By Kevin Schmit
Class 8A semifinal
No. 4 Glenbard North (11-1) at No. 2 Loyola (11-1)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Road to the semifinals: Glenbard North beat No. 13 Fremd 31-24, No. 5 Stevenson 23-14, and No. 1 Maine South 29-23; Loyola beat No. 15 Evanston 41-0, No. 10 Bartlett 31-7, and No. 3 Palatine 19-7.
Outlook: This is a rematch of last year's Class 8A semifinal, a game won 28-13 by Loyola. Not much has changed in philosophy for either side. Glenbard North still leans heavily on the run with junior Justin Jackson, who is averaging 38 carries per playoff game. For the season he's plowed for 2,304 yards and 32 touchdowns in front of an experienced offensive line headed by D'Angelo Hodges and Mitch Siver. The Panthers haven't skipped a beat since an injury caused Marcus Perez to move from defensive tackle to center. Quarterback Brian Murphy is showing what he can do healthy, something he wasn't last season. His 8-of-12 passing last week was critical in upsetting Maine South, and his handful of carries each week has helped take pressure off Jackson. Play action could go anywhere. Jackson, Ryan Storto, Kendall Holbert and 6-foot-5 tight end Bryan Leckner each have shown the ability to come up with a big catch in the playoffs. Loyola's defense has been dominant throughout the season but especially in the playoffs. Palatine came into last week's game averaging 40 points, and Loyola held the Pirates to a touchdown. Darby Goodwin, who has 10 sacks this season, is at the heart of the defensive line that's also anchored by John Rushin, who's added 8 sacks. Many of Jackson's runs go to the interior of the line behind guards Hodges and Siver, but the Ramblers won't make it easy with Goodwin and linebacker Cody Sullivan, the team's leading tackler who also has 6 interceptions. Loyola's offense is a spread, no-huddle attack, something Glenbard North saw in the DuPage Valley Conference against Naperville North and Wheaton North. Ramblers quarterback Peter Pujals, a receiver last season, has completed 61 percent of his 321 passes for 2,300 yards and 19 touchdowns. Richard Wehman is the go-to receiver with 60 catches for 679 yards. Loyola, however, also has 1,800 rushing yards split mainly between Pujals and Julius Holley. More and more, Glenbard North is relying on two-way players to bolster a defense that lost DVC defensive player of the year Mario Rodriguez to a knee injury. Hodges has been a beast on the defensive line while Connor Dombrowski, Dominic Fornino and Alex Smith also had great games against Maine South. Expect to see Jackson, Murphy and Storto in the secondary while trying to slow Loyola's passing game.
Intangibles: Glenbard North has an interesting playoff history with the Chicago Catholic League Blue, especially with Loyola. This is the fourth playoff meeting between these teams, the third in the semifinals. The Panthers' only win came in 1991 when they were the Class 6A runner-up. Most of the time it's tough to think about revenge from one year to the next, and Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens insists he and his assistants aren't talking about it. Key players from last season, like Jackson and Murphy, no doubt remember every bit of last year's playoff loss without being reminded. Like past seasons, Glenbard North is proving to be a road warrior. A win over Loyola would give the Panthers three road wins in four playoff games.
Next week: The winner advances to the 8A championship game to face the winner between No. 3 Mt. Carmel (11-1) and No. 1 Neuqua Valley (12-0).
-- Kevin Schmit