By Dave Oberhelman
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 22 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).