MACHESNEY PARK -- After having played on field turf most of the season both home and away, Libertyville junior Conor Simpson has found that good old-fashioned grass and mud fields are just fine with him.
"I am so used to playing on turf that the last two weeks we got to get a little muddy," said Simpson as he looked down at his not-so-white football jersey. "This is fun, too."
Simpson and the Wildcats had their fair share of fun, and it all came at the expense of Harlem in a Class 7A opening-round game Friday night.
Simpson ran for one score and caught two more scoring passes from senior Jack Deichl as the Wildcats roared to their first playoff win since 2006, 48-28 over the No. 8-seeded Huskies.
The win gives Libertyville (8-2) its first home playoff game in six years when the Wildcats host the winner of Saturday's game between No. 16 seed Elk Grove and No. 1 Glenbard West.
"This was a program win tonight," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "We wanted to come out fast and be balanced and we did that tonight."
The visitors started fast and knocked the Huskies right off their feet right at the start. The high-powered offense that Harlem features was held to negative yardage on the first series, setting the Wildcats up at midfield after a punt. Four plays later, Brian Swift put Libertyville up 7-0 on a 33-yard touchdown run.
"To be good in the playoffs, you need to have that balance," Jones said. "We have to be able to run it and throw it effectively."
After the teams traded punts, the Wildcats blew the game open with a 28-point offensive explosion in the second quarter. Simpson got it started with the first of his 2 touchdown catches. His short screen pass from Deichl turned into a 43-yard scoring play and a 14-0 lead.
Three minutes later, Joey Salata ran through the Harlem defense for a 23-yard scoring run, and the route was on.
Even after Harlem pulled close on a Kevin Witcik 22-yard scoring run, Libertyville wasted little time getting the points back. The Wildcats went 60 yards in just over 60 seconds, capped by an 18 yard scoring strike from Deichl to Charles Kosmach.
The Wildcats cruised into halftime leading 35-6.
"They had great balance and really did a great job of keeping us off guard," Harlem coach Jim Morrow said. "We knew they could do both, and when they had success with it they just didn't stop doing what they were doing and we couldn't stop them."
Simpson started the second half much like he and the Wildcats ended the first -- by scoring touchdowns. Deichl found Simpson on a short screen pass, and he took it 64 yards untouched for his final score of the night.
"We have a great offensive line and it's a lot of fun to play behind guys like that," Simpson said.
The big night for Simpson included 198 all-purpose yards, 155 of them through the air. Deichl's performance matched Simpson as he completed 12 of 25 passes for 226 yards and 3 touchdown passes.
Defensively, Libertyville held Witcik, Harlem's career-rushing leader to just 37 yards in the first half. Most of his 122 yards rushing came late in the fourth quarter after the outcome was already decided.