Both Lakes and Grayslake North are relatively new high schools, born about 10 years ago out of bulging enrollments at Antioch and Grayslake Central High Schools respectively.
It would stand to reason then that a heated rivalry would exist between Lakes and Antioch; and ditto for Grayslake North and Grayslake Central.
But turns out, it's Lakes and Grayslake North, the newbies, that are the true football rivals here. One middle school in Lake Villa, Palombi, sends more students to Lakes and to Grayslake North than any other middle school in either district.
So, many kids at Lakes and Grayslake North know each other from their middle school days at Palombi. They grew up going to class together and playing sports together.
That makes Friday's Class 6A playoff game between Lakes and host Grayslake North a little more than just any run-of-the-mill first-round game. It's a rivalry game between very familiar foes, and both student bodies are expected to be fully engaged and out in full force.
"If you ask kids at Lakes who their top rival is, they're not going to say Antioch, they'll say Grayslake North," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "These kids are growing up together, playing baseball, football and basketball together and then suddenly these friends are pitted against each other in high school.
"I think kids at Lakes really look forward to playing Grayslake North in everything. There's going to be a buzz at our school before this game. It's going to be a great atmosphere."
For at least the last decade, Grayslake North and Lakes have played each other in football in nonconference play, usually in the season opener. The ante in the rivalry got upped this year with Lakes and Grayslake North joining the new Northern Lake County Conference.
With this playoff game, Grayslake North gets the chance to even the score for this season. Lakes got a 31-14 conference win over Grayslake North in Week 3.
"We had a lot of penalties, we had opportunities to score and we didn't," Grayslake North coach Steve Wood said of the Week 3 loss to Lakes. "They just beat us, and we are very motivated."
Lakes was certainly motivated back in Week 3. The Eagles entered that game 0-2. Their win over Grayslake North may have turned around and saved their season.
"We were in a really tough situation going into the Grayslake North game," Mertens said. "I think a lot of people had written us off. That was a huge win for us, not only for the rivalry, but it was like starting over for us. You go 0-3 and you are in trouble."
Super sophomores: Lakes should be in good shape for the next couple years.
Four key starters for the Eagles are sophomores: defensive back Dylan Keilwitz, linebacker Dylan DeAngelo, wide receiver/defensive back Brad Cherry and wide receiver D'Lo Hardy.
"That's the most sophomores to start for us in one year in the history of our program," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "It's unique for us, but they've all done really well for us. All four of them kept getting better through the year.
"I always prefer to play older kids because of their experience. But those sophomores deserve it. They've played older than they are and they were able to handle the excitement of Friday night lights. Playing varsity as a sophomore in any sport isn't easy physically or socially. Kudos to those kids that they were able to make that adaptation work."
Record-setter: At halftime of last week's battle for the Northern Lake County Conference title, Antioch led Grayslake North 3-0 on a Ben Gutke field goal.
But Gutke's field goal wasn't just any field goal. It was a 48-yarder that set a school record.
"That's a personal long for me and it was such a great feeling," Gutke said. "I finally got the chance and I'm glad it went through."
Good luck charm: Under his coaching shirt, Antioch coach Brian Glashagel always wears an undershirt.
Last week for his team's battle against Grayslake North for the Northern Lake County Conference title, Glashagel wore an extra special undershirt.
This one was from 2008, and it commemorated the Sequoits' last undefeated, conference championship season.
Antioch wound up defeating Grayslake North last week to go 9-0 on the season and win the NLCC title.
"Honestly, I didn't really set out to wear that shirt, but I was looking for an undershirt that morning and that one caught my eye," Glashagel said with a laugh. "I'm not really superstitious, but that was probably a good shirt to wear."
So will Glashagel continue to wear that shirt through the playoffs, since it might just be a lucky charm?
"I might have to," Glashagel said.
Playoff ready: Of the nine teams on Carmel's schedule, eight are in the IHSA state playoffs.
"There's probably no other team in the state that has played a schedule like that," Carmel coach Andy Bitto said.
Carmel had the second-most playoff points of the 52 teams that made the 256-team IHSA playoff field with a 5-4 record. The Corsairs finished with 53 playoff points.
"It prepares us (for the playoffs) to play really good teams like that," Bitto said. "I'm really proud of our kids because our schedule is a challenge. You just hope that experience gives us a chance at a decent (playoff) run."
The Carmel defense could do the same thing. Scoring hasn't always been easy for the Corsairs this season, so the defense has been counted on to make big plays and big stops. And that will go double in the playoffs.
"Our defense has been pretty good all season," Bitto said. "It's helped us a lot. If we keep a team under 17 points, we have a really good chance of winning."
Bitto says that lineman Jacob Sicco, linebacker Jake Cerwin and safety Joe Basara have been the leaders of the defense all season.
"Those three did a great job in the off-season working out," Bitto said. "They are in great shape and I think that helps you play with confidence. All three of those guys are also really smart. They just make smart plays for us. They are always in the right place at the right time making plays."
D-lightful: It's no accident that Vernon Hills had the best defense in the entire Central Suburban League.
The Cougars allowed a league-low 14.2 points per game, and allowed fewer than 10 points three times.
"We could see this coming," Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo said. "This group of seniors have been playing for titles since sixth graders. We brought 10 of them up (to varsity) as sophomores. We have nine guys back on defense from last year, and six of them are three-year starters."
Lineman Andrew Smith was named the defensive player of the year in the CSL North. He leads Vernon Hills in tackles with 107 on the season.
Drew Winegardner has also been a defensive standout. He has 6 interceptions on the season.
"We put Drew on the other team's best receiver and we don't worry about it again, then we have Andrew in the middle stopping the run," Bellecomo said. "It's a really good combination."
On the mend: Vernon Hills quarterback Kyle Hull will likely play against Urban Prep on Saturday, but he's been a question mark all week.
Hull took a helmet to the thigh last week against Highland Park and had to sit the entire fourth quarter.
"He was jogging lightly at practice," Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo said of Hull. "But he told me he was definitely playing on Saturday. He's tough like that.
"We just have to be careful with Kyle. One of his greatest assets is his legs and the way he runs. We're going to have to be careful with how much we run him."
In sickness and health: Something's been going around at Lake Zurich.
"I've never seen anything like this before," Lake Zurich coach Dave Proffitt said. "We've had so many kids sick this year. Just really ill. Not a 24-hour thing and they are back the next day. We've had kids miss two or three days of school because they are just so sick."
The bug has run through just about the entire team. And it's wreaked havoc on the Bears' starting lineup and rotation.
"I don't think we've started the same offensive line two weeks in a row," Proffitt said. "We are trying to get healthy and I think we are. But it's been tough this season with all the sickness."
That's handy: It's not easy to carry a football with a broken hand that is casted.
So Libertyville running back Jason Tse was certainly limited when he broke his hand in a Week 3 game against Warren. He did what he could for the five weeks that his cast was on.
Now, he's looking to make up for lost time. Tse got his cast off two weeks ago and is getting back into the swing of the offense. He is geared up for the playoffs.
"I think he is really ready to play," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "It will really help us to have him playing more."