No. 27 Lockport (6-3) at No. 6 St. Charles East (9-0)When: 7 p.m. Friday at Norris Stadium
Outlook: Upstate Eight River champion St. Charles East makes its playoff return after a two-year hiatus. Lockport makes its first postseason appearance since 2011. The Porters are one of seven teams from the 13-member Southwest Suburban Conference to make the 256-team field. They finished fifth in the SSC and defeated four playoff teams, including a sweep of the three playoff-bound Lincoln-Way schools. The Porters run a balanced spread offense. Junior running back Tavares Moore has carried 197 times for 1,144 yards (5.8 avg.) and 8 touchdowns. He also has 12 catches for 197 yards and 3 scores. Senior quarterback Ben Davis has completed 93 of 175 passes for 1,138 yards and 12 touchdowns and has been intercepted 11 times. His top receivers are senior Patrick Cooper (36 rec., 483 yards, 4 TD) and junior Austin Hoffman (28-319-5). "They play in a great conference and they're a great football team," St. Charles East coach Bryce Farquhar said. "Their losses were against quality opponents. It's definitely going to be a challenge, especially looking at 8A; It's such a good bracket from top to bottom." These teams hosted a common opponent during the regular season: South Elgin (4-5). St. Charles East played the Storm in the season opener. The Saints held a 7-3 lead at the half and pulled away for a 39-9 win by outgaining South Elgin 271 yards to 161. Lockport defeated South Elgin 17-15 a week later but was outgained 400-297. Senior safety Eric Jungheim leads the Lockport defense with 39 solo tackles and 22 assists, 3 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and an interception. That unit will face a St. Charles East triple option offense that generates 273 of its 361 total yards per game via the rush. The Saints are led by quarterback Zach Mitchell, who has completed 41 of 80 passes for 793 yards and 11 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He has carried the ball 84 times for 493 yards (5.9 avg.) and 12 touchdowns. Sophomore fullback Justin Jett leads the Saints with 859 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 126 carries. "We're really comfortable with where we're at and the personnel we have," Farquhar said. "I don't think there are many teams that are going to run triple option in 8A, so it's something different they're going to have to prepare for in a week."
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 22 New Trier (7-2) vs. No. 11 Marist (8-1)
No. 26 Maine South (6-3) at No. 7 West Aurora (9-0)When: 7 p.m. Friday
Outlook: West Aurora completed an unbeaten run to the Upstate Eight Valley title but a win over a storied program like Maine South -- which has won five state titles since 1995 -- would cement its reputation as a Class 8A team on the rise as much as its 9 regular-season wins combined. The Hawks have won at least 7 games every year since 1991. "I'm just excited to be playing in a game like this and going up against a team like Maine South," West Aurora coach Nate Eimer said. "This is what we do this for. We're 9-0, we're at home and we get the opportunity to go out and compete against a great football program and show what kind of team we are." The Blackhawks' run-oriented offense has rushed for 3,275 of its 3,664 total yards. Senior DaVion Cross is the definition of explosive whether lined up at running back or quarterback in the wildcat formation. He is the team's leading rusher with 1,013 yards in only 64 attempts, good for a 15.8-yard per carry average. DaVion also has 2 punt return touchdowns. Twin brother DaQuan Cross is the program's second all-time leading rusher over a three-year span. He enters with 775 rushing yards on 76 carries (10.2 avg.). Each has 14 rushing touchdowns. Maine South's main weapon is quarterback Nick Leongas (5-11, 185). The senior has thrown for over 1,900 yards, rushed for better than 600 and had a hand in 26 touchdowns. Senior guard Kevin Jarvis (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) is committed to Michigan State. "They're a pretty good football team and we're a pretty good football team, so it should be pretty fun," Eimer said. "To beat us, a team will have to play really well for four quarters because we have a tough crew that has faced some tough spots and made big play after big play."
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 23 Leyden (7-2) vs. No. 10 Barrington (8-1)
No. 24 Huntley (6-3) at No. 9 Stevenson (8-1)When: Friday 7 p.m.
Outlook: Huntley is seeded 24th of 32 teams in a loaded Class 8A field, but its record includes losses to three state-ranked teams sporting a combined 26-1 record: Prairie Ridge (9-0), Cary-Grove (8-1) and West Aurora (9-0). Huntley's 27-21 loss to West Aurora could have gone either way. The Red Raiders have since won 3 straight, including a Week 9 victory over playoff-bound McHenry (6-3) they hope acts as a springboard. "We just have to play like we did last Friday," said first-year Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak, who when hired listed winning playoff games with frequency as a primary goal. "I was real happy with the four quarters we played last week. We just have to keep it going." Huntley in recent weeks has utilized a short passing game to great effect. If teams focus on elusive junior quarterback Eric Mooney -- who has rushed 104 times for 812 yards and 14 touchdowns and completed 83 of 142 passes for 1,164 yards and 10 touchdowns -- he can get rid of the ball quickly to a group of receivers led by senior Alec Coss (31 rec., 545 yards, 4 TD). Senior running back Carter Beaudette has 90 carries for 523 yards and 10 touchdowns. A Huntley offense that averages 35.2 points per game faces a Stevenson defense that limits opponents to 18.2 ppg. Offensively, the North Suburban Conference champion Patriots run a spread attack that scores 36 points per game. Quarterback Aidan O'Connell returned last week from a week off to riddle Warren for 282 yards (262 in the first half) and 4 touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing. Getting pressure on Stevenson's quarterback falls to Huntley senior ends Lere Oladipo (Illinois) and senior end Caleb Jones, the latter of whom has team highs in sacks (8) and tackles for loss (16). "Our line has been strong for us all year putting pressure on the quarterback and we've been pretty good against the run game lately," Zimolzak said. "As long as our defensive line plays well and puts pressure on the quarterback it will help our defensive backs do better."
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 25 Fremd (6-3) vs. No. 8 Brother Rice (8-1)
No. 24 Carmel (5-4) at No. 9 St. Charles North (8-1)When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Outlook: Dreaming of playoff success kept the North Stars motivated through February weightlifting sessions. After finishing second in the Upstate Eight River to rival St. Charles East, St. Charles North enters the playoffs buoyed by an invigorating win over Batavia, poised to exorcise the ghost of last year's 21-14 first-round loss at Benet Academy. "Obviously, last year was a disappointment losing to Benet in the first round," third-year North Stars coach Rob Pomazak said. "We felt like we had a really good ballclub last year so I think we're at the point now where (the players) want to make a run. They want to prepare each week and see how far they can take this thing. The mindset has never been stronger. They're coming off the biggest win in their high school career, beating Batavia at Batavia. We feel like we have a great football team and we still maybe don't get the respect that we deserve. We're looking to prove a point on Saturday." The St. Charles North defense is among the best in the area statistically, having limited opponents to 205 total yards and 8.6 points per game. That unit is led by senior end Trey Kellogg (14 sacks, 13 TFL) and senior linebackers Jack Wolf (8.2 tackles per game) and Chris Cotter (7.7). Offensively, North's dangerous attack is balanced. Senior quarterback Zach Mettetal has thrown for 1,777 yards and 21 touchdowns on 103-of-164 passing (62.8 percent), thanks to a line led by NIU-bound tackle Isaac Hawn (6-6, 292) and guard Sam Ambrogio (6-4, 280). Mettetal has been picked 7 times. Senior running back Eric Lins has 860 yards and 12 touchdowns on 105 carries (8.2 avg.). Carmel plays in the tough East Suburban Catholic Conference, which helps explain why the Corsairs made the playoffs despite averaging fewer points scored (18.8) than allowed (24.1). Carmel's 4 losses were against DeKalb (7-2), Marist (8-1), St. Viator (5-4) and Benet Academy (7-2). Coach Andy Bitto's triple-option veer offense is led by juniors Zaire Barnes (67 carries, 474 yards, 5 TD) and Myles Tramill (69-352-1).
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 25 St. Rita (5-4) at No. 8 Rockford Auburn (8-1)
No. 28 Jacobs (5-4) at No. 5 Lincoln Park (8-1)When: 3 p.m. Saturday at Lane Stadium
Outlook: The Golden Eagles seek their first playoff victory since 2006 and their first in six tries under seventh-year coach Bill Mitz. Jacobs draws a Chicago Public League team that won the Big Shoulders division. The Lions run the ball (238 carries for 2,042 yards) more than twice as often as they throw it (55 of 101, 948 yards). Tailback CJ Dale (6-0, 185) is Lincoln Park's primary offensive weapon. The senior has carried 129 times for 1,194 yards and 18 touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards in 6 of 9 games. "He's a really good running back. We can't let him get in the open," Mitz said. "He's their offense. He's the deal we have to stop. He runs back punts and kickoffs, too. They have a 6-foot-4 receiver (Terrence Shannon) and they'll play with three wides and no tight end. They'll run outside on sweeps and run iso and traps up the middle." Jacobs is a more balanced team since midseason when it returned to a run-oriented attack led by junior tackle Jimmy Wormsley (6-3, 280) and running back Loren Strickland (104 carries, 566 yards, 6 touchdowns). A run-focused offense that features three backs and two tight ends has had the intended effect of giving Bowling Green-bound quarterback Chris Katrenick more open receivers to target, his coach said. "Running it more effectively has opened up our play-action passing game," Mitz said. Katrenick has completed 124 of 249 passes for 1,805 yards and 15 touchdowns and has thrown 7 interceptions.
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 21 McHenry (6-3) vs. No. 12 Batavia (7-2)
No. 21 McHenry (6-3) at No. 12 Batavia (7-2)When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Bulldog Stadium
Outlook: Batavia hosts its first playoff game on its new synthetic surface. Neither team enters this matchup with momentum. The Bulldogs are coming off a 42-35 home loss to St. Charles North that dropped them to third place in the Upstate Eight River after five straight seasons atop the division. McHenry, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, last week was on the short end of a 44-14 blowout at Class 8A playoff participant Huntley. The Bulldogs have more playoff experience after making a quarterfinal appearance last season. They make their seventh straight postseason trip and 20th overall. The Batavia defense limits opponents to 20.9 points per game, led by junior safety Michael Niemiec (12.5 tackles per game), junior linebacker Andrew Heinz (68 tackles, 8.5 sacks), senior safety Connor Oroni (65 tackles, 4 sacks), sophomore linebacker Michael Jansey (62) and senior linebacker Johnny Walsh (62). Senior cornerback Luke Golson leads the Bulldogs in interceptions (2) and passes defended (3). Offensively, Batavia attacks with a huge offensive line that clears the way for junior running back Reggie Phillips (157 carries, 983 yards, 8 TD), senior fullback Dana Anderson (56-442-3) and senior Matthew Huzinga (32-337-8). Batavia uses two quarterbacks. Senior Ben Weerts has rushed for 381 yards and 8 touchdowns while junior Riley Cooper has completed 70 of 113 passes (62 percent) for 785 yards and 7 touchdowns. He has thrown 4 interceptions. McHenry's main offensive threat is junior Gio Purpura, who has rushed for over 900 yards. "Their running back is pretty special," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "They have some good size up front just like us. They have some receivers who will go get it and the quarterback has good size, good strength and he's a good runner. Defensively, they are very aggressive. They run a 3-5-3 and they mix up their coverages. And they blitz a lot. That can cause issues if you don't pick it up. They play in a very good conference (Fox Valley). They've had to deal with a high level of play, so there isn't anybody they'll face ever that's any better than their league."
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 28 Jacobs (5-4) at No. 5 Lincoln Park (8-1)
No. 14 Wheeling (5-4) at No. 3 Cary-Grove (8-1)When: 7 p.m. Friday at Al Bohrer Field
Outlook: The Trojans look to extend their remarkable string of 12 straight seasons with a first-round playoff victory. That stands in sharp contrast to Wheeling, which is in the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and the seventh time overall. In fact, Cary-Grove senior fullback/linebacker Tyler Pennington will be competing in the 12th playoff game of his four-year varsity career. Does such experience matter? "I think you bring into the game a level of confidence and knowing what to expect in a way that might play a little bit of an advantage," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "But sometimes there's an advantage to being naive and not knowing what to expect so we'll see." A Wheeling defense that holds opponents to 15.9 points per game must find a way to stop a Cary-Grove offense working at peak efficiency. Unlike last season when the Trojans entered the playoffs with an injured quarterback, they begin the 2016 playoff push healthy and poised for another deep run. Pennington leads a balanced offense that averages and 43 points and 401 total yards per game. He has rushed 93 times for 624 yards and 11 touchdowns, quarterback Bobby Collins has carried 61 times for 685 yards and 8 touchdowns and slot back Ryan Magel has 409 yards and 7 touchdowns in 36 attempts. Wheeling's offense revolves around senior quarterback Jalen Dennis, who threw 4 touchdown passes last week in a 40-7 win over Hersey. Dennis has completed 102 of 154 passes for 1,423 yards and 9 touchdowns. He has thrown 5 interceptions. A dual threat, he has carried the ball 179 times for 1,074 yards. "Their quarterback is really good," Seaburg said. "He directs the offense. He throws it well and they have some good athletes. Their offensive line blocks to the whistle and finishes blocks. They're a very talented team. They have a handful of guys playing both ways so we're hoping we can grind it out a little bit." The Cary-Grove defense yields but 10.8 points per game, the fourth-lowest total of the 32 Class 6A playoff teams.
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 11 Lakes (6-3) vs. No. 6 Grayslake North (7-2)
No. 10 Marmion (6-3) at No. 7 DeKalb (7-2)When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Outlook: Marmion is back in the playoffs after missing last year. Once again the Cadets face DeKalb, the team that knocked them out of the 2014 playoffs with a wild 21-20 victory. Marmion lost its quarterback to injury late in that game but scored anyway. After missing the extra point, the Cadets recovered the onside kick, completed a bomb and then missed the potential game-winning field goal. These Barbs are directed by 6-foot-1, 180-pound quarterback Derek Kyler, who runs a 4.68 40-yard dash. The senior has thrown for 1,427 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for 629 yards and 9 more scores, according to the DeKalb Chronicle. Kyler directs an offense that scores 38.4 points per game, which presents a test for a Marmion defense that limits opponents to 14.8 points per game and an area-best 192 total yards. The Marmion defense is led by NIU-bound senior nose guard Wes Kramer (10 sacks, team-high 34 tackles) and sophomore defensive end John Roche (26 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks).
"The key is we have to keep their offense off the field with long drives," Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said. "Last week (in a 25-23 loss to St. Rita) we had 3 turnovers and we missed 2 field goals. We can't do that in this game because each possession is so vital. We have to score. Field goals aren't going to win this game. It's not going to be a 14-13 game." The Barbs won two playoff games last year before bowing out against eventual state champion Montini. DeKalb has defeated four playoff teams. The Barbs blew out Carmel (5-4) and Sycamore (5-4), defeated Morris (7-2) by a touchdown and lost the season finale by a point to Sterling (9-0).
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 15 Wauconda (5-4) vs. No. 2 Antioch (9-0)
No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1)When: 7 p.m. Friday
Outlook: These Metro Suburban Conference members were in the same division until ACC switched to the MSC Red this year. Wheaton Academy defeated the Chargers in the 2015 regular-season finale 33-14. Both private schools have beaten opponents with larger student populations. Wheaton Academy knocked off Class 8A neighbor West Chicago in Week 1. Aurora Central Catholic has defeated Riverside-Brookfield, the No. 5 seed in Class 6A, and Glenbard South, seeded No. 11 in 5A. The Chargers are led by 1,000-yard rusher Ryan Cerza, senior quarterback Johnny Belskis and wide receiver/defensive back Griffin Zajac. The Warriors counter with quarterback Thorson, who has completed 98 of 203 passes for 1,484 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has thrown 6 interceptions. The Warriors will be hard-pressed to surprise the Chargers' old ball coach. John Belskis, an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association hall-of-famer whose teams at Downers Grove South made the playoffs in 22 of his 24 seasons, has seen it all. He enters with a 26-23 postseason record that includes a Class 8A state title in 2001 and a runner-up finish in 1993. "It comes down to who can execute and who can play better," Belskis said. "We're similar teams, though we're a little more run-oriented and they're a little more pass-oriented. It's a good first-round game. It's going to be a four-quarter game, no doubt."
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 13 Kewanee (6-3) vs. No. 4 Phillips (8-1)
No. 10. Westminster Christian (6-3) at No. 7 Stark County (6-3)When: 7 p.m. Friday at Wyoming
Outlook: Stark County is a playoff regular. The Rebels have reached the playoffs for the 21st straight season and 22nd time overall. They were the Class 1A state-runner up a year ago. Westminster Christian makes its second straight playoff appearance in its fourth season of varsity football, but this time the Elgin school competes with all its top players available. Last year, the Warriors entered the first playoff game in school history short-handed after quarterback Tannor Park broke his ankle late in the regular-season finale. The result was a 49-6 loss at Polo. Park is ready to go this time around. The senior has completed 59 of 104 passes for 1,108 yards and 16 touchdowns. He has been picked 6 times. Park's top target is four-year varsity receiver Scott Graziano, who has 26 catches for 668 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Warriors have rushed for 1,729 yards, led by senior Xavier Brown (45 carries, 504 yards, 5 TD), senior Spencer Feerer (53-366-6) and senior Jake Miller (26-223-4). The same trio leads the Warriors in tackles. Brown has 93, Miller 63 and Feerer 62. "I think we match up better against this team than we did against Polo last year," said Westminster Christian coach John Davis, who in four years has guided the program from inception to consecutive playoff berths. "They play a nice spread offense and we're used to playing against the spread so we have a general understanding of that concept. I think we're about as prepared as we can get. It's a privilege to be able to play a team that's coming off a state championship game appearance. We're going to give it a go. It's time to pull out our best plays and do our best."
Next: The winner faces the winner of No. 15 Luther North (5-4) vs. No. 2 Forreston (9-0)