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By Kevin Schmit
Class 7A semifinal
No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (12-0)
at No. 2 Benet (11-1)
Game time: 6 p.m. Saturday, Benedictine University.
Road to the semifinals: Lincoln-Way East beat No. 8 Plainfield Central 47-22, No. 4 Providence 24-14, and No. 2 Edwardsville 40-10; Benet beat No. 7 Andrew 24-10, No. 3 Oswego 28-13, and No. 8 Downers Grove North 26-24.
Outlook: Everything with Lincoln-Way East's offense runs through Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Tom Fuessel, who last week rushed for 250 yards and 3 touchdowns. Scarily, Benet coach Pat New compares the Griffins' offense with the Wheaton Warrenville South team the Redwings faced in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs. That Tigers team went 14-0 and rolled to the 7A title. Unlike past years when the Griffins' offense spread a pass-heavy offensive scheme to a bunch of receivers, Fuessel's been more effective running the ball. He's rushed for 1,400 yards and thrown for 900. Running backs Nick Colangelo and Justin Corbett add another 1,300 rushing yards to the punishing ground game. As always, Lincoln-Way East relies on a big and dominant offensive line. Benet counters with a defense that thrives against the run, starting up front with physical lineman Charles Melka. Linebacker Jack Crain and the Redwings' defense limited Downers North's potent veer option to 150 rushing yards on 38 carries. Benet's offensive scheme also revolves around its quarterback. Six-foot-six sophomore Jack Beneventi has played with a maturity well beyond his years. He's completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,200 yards and 19 touchdowns. Jack Euritt leads the receiving corps with 49 catches for 714 yards and 8 touchdowns, while Jack Toner has 7 touchdown catches. Six players have at least 13 catches. Protection by the offensive line improved last week. Beneventi's been sacked multiple times in several games, but he was sacked only twice against Downers North. One area New would like to see improvement is with the ground game. The Redwings managed only 85 rushing yards against Downers North, although running back Nick McTarnaghan scored on a nifty 15-yard dash. Porter Ontko also has big-play potential in the running game. Allowing 9 points a game, Lincoln-Way East again boasts one of the state's top defenses. Linebacker Kyle Langenderfer notched 3 sacks last week while defensive back Sean Doherty returned an interception for a touchdown.
Intangibles: If you conducted a general poll at the beginning of the season as to who would advance to this game, many folks probably would say perennial power Lincoln-Way East, the 2005 Class 8A state champion. Good luck finding anyone predicting the Redwings to be here. That plays in both teams' favor. The Griffins boast an obvious advantage in playoff experience, having never missed the playoffs and making their fourth semifinal trip in 12 years of existence. Benet, however, may have the most momentum in the state. Last week's last-second touchdown and victory gave the Redwings -- 1-8 last year -- even more reason to believe they're a team of destiny. The Redwings, however, need to eliminate mistakes. Blocked punts, fumbles for touchdown and field-goal miscues from last week must be eliminated for the Redwings to have a chance against the Griffins.
Next week: The winner advances to the 7A championship game to face the winner between No. 6 Lake Zurich (10-2) and No. 1 Glenbard West (12-0).