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As a first-time playoff qualifier, the Grayslake North football team is happy to be joining the postseason party.
But the Knights don't intend to play like a bunch of starry-eyed newcomers.
"We're excited to be here," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said of his team's berth, which was made official Saturday when the IHSA announced its highly anticipated pairings for all eight classes. "But we're not satisfied with just making it.
"We have a bunch of guys on our team who played in the state title game for lacrosse last year and just simply getting in (to the playoffs) won't be good enough for them. Success is nothing new to them and that's what they're going to expect in the playoffs for football. They want to win state."
This is Grayslake North's seventh year as a program and its best record before this season was 5-4. The Knights are going from famine to feast. They finished the season 8-1, earned a No. 3 seed in Class 6A and will get a home game against No. 14 Notre Dame (5-4).
"For being 8-1, this is definitely a tough game, tougher than what we would have hoped for. Notre Dame is a very good team and comes from a very good conference," Wood said. "But they have to come to us and we've been playing very well lately."
Make that eight straight weeks, to be exact. Grayslake North lost its season opener against Lakes but has been on a roll ever since.
Speaking of Lakes, there is plenty to celebrate in Lake Villa. The 8-1 Eagles earned their highest seed ever at No. 2 in Class 6A. They'll host No. 15 St. Viator, which qualified on points at 5-4.
Lakes will try to string together another substantial postseason run. Last year, the Eagles advanced to the quarterfinals. They finished the 2011 season 9-3.
Also in Class 6A, No. 5 Grant (7-2) got a rare first-round home game. They'll host No. 12 Chicago Lake View (6-2).
"We've hosted first round games only two other times in our history, 1986 and 2007. We're really excited to be at home," Grant coach Kurt Rous said. "We're digging our draw."
The Bulldogs aren't digging their injured list, though. It's way too long. Among others, starting quarterback Kyle Whitman and starting running back Jonathan Wells are both out for the season with injuries.
"It's been tough and we're not playing our best football right now either," Rous said. "We can't take anyone for granted and we're going to have to continue to get better in a lot of different areas with some (new) guys who are going through some growing pains."
In Class 5A, Wauconda is also looking for quick improvement after a decisive 40-20 loss to Libertyville on Friday. The 5-4 Bulldogs, who qualified on points and will visit undefeated and second-seeded Marian Central (9-0), missed opportunities in their season finale.
"After watching the film, we feel like we left 24 points on the field against Libertyville," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "We had first-and-goal inside the 10 and didn't score. We had some costly mistakes on other drives. Marian Central is going to be very similar. We can't play like that and expect to win, so we're going to have to really work on a lot of things in practice this week."
Practice should be interesting for Warren and Stevenson.
They'll be preparing for each other for the second time this season in Class 8A action. No. 6 Stevenson (7-2) will host No. 12 Warren (5-4), which qualified on points. The North Suburban conference foes faced off for the first time in Week 5. Stevenson came out on top 39-7.
"It's amazing how things work out sometimes," Warren coach Dave Mohapp said. "These are two teams that are very familiar with each other, so that makes it real interesting in terms of how you go about game-planning. I think both teams are going to have to put in some (wrinkles)."
Stevenson came up short in its quest for the North Suburban Lake Division title to Lake Zurich, which rolls into the Class 7A playoffs with a 7-2 record. The sixth-seeded Bears, who defeated Stevenson in Week 8 and cinched the title Friday with a win over Warren, will host No. 11 Crystal Lake South (6-3).
"Crystal Lake South is a big, strong, powerful team," Lake Zurich coach David Proffitt said. "But the good thing is, that is similar to what we've seen in some of our most recent games. We'll be ready."
The Bears aren't sure if they'll be healthy, though.
Injuries have hampered them all season and just as they were starting to get some key players back, such as running back Connor Schrader and quarterback Jake Stauner, some others got injured on Friday, including a couple of two-way linemen.
Meanwhile in Class 7A, Libertyville will be returning to a familiar place.
Last year, the Wildcats opened the postseason at Rockford Boylan. This time, No. 9 Libertyville will be visiting No. 8 Harlem in neighboring Machesney Park. Both teams are 7-2.
"Well, at least we know how to get there," Libertyville coach Mike Jones laughed. "There will be a lot of orange and black in the stands, too. Those are also their school colors.
"We're just so excited. We had a good workout this morning and we feel like we are playing really well right now."
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