The full scope of New Trier’s 2023 season was not cause for celebration but the conclusion of it did offer the Trevians an evening of jubilation.
New Trier finished its year strong with a commanding 27-9 victory over Central Suburban League South newcomer Deerfield High School on Friday, Oct. 20, in Northfield.
The Trevians’ 3-6 record leaves them outside of the playoff picture for the second straight season after clinching postseason appearances in 16 of the previous 17 campaigns, but the senior-night win offered the Trevs an opportunity to close out the otherwise disappointing year on a high note.
“We had a rocky season, but this shows the true character of everyone on the team,” senior captain Liam Fitzgerald said. “We all knew it was our last game and we all came out and fought really hard and it also shows the grit of this junior class. They’re going to feel the same thing next year and they’re going to fight just as hard.”
The Trevs opened the game’s scoring early on thanks to a special-teams touchdown on Deerfield’s first drive. Senior Nathan Cata recovered a loose ball in the end zone after a misfired snap on a Warriors’ punt attempt. New Trier never surrendered its early lead as its defense kept Deerfield’s offense at bay all evening.
“We started the game extremely strong defensively and to get the touchdown right away off the miscue on the special teams play was kind of a great way to start the game,” New Trier head coach Brian Doll said. “Things just rolled on from there for us tonight.”
A ferocious pass rush, which tallied seven sacks and even more tackles for loss, was key to New Trier’s success on the defensive side of the ball. Increasing the pressure brought against the Warriors’ offense was a game plan heading in, Doll said.
“We brought the house tonight; that’s the most I’ve blitzed as a coach probably since I’ve been here calling the defense,” Doll said. “We were bringing six almost the whole night, for a lot of different reasons. We thought we could get to them, we thought we could play defense long enough with our defensive backs to give us a chance. We felt we matched up really well with them up front … credit to our (defensive line).”
Fitzgerald added that the Trevs’ defensive performance showcased the unit’s heart and its desire to finish the season with a strong effort.
“You could feel the energy throughout the whole game tonight,” he said. “We knew we were dominating, we just kept our foot on the gas pedal and we loved every second of it.”
It was certainly not a quiet night for the Trevains’ offense either.
Junior quarterback Patrick Heneghan connected with senior wideout Miles Cremascoli for a 33-yard touchdown on New Trier’s second offensive possession. Cremascoli and Heneghan each powered the Trevs with strong nights. Heneghan finished with 223 passing yards and 100 rushing yards while Cremascoli hauled in six catches for 141 yards.
The Trevs dug into their bag of tricks to convert a two-point attempt after the score. Heneghan tossed a lateral pass to Cremascoli, who then tossed the ball to fellow senior receiver Kiernan O’Meara in the end zone.
The Warriors put a small dent in the Trevs’ lead when they drilled a 30-yard field goal attempt with just under four minutes to play in the opening half.
Senior running back Jackson McCarey accounted for both of the Trevians’ scores in the second half. McCarey rushed home touchdowns of 9 and 6 yards respectively, putting the finishing touches on his strong year out of the backfield for New Trier.
McCarey is one of the several key senior contributors the Trevians will lose to graduation following the season. Cremascoli, O’Meara, Fitzgerald, linebacker Dylan Jeppe, defensive end Charlie Gardella, linebacker Aidan Corboy and defensive end Franklin Zoloto are just a few of departing players that New Trier will have to replace next year.
But the Trevs will also return a strong core of players who the program hopes can lead a bounceback season after twice falling short of postseason play.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work (to return to the playoffs) and that is something that I think everyone on this team who is returning knows: We haven’t been in the playoffs in two years and that is not normal at a school like New Trier,” Heneghan said. “The expectation is to be a playoff-contending team, a conference-contending team and fighting for that state championship.”
Wide receiver Trey Meyers, defensive backs Dylan Benjamin and CJ Donnelly (who also saw time at quarterback for the Trevs this year when Heneghan was sidelined due to injury), linebacker Colton Berg, defensive tackle Jayden Salazar, lineman Luca Ratarac and kicker Niki Dugandzic are slated to join Heneghan as key returners back with the Trevs next year.
Doll also added that he is “really excited” about the program’s sophomore group, noting that the Trevs roster will feature many of the players from that group come August.
One of the main goals of the offseason will be examining the program internally, Doll said.
“We really have to look at everything in the program and it starts with me,” Doll said. “I have to do a lot of self-evaluation of things I can do better and that’s where it starts and then I have to get a staff and kids to buy into that vision again.
“I think the big thing for us is post-COVID, we have not done very well as a football program and we have to go back to some of the things we were doing pre-COVID that got us more wins and made us more successful.”
Doll noted that reestablishing the players’ focus on football and overall understanding of the game will be key. He also added that the team will need to up its commitment to offseason training in the weight room.
New Trier’s offseason will include time for reflection and brief celebration of the positive takeaways from the year. But the sour taste from the last two seasons isn’t going anywhere — and the Trevs will use it to fuel the next season’s goals.
“I’d be lying if I told you I was happy with this season,” Doll said. “It’s been a hard season for our coaching staff, our kids and our families. We do not want to be in this position again. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done and it starts with me getting after it and finding ways for us to improve and that’s what I have to do.
“We have been successful for a lot of years and right now we’re in a rut and we need to find a way to get out of it and it’s going to take some special kids to step up and say, ‘I want to be the ones to change this.’”
Trevs give thanks to three stalwart supporters of New Trier football
In addition to honoring the program’s seniors prior to the game, the Trevians also paid tribute to three individuals who have dedicated decades of their careers to New Trier football during a special extended halftime ceremony.
New Trier athletics honored public address announcer Chris Cauley, head groundskeeper Jules Laude and longtime coach Mike Napoleon. All three will be retiring at the end of the current school year.
Cauley, who started teaching at New Trier in 1992, has been the team’s public address announcer for 29 years. In his nearly three decades of calling games, Cauley guided Trevs fans through countless thrilling moments on the gridiron.
Laude also began at New Trier in 1992, dedicating 30-plus years to making New Trier’s facilities second to none. Laude has not missed a home New Trier football game since 1995, presenters said during halftime. He also placed the students at the center of his work and took pride in seeing them compete on the school’s fields, they added.
Napoleon will hang up his headset after decades on New Trier’s sidelines. He has been a part of Trevians football in a number of different coaching capacities, but he most recently served as the team’s offensive coordinator
Napoleon, who is head coach of New Trier’s baseball team and also holds the state record for the most wins of any coach in Illinois high school baseball history, has been a mentor, leader and voice of inspiration to countless student-athletes — and even his fellow coaches.
“I’m just so thankful that he was here at New Trier,” Doll said. “… I’ve learned a lot from him. I think more than anything he’s challenged me to grow and continue to grow. To have somebody that has head coaching experience who you can be around and learn so much from is just really valuable on a staff. He has always been right there to help me.”
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.