Daily Herald's 2017 Season Coverage
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updated: 11/8/2016 7:57 PM

DuPage County's final four aiming for the Final Four

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  • Video: Eyes on Five column preview

  • Willowbrook's Chris Diaz (21) runs the ball during the Glenbrook North at Willowbrook football, second-round playoff game Saturday.

      Willowbrook's Chris Diaz (21) runs the ball during the Glenbrook North at Willowbrook football, second-round playoff game Saturday.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer


Two games into the football playoffs and we're seeing the cream rise to the top.

At least that's the developing case for DuPage County's four remaining teams.

As Benet, Glenbard West, IC Catholic Prep and Willowbrook dive into their respective quarterfinal games, this week's Eyes on Five column looks at the quest for a berth into the semifinals.

1. Top of the Hill:

Glenbard West's second foray into the Class 8A bracket -- the first ended in a 2014 run to the semifinals -- came with some baggage. The Hilltoppers (9-2) had to overcome a pair of key injuries and uncharacteristically lost two regular-season games that forced them into an underdog role as a 20th seed.

But with victories over No. 13 Neuqua Valley and previously unbeaten fourth seed Homewood-Flossmoor, the smallest school in 8A is now the last DuPage County team standing in the largest football class. The next step is a four-and-a-half hour trip to No. 12 Edwardsville, with a win guaranteeing a home game for the semifinals.

As tough as a semifinal game would be against either defending 8A champion Loyola (11-0) or Huntley, the Hilltoppers gladly would take their chances at Glen Ellyn's Duchon Field. Some of their toughest losses have come on that field but also many of their biggest victories.

If the Hilltoppers survive this weekend's business trip, they'll be a serious threat to win another state title.

2. Fast train:

No playoff team has been more dominant than IC Catholic Prep, which is trying to win its third state title in its first unbeaten season. Behind the explosive offensive tandem of running back Jordan Rowell --1,515 rushing yards, 515 receiving -- and quarterback Luke Ricobene -- 2,022 passing yards, 431 rushing -- no one's come close to the Knights through 11 games.

They've averaged 53 points while winning by an average of 46 points, and they've racked up seven shutouts including four in their last five games. IC Catholic Prep appears unstoppable in the Class 3A field.

The true test might come on Saturday when the Knights welcome fellow unbeaten Wilmington, the 2014 Class 3A state champion, to Elmhurst. Beat the Wildcats and another unbeaten team awaits in the semifinals with either Monticello or Farmington.

If Wilmington fails to slow the IC Catholic machine, there may be no stopping the Knights.

3. Kudos:

Top-notch individual efforts filled last week's second round, but DuPage County's best quarterfinal-clinching performance had to be Willowbrook's entire team. For the 23rd-seeded Warriors (8-3), who have knocked off the No. 10 and No. 7 seeds in Class 7A, it's been all about momentum.

It started in the opening round when Willowbrook scored 28 fourth-quarter points to storm past Quincy 34-13. Last week the Warriors scored on their first six possessions while bursting to a 42-7 first-half lead. Beating Glenbrook North 49-21, the Warriors piled up nearly 600 total yards of offense.

Next up in the quarterfinals is unbeaten East St. Louis, the second seed in Class 7A. It's a daunting challenge, but Glenbard North provided some hope last week by coming within 32-28 of the Flyers.

Regardless, the Warriors will be a massive underdog Saturday in Villa Park.

4. Shame on them:

Shame on the Big Ten for its recent decision to play six Friday night football games next fall. Despite the massive amount of attention and revenue the league already generates each season, the powers that be decided they need even more attention and revenue by stomping on the grounds occupied by high school football.

Shortsighted and selfish, the Big Ten is allowing greed to dictate decision making. Instead of fostering its "farm system" of prep football, the league decided to punish the very schools feeding its football machines by adding Friday night to its schedule.

Out of respect for prep football's rightful place on Friday night, Big Ten coaches like Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald came out publicly against the decision. The move, however, came from way beyond the coaching level.

It comes from a level that doesn't give a thought to where Big Ten talent comes from year after year. There are 27 DuPage County athletes represented on 11 of the 14 Big Ten football rosters.

For the sake of the area's many future Big Ten football players, the league needs to leave Friday nights alone.

5. Stat time:

Of the four DuPage County teams that advanced to the quarterfinals, only one -- Glenbard West -- did so by a margin of a single score. And even the Hilltoppers were ahead by 2 touchdowns until Homewood-Flossmoor scored with under 20 seconds to play.

Benet, IC Catholic Prep and Willowbrook won their games by a combined margin of 152-35, or an average of 51-12. It's remarkable dominance for any round after the first, when blowouts are inevitable.

Each of the three teams face unbeaten quarterfinal opponents, though, so don't expect those margins to continue.

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