By Dave Oberhelman
Class 5A semifinal
No. 3 Montini (10-2) at No. 12 Joliet Catholic (8-4)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday, Joliet Memorial Stadium.
Road to the semifinals: Montini beat No. 13 Bremen 54-13, No. 6 Sycamore 24-22 and No. 2 Marian Central 42-27; Joliet Catholic beat No. 5 Elmwood Park 58-0, No. 13 Tinley Park 42-21 and No. 9 Lincoln-Way West 21-20 (OT).
Outlook: This feels like a championship game as it was in both 2009 and 2011, Montini winning both times. Three-time defending 5A champion Montini is the current standard-bearer; Joliet Catholic's peerless tradition includes a state-record 13 titles. Montini sprinted to the semifinal by enjoying a 21-6 second-half scoring advantage over Marian and outgaining the Hurricanes 481 yards to 460 overall despite running just 38 offensive plays to Marian's 77. Breaking free off option reads, Mark Gorogianis -- the Broncos' running quarterback opposite Alex Wills' passing option -- ran for 240 yards and 5 touchdowns on only 8 carries. Headed by Gorogianis and 1,200-yard back Dimitri Taylor, the Montini spread offense has 350 more yards rushing than passing out of its 4,378-yard total. Defensively, coach Chris Andriano and defensive coordinator Mike Bukovsky made adjustments against Marian that may carry over to Saturday's game against Joliet Catholic's USC-bound halfback Ty Isaac and receivers Chris Tschida and Jordan Jones. Montini shifted to a 4-4 set from the usual 4-3, inserting Joey Borsellino as safety along with sophomore Leon Thornton in at linebacker to get more speed on the field. The key for Joliet Catholic is Isaac, who ran for an astounding 515 yards and 6 touchdowns against Montini in last year's title game. Isaac, who suffered a separated shoulder in Week 1 and left early last week with a recurring groin injury that sidelined him the last two regular-season games, will only be 70 to 80 percent. As Hilltoppers coach Dan Sharp said, an 80-percent Isaac is still better than most; Andriano jested "maybe he'll only run for 300 yards." Yet despite Isaac's 1,223 yards rushing with 19 touchdowns and team-high 3 touchdown receptions on 24.5 yards per catch, Joliet Catholic's vaunted double-wing ground game may lack its typical precision and rhythm. Fellow halfback Tyler Reitz has run for 851 yards and 13 touchdowns despite an oblique muscle injury; fullback Mike Ivlow (son of Bolingbrook coach John Ivlow) has gained 885 yards, 16 touchdowns. The Hilltoppers have gotten healthier; that and an East Suburban Catholic Conference crucible that sent six of nine teams to the playoffs helps explain their rise to the semifinal. Quarterback Craig Slowik's 1,422 yards passing ranks among the Hilltoppers' top three all-time but he's thrown 8 interceptions to 5 touchdowns. The Hilltoppers are led defensively by the linebacker combo of Kevin Jensen with 123 tackles and Matt Madrigal with 101; defensive back Zack Jackovich has 7 interceptions. A tackle by Zach Rezin and 260-pound J.B. Butler on Lincoln-Way West's 2-point conversion try in overtime sent Joliet Catholic here. Joliet Catholic wants to control the clock with long drives behind Butler, 285-pound Justin Hunter and 275-pound Jalen Hansel. Montini's defensive line of ends Fred Beaugard and Dylan Thompson and tackles Edger Ruano and Liam Kennedy cannot allow second-level penetration to seal off Broncos linebackers Nick Sanzeri, Mike Maduko and Charlie Long and allow creases for Isaac and Reitz to exploit.
Intangibles: Joliet Catholic has never lost a semifinal at home, and the Hilltoppers will remember the 70 points Montini scored in last year's epic 70-45 title game. Montini's Andrew Harte can affect field position as well as outcome -- his punts average 36 yards, he gets touchbacks on 80 percent of his kickoffs, he's 11 of 12 on field goals (including the Sycamore game-winner) with a long of 54 yards. The team of snapper Pat Strzempek, holder Tyler Tumpane and Harte now have converted 108 straight extra points, third all-time nationally.
Next week: The winner advances to the Class 5A championship game against the winner between No. 2 Morris (11-1) and No. 3 Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (11-1).