ball didn’t go our way’ – TF South football falls short of playoffs – other local scores (October 24, 2023)
- TF North football punches playoff ticket for first time since 2011 – other local scores (October 13, 2023)
- Photo gallery: Battle for Burnham – TF South takes on TF North football (September 19, 2023)