Competing in a state quarterfinal represents new ground for one team, a return to familiar ground for the other.
No. 1 seed Cary-Grove (11-0) will make its 10th quarterfinal appearance and seventh in the last nine seasons when the Trojans host No. 4 Crystal Lake Central (9-2) in a Class 6A matchup on Saturday at 1 p.m.
CL Central has never delved this deeply into postseason play. In 12 previous playoff appearances, the Tigers advanced to the second round on just three occasions (1978, 2009, 2010) only to be knocked out each time.
The teams met in the playoff opener last year, when Cary-Grove ended CL Central's season with a 17-7 victory.
"We played C-G in the first round at their place last year and lost a tough, physical game, so our seniors know what to expect," CL Central coach Matt Fralick said. "We've played competition of this caliber before in the past and know what to expect on the road."
Each team has changed vastly since the 2011 playoffs. For example, Cary-Grove senior Kyle Norberg played linebacker only in the last meeting between these teams. Since switching to fullback this season, Norberg has rushed for 1,775 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Likewise, the Tigers have a different look. Gone is graduated power back Gage Harrah. In is transfer quarterback Kyle Lavand.
Lavand (6-0, 175) was the starting quarterback for Marian Central's sophomore team last fall, but he transferred after the season and won the starting job at his new school. He has given the previously run-oriented Tigers an added dimension by throwing for 7 touchdowns and nearly 1,110 yards.
The versatile CL Central offense is equally comfortable spreading the field to throw or lining up in heavy packages to run. Fullback Connor Hines and tailback Tyler Jenkins have combined to rush for 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns. Hines last week carried 11 times on a 19-play scoring drive that helped the Tigers seal a 30-13 second-round win over Grant.
"They've got more players on offense, especially in their backfield," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said of the improvement in CL Central. "The quarterback is doing a nice job. They do a lot of that shotgun, five-wide spread stuff, which really balances their under-center, double-tight package. From a defensive standpoint, it's pretty tough to prepare for them because they do so many things.
"They pass the eye test. They are big and ripped. They've got a great wrestling program and you can tell from film some of these guys are wrestlers. They are built, stocky with big arms and big legs. And they have those guys on both offense and defense."
The 2012 Trojans can etch their place in the upper echelon of program lore with a victory. Only three of the previous nine Cary-Grove squads to compete in a quarterfinal advanced.
A CL Central victory would add to the legend of what is already the most successful playoff team in that school's history.
"Why can't we make a deep run?" Fralick said. "We feel we're talented and have the ability to beat anyone on any given day. We're playing our best ball of the season and feel we're getting better every week.
"We may not have the pedigree that some of the other schools have, but at some point everyone had to get there the first time ... We feel we've earned the opportunity. This is our state championship game."