The Bartlett defense registered its second shutout of the season last week in a 14-0 victory at Leyden, but the Hawks' second-round playoff opponent presents a far greater challenge.
No. 2 Loyola Academy (9-1), the 2011 state runner-up to Bolingbrook, brings an offense averaging 36.6 points and 354.6 yards per game to Millennium Field for a Class 8A matchup against No. 10 Bartlett (7-3) today at 1:30 p.m.
The Loyola attack is led by quarterback Peter Pujals The 6-foot-2, 195 pound senior has thrown for 1,855 yards and 13 touchdowns on 152-of-249 passing. Pujals has also rushed for a 590 yards and 16 touchdowns, both team highs.
His top targets are seniors Richard Wehman (42 rec., 485 yards 2 TD), Luke Ford (25-449-7) and Kristopher Coker (23-321-2).
Pujals was recently named offensive MVP of the Catholic Blue Division. Ford, also a safety, was named the Catholic Blue overall MVP.
The Hawks can't go to sleep on junior running back Julius Holley, who has 557 rushing yards and 12 scores in 126 attempts.
Beyond talent, Loyola's multiple offensive formations cause opposing teams preparation headaches.
"We're kind of a stop-the-run-first team, but they'll go double twins, trips twins and quads," Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. "We're getting after it and trying to make good decisions about how to defend them, even their special teams.
"They're a very good team. The kids are excited to be going up against the best."
The Bartlett defense is led by Central Michigan recruit Chris Kantzavelos (6-4, 255). The senior defensive end leads a veteran group of defenders who limit opponents to 17.1 points and 232.6 yards per game.
The heart of the Bartlett offense is senior tailback Aaron Everson (6-0, 200). The workhorse has rushed for 1,880 yards and 25 touchdowns on 267 carries, all school records. Kantzavelos, also a tight end, leads the run-oriented Hawks in receiving with 11 receptions for 178 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"You have to keep their star players in check, which is easier said than done," said Loyola coach John Holecek, who enjoyed an eight-year NFL career with Buffalo, San Diego and Atlanta after graduating from the University of Illinois in 1995. "(Everson) is a hard-nosed, tough runner with great feet, and (Kantzavelos) moves around. They put him in motion on offense and he's a force on defense. He's a obviously a very special player."
Ford leads a Loyola defense that allows 12 points per game, has picked off 16 passes and recovered 9 fumbles. The wall begins up front with defensive linemen Darby Goodwin (6-0, 225) and Jack Rushin (6-5, 265). They are backed by aggressive linebackers like Cody Sullivan (6-0, 200) and leading tackler Ryan Seymour (6-1, 205).
"They're all very good and very skilled," Meaney said. "I watched the tape of their game with St. Rita and those linebackers are taking on the lead blocker two yards back in the backfield. They step up and they are very, very good.
"We know they're a very solid team. We'll show up and give it the best effort."