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Class 8A semifinals
By Kevin Schmit
No. 8 Marist (9-3) at No. 7 Naperville Central (9-3)
Game time: 7 p.m. Saturday
Road to the semifinals: Marist beat No. 9 Plainfield South 64-28, No. 1 Bolingbrook 21-7 and No. 4 Oswego 21-7. Naperville Central beat No. 10 Downers Grove South 36-0, No. 2 Homewood-Flossmoor 24-21 and No. 3 Neuqua Valley 47-18.
Playoff history: Marist is making its 15th playoff appearance and sixth straight. The RedHawks (the schools share a nickname, but Marist capitalizes the "H") advanced to state title games in 1986 and 2009, when they beat Naperville Central in the second round. Marist lost both title games. Naperville Central is making its 27th postseason appearance. The Redhawks won the state title in 1999 and finished second in 1995 and 2001.
Outlook: Both teams are capable of putting up impressive offensive numbers. Marist, however, spent much of the regular season allowing a bunch of offense. Twice the RedHawks allowed at least 40 points. Marist has turned around its defensive fortunes in the playoffs by positioning key players on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame-bound Nic Weishar is playing receiver and outside linebacker while fellow receiver Flynn Nagel's playing in the secondary and Jawill Aldridge is playing running back and defensive back. Naperville Central also expanded the roles of a couple of key offensive players. Receiver Michael Kolzow has been in the secondary since late in the regular season, while receiver Ben Andreas added cornerback duties. They'll be needed against a talented Marist passing game headed by quarterback Jack Donegan. The offense is similar to the 2009 playoffs, but with one major difference. The RedHawks' ground game is more formidable thanks to running back Peter Andreotti. Naperville Central, though, is better equipped to defend Marist. The Redhawks created quarterback pressure against Neuqua Valley thanks to the Nate Teske-led line. They've been stout against the run with linebackers Bobby McMillen and Jack Wooldridge. Naperville Central's secondary showed ball-hawking skills last week with 5 interceptions. Jon Lubanza grabbed two and Dillon Grooss added a pick six. Naperville Central's offense starts with Illinois State-bound quarterback Jake Kolbe, who's thrown for 1,872 yards and rushed for 400. His main target is Andreas, a threat to score every time he touches the ball. The offensive line suffered an injury to Alex Peterson but Dom Ventrella's filled that role. That allowed Peterson to contribute in power run situations. The bulk of Kevin Clifford's 697 rushing yards have come in the playoffs, but getting past Marist linemen Marcus Pitts and Adam Miller won't be easy. They weigh a combined 578 pounds.
Intangibles: Naperville Central is at its best when jumping out to a lead. The Redhawks have done that with turnovers and good field position gained through their special teams. With winds howling and temperatures expected below 20 degrees by game time, it'll be interesting to see which team does a better job handling the conditions.
Advancement: The winner advances to the Class 8A championship game to face the winner of Saturday's game between Loyola (11-1) and Stevenson (10-2).