By Dave Oberhelman
No. 8 Downers Grove North (5-4) at No. 1 Batavia (9-0)
Class 7 A
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Outlook: A good test of how Batavia plays as a No. 1 seed in Class 7A after earning the same draw in 6A last year on the way to the state semifinals. Downers Grove North, out of the strong West Suburban Conference Silver Division, has flown under the radar the last few seasons but not because of coaching. Trojans head coach John Wander played for Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Ventrelli. Succeeding his mentor 11 seasons ago, Wander had three Hall of Fame coaches on staff: Ventrelli, Bill Ohlson and, even now, Marmion graduate Bill Kleckner. Wander's since added retired Hall of Fame Addison Trail coach Paul Parpet. All but Parpet helped Downers North win the 2004 Class 8A title over Maine South. The Trojans run a physical, technically-sound veer option that has pulled off upsets before. In their last playoff appearance, 2008, the Trojans entered 7A as a 5-4 seventh-seed (out of eight in a "regional" bracket), rope-a-doped No. 2 Wheaton Warrenville South into an 8-7 defeat and reached the quarterfinals. "The athletes, the level of hitting, the level of football, really very impressive," said Batavia coach Dennis Piron, who scouted the Trojans' 26-0 loss to another No. 1 seed, Glenbard West. Thus, Piron will rely on horses such as Anthony Thielk, Zach Strittmatter, Robbie Bowman and Michael Moffatt in greater capacity. Downers North's reascension has a lot to do with 6-foot-6 sophomore David Edwards. Among a family of athletes including his father, older brothers Garrett quarterbacked the Trojans' 2004 title team and Tom was tough as nails running option and playing linebacker. David is not a huge a passing threat, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, but he joins Kyle Leto and Brandon Salter as the trio who will pound the veer until one breaks it. The Bulldogs' defense and in particular linebackers Thielk, Cullin Rokos and Mickey Watson will be intent on run assignments but Vinnie Cerezo, Forrest Gilbertson, Chris Moran and the rest of Batavia's secondary can't sleep on deep threat Richard Olekanma. Defensively, Downers South is led by active Vontae Diggs, who will blitz from everywhere, and linebacker Dan Izewski. Downers North is similar to Batavia in that pure hulking size is less a factor, even on the line, than quickness, athleticism, fundamentals and technique. A difference is one can generally depend on the Trojans running the ball. At Batavia, the number of athletes quarterback Micah Coffey has at his command, the formations and personnel packages shuffled by the Bulldogs' own Hall of Fame assistant, offensive guru Mike Gaspari, have yet to be solved. "I think it's a pretty even football game, to be honest with you," said Piron, wary of that No. 1-8 seed matchup. "I'm very proud of the season we've had, but they've played a pretty high level of competition."
Next week: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 5 Thornton (7-2) and No. 4 Thornton Fractional South (7-2).
No. 12 St. Charles East (6-3) at No. 5 Wheaton North (8-1)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: St. Charles East 26, Larkin 0; Wheaton North 23, Wheaton Warrenville South 13.
Outlook: Until junior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell arrived this season as a true passing threat for St. Charles East, the position underwent flux in large part due to injuries. We totally respected and enjoyed last year's QB, the wily Charlie Fisher, but he was always a better runner than passer. Even in the Saints' last playoff season of 2009, Nolan Possley was a great fullback lined up behind center. Wheaton North, which not only returned last year's starting quarterback, John Peltz, but also has 6-foot-4 junior Clayton Thorson who will throw the ball. In a 21-7 Week 3 win over Naperville North (in Week 2 the Falcons beat Geneva 34-7) Peltz and Thorson took turns throwing touchdown passes to each other. Peltz does it far more often, completing 95 of 133 passes for 1,398 yards, 15 touchdowns to 1 interception, but Thorson also is highly accurate, 31 of 41 for 392 yards, 7 TDs, 1 interception. Under coach Joe Wardynski speed has been the calling card for the two-platoon Falcons, who lost only to Glenbard North 17-15. Running back Patrick Sharp, who has 656 yards and 11 touchdowns, ran on the Falcons' all-state 400- and 800-meter relays last year. He was joined on the latter by leading receiver Matt Biegalski, who has caught 33 passes for 644 yards, 8 TDs. Thorson has run for 271 yards and caught 27 passes for 437 yards with 7 combined touchdowns. "They've got a lot of athletes," St. Charles East coach Mike Fields said. Several play defense, such as defensive back Jaylen Howze, defensive end Kellen Cleveland and linebackers Dan Caponi and Luke Sahly, Wheaton North's leading tacklers. The Falcons have outscored their foes 337-79 and have passed for nearly twice as many yards per game, 202.6 to 106.0, They also have a plus-12 turnover ratio, but that aligns with St. Charles East's plus-11. The Saints' opportunism, toughness and their own share of athletes such as receiver Brannon Barry, tailback Erik Anderson, often-dominating defensive end Andrew Szyman and defensive backs Mitch Munroe, Anthony Sciarrino and Andy Badowski -- who picked off Larkin last week -- puts them in good stead. St. Charles East would like to get Anderson and fullback Joe Hoscheit going all day. Fields, though, figures Wheaton North will stack the line and force Mitchell to throw to Barry, Munroe, Trevor Zajicek and now Matt Allen. Anderson and Hoscheit also are excellent targets out of the backfield. The key, Fields said, "is just to play error-free football and not shoot ourselves in the foot and make mental mistakes. We'll look for some big plays and to win the turnover battle. Most of the time when you win the turnover battles you're going to win the games."
Next week: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 13 Prospect (6-3) and No. 4 Glenbrook North (8-1).
No. 14 Aurora Central Catholic (6-3) at No. 3 St. Joseph-Ogden (8-1)
Game time: 5 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Montini 38, Aurora Central Catholic 7; St. Joseph-Ogden 21, Paxton-Buckley-Loda 6.
Outlook: St. Joe-Ogden has reached the playoffs 22nd straight years; ACC is in for the first time since 1997. If the Chargers have jitters, that's literally their problem. "Ultimately we're just going to have to execute and do our jobs and if we do we'll let the chips fall where they may," said coach Brian Casey. "But we can't be awe-struck by the fact that we're in the playoffs, in front of maybe the biggest crowd we've ever been in front of. The entire town of St. Joseph will be there." The Spartans will be favored, the winner of the Sangamon Valley Conference whose 45 playoff points were the state's best among 8-1 conference winners. St. Joe-Ogden beat a Class 2A No. 1 seed, Clifton Central, and their sole loss was to Monmouth-Roseville in Week 8, 36-27. Coach Dick Duval is a 2008 inductee into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame with a lifetime record of 217-68 all at St. Joe. He's taken the Spartans to four state championships, all runner-up finishes and most recently in 2006. According to Casey's precise scouting St. Joe runs the ball 64 percent of the time utilizing the Pro I. Trouble is, Casey said, senior back Chase Patton, who's run for 1,041 yards and 20 touchdowns, broke a collarbone two weeks ago. In stepped junior Austin Hedrick, who has run for 143 and 149 yards the last two games. The Spartans have better offensive balance than ACC, 6-foot-1 quarterback Dalton Walsh completing 54 percent of his passes for 1,070 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. Nine different receivers have caught passes, notably 6-4 Louis Acklin for 398 yards, and Aaron Woller. Special teams could be a factor; defensive back Jake Stewart has returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and averages 35 yards on returns. Linebackers are the Spartans' leading tacklers in the 5-2 defense, as it should be when the line's doing its job. But ACC's strength -- aside from the speed and slipperiness of double-wing backs Steven Amoni, Brian Bohr and Julian Rios -- it's the physicality of offensive linemen Izzy Rosa, Alec Licar, Joe Cisneros, Mike Malawski and Luke Faltz, and defensive linemen Rosa, Jake McCarthy, Josiah Padilla and Tony Hizo. "With our style of play we win or lose up there," Casey said. In the backfield last week, junior quarterback Matt Schaefer subbed for mono-stricken starter Matt Rahn and backup Drake Riedy (ankle) and had the Chargers' best passing game this season, 11-of-17 for 140 yards and a touchdown. That may throw a curve to St. Joe, but if Rahn is cleared he'll probably start; ACC also returns defensive back Tyler Nelson. Rahn will naturally want to help contribute to ACC's playoff return. "We have a great opportunity to take another step," Casey said.
Next week:The winner advances to play the winner between No. 11 Wilmington (7-2) and No. 6 Byron (7-2).
No. 16 Belvidere (5-4) at No. 1 Kaneland (9-0)
Game time: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Belvidere 21, Belvidere North 13; Kaneland 33, Morris 30.
Outlook: Two playoff stalwarts at opposite ends of the 5A playoff spectrum in one sense. Kaneland completed its third straight 9-0 regular season outscoring its foes including six playoff teams by an average of 28.1 points, trailing only Marian Central and Westinghouse in 5A. Belvidere, out of the Northern Illinois (NIC) 10 that includes 9-0 Rockford Boylan, was outscored 331-221, an average deficit of 12.2 points which "leads" all 256 playoff teams. Historically the Bucs have been a postseason stalwart. They played in the first state series in 1974, won two state titles and a second under legendary coach LaVerne Pottinger and have an overall 34-22 playoff record in 25 appearances, as many as Montini and more than Marian Central, Normal-UHigh and Rochelle. Despite the point disparity, Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly remembers a No. 16 seeded Bucs squad that in last year's first-round game came into No. 1 Kaneland and ran for more yards, passed for more yards and nearly pulled off a huge upset. Kaneland led 41-24 in the third quarter but saw Belvidere rally within 41-38 before the Knights capped a 51-45 victory with Matt Rodriguez's 40-yard field goal. "We've got to limit the big plays like they had last year," said Fedderly, whose Knights trailed only Marian Central in The Associated Press Class 5A Poll. Although running back Marcus Gooden graduated from that Belvidere team, four-year starting quarterback Troy Vandenbroek returns. Ron Ramos of Boone County Sports.com reports Vandenbroek has completed 83 of 170 passes for 1,213 yards, 8 touchdowns but 13 interceptions. Vandenbroek also leads the Bucs in carries though his 402 yards rushing is second behind 165-pound halfback Maurice Jackson's 539 yards. Also the Bucs' top kick returner, Jackson may be counted on to throw a halfback pass -- he's done so 5 times with 2 touchdowns (and threw once on Kaneland last year). Vandenbroek's top target is 6-foot-2, 200-pound Kane Steger with 34 catches for 569 yards, 5 TDs. Steger also joins Chris Colquett with 4 interceptions on defense; inside linebacker Jacob Fondrk leads the Bucs with 83 tackles. Kaneland comes in having reinforced its comeback confidence with the 33-30 win over previously unbeaten Morris on Drew David's 5-yard touchdown pass to Zack Martinelli, capping an 85-yard drive starting with less than 2 minutes to play. Nothing will change against Belvidere -- spread the field wide offensively, get add to running back Jesse Balluff's 820 yards and 11 touchdowns and have David (22 TD passes, 9 interceptions) hit Martinelli, Balluff, Dylan Nauert and Kyle Pollastrini in the open field. The key, as always, will be how offensive linemen Zach Theis and friends handle the likes of Belvidere defensive linemen Gino Hartman (6-1, 210, 4 sacks) and Ian Carlson (6-7, 240, 25 tackles, 2 sacks) up front. "That's pretty much the way it is week in and week out," Fedderly said. "There's not too many lines bigger than us."
Next week: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 9 Lincoln-Way West (6-3) and No. 8 Rochelle (6-3).
No. 13 Raby (6-2) at No. 4 Aurora Christian (8-1) Class 3A
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: King 16, Raby 14; Aurora Christian 69, Guerin 0.
Outlook: For a team that lost only to Montini in the last two minutes, defending Class 3A champion Aurora Christian is a pretty solid No. 4 seed. Eagles coach Don Beebe said Raby is the best Chicago Public School foe his team has ever faced, but past results indicate that's not saying much. In five games against CPS foes since Aurora Christian joined the Suburban Christian Conference in 2009, the Eagles have won by a combined score of 245-14, including twin 48-0 drubbings of DuSable this season and Chicago Academy in 2011. Among 3A playoff teams Aurora Christian starts its title defense this season having scored, on average, 36.3 points more than its opponents, following only Nokomis and Williamsville in 3A. The Raby Raiders, coached by D'Angelo Dereef, are playing just their second IHSA playoff game. In 2009 they went 8-1 then were eliminated 19-6 by Morris in the second round of 4A. Raby enjoyed a healthy 19-point average margin over opponents this season, but against a schedule that included just three playoff teams and finished an overall 29-44 (the CPS teachers' strike eliminated Week 4 action). The Raiders took a 40-20 nonconference loss to Geneseo, a 4A playoff team, and enter the postseason off a 16-14 loss to fellow 6-2 CPS team King, a 5A qualifier. Raby runs a spread offense with four to five receivers and puts no more than one back alongside 6-foot-2, 200-pound, strong-armed quarterback Chris Covington at any one time. Based on Hudl highlights, the Raiders look to stretch defenses on the ground with Covington taking keepers to the perimeter, or a slotback coming in for a handoff and bearing outside. He'll also call his own number on draws and run a little option. Receiving targets include 6-3, 190 tight end Gary Covington and wideout Terry McDonald. Beebe calls Chris Covington "Cam Newton-like" and thus was working on a "corral drill" in practice to contain him between the tackles. "They present problems offensively just because they're so athletic," Beebe said. The coach noted that Raby puts seven aggressive defenders near the line and plays man-to-man coverage in the secondary. Against Eagles quarterback Ryan McQuade, who has completed 58 percent of his passes for 31 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, that may be tough. Receiver Chad Beebe, who last played Week 4, breaking his arm against Wheaton Academy, was going to get checked out on Thursday. Should the coach's Northern Illinois-bound son be cleared that only adds to the difficulty for Raby and the rest of the 3A field. The bottom line, Don Beebe said, is: "Our defense has to not let these kids get in space, and offensively we have to keep them off the field and we have to execute. We have to know where the blitz is coming ... They have the ability to beat you if they're playing good and you're not playing good."
Next week: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 12 Immaculate Conception (6-3) and No. 5 North Boone (8-1).