By Dave Oberhelman and Kevin Schmit
Class 8A semifinals
No. 1 Loyola (12-0) at No. 20 Glenbard West (10-2)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Road to the semifinals: Loyola beat No. 32 O'Fallon 42-14, No. 16 Oswego East 22-3 and No. 24 Huntley 24-0. Glenbard West beat No. 13 Neuqua Valley 31-28, No. 4 Homewood-Flossmoor 28-21 and No. 12 Edwardsville 38-21.
Outlook: You couldn't ask for a better semifinal matchup as last year's Class 7A champion collides with the defending Class 8A champion Ramblers. Look at the playoff scores listed above and the showdown's key matchup is clear. Can Loyola's defense that's allowed only 17 playoff points, including just a field goal the last two weeks, stand up against a Hilltoppers offense that tagged Homewood-Flossmoor and Edwardsville with 66 points? While the running tandem of Ryan Diver and Dre Thomas has been consistent all season, it's the passing of Cole Brady to 6-foot-4 Alec Pierce -- averaging nearly 30 yards a catch -- and 6-5 Alex Pihlstrom that's taken the unit to another level. The biggest mystery surrounding this game is Loyola's quarterback situation. Starter Tommy Herion's health status is up in the air, and the Ramblers' backup missed last week's game with mononucleosis. They might lean on Duke-bound tight end Jake Marwede, a former quarterback, behind center. Glenbard West continues to endure its own injury issues on defense, but the two steady standouts have been lineman Dionte Moorehead and linebacker Mark Mattson. Jackson Goleash's ability to shift between safety and linebacker has been critical.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 26 Maine South and No. 3 Palatine in the Class 8A championship game in Champaign.
Class 7A semifinals
No. 2 East St. Louis (12-0) at No. 11 Benet (10-2)
Game time: 2 p.m. Saturday at Benedictine University in Lisle.
Road to the semifinals: East St. Louis beat No. 31 Lincoln-Way West 44-7, No. 15 Glenbard North 34-28 and No. 23 Willowbrook 60-27. Benet beat No. 22 Hoffman Estates 29-23, No. 6 Normal Community 38-14 and No. 3 Rolling Meadows 15-8.
Outlook: This is the second straight week the Flyers are making the long trek from southern Illinois but, considering their playoff experience as a seven-time state champion, it's unlikely to affect them. Behind a big offensive line, Missouri-bound Flyers quarterback Reyondous Estes has a bunch of talent to work with headed by electric receiver Jeff Thomas, who's mulling numerous college offers. The running back tandem of Jarrell Anderson and Jigg Brown is also dangerous. Between Brett Kerger up front and ballhawks Ben Cooney and Danny O'Malley in the secondary, the Redwings have the defensive talent to match the Flyers. Benet, though, needs to have its offense at peak form in case the point total starts rising. The Flyers have allowed more than 500 passing yards the last two weeks, offering an opportunity for Benet quarterback Jack Sznajder, who last week threw for 235 yards to seven receivers. Handling the Flyers' quarterback pressure is a huge issue, especially when they bring blitzes with linebacker Terrion Williams and others. But after surrendering 10 sacks in a loss to Marist, the Redwings have made key adjustments that'll come in handy five weeks later.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 16 Plainfield North and No. 4 Fenwick in the Class 7A championship game in Champaign.
Class 3A semifinals
No. 1 IC Catholic Prep (12-0) at No. 6 Monticello (12-0)
Game time: 3 p.m. Saturday.
Road to the semifinals: IC Catholic beat No. 16 St. Joseph-Ogden 49-8, No. 8 Paxton-Buckley-Loda 65-0 and No. 4 Wilmington 48-14. Monticello beat No. 11 Clark 49-8, No. 3 Westville 41-14 and No. 2 Farmington 48-17.
Outlook: A debut meeting of highflying offense against stout defense. ICCP allows 7.3 points a game but only 22 in the last six. Monticello quarterback Caleb Hanson will be throwing into a primed Knights secondary of Jordan Rowell, Lazerick Eatman, Matt Sutton and Khalil Saunders. An ICCP goal is to force the run, where Monticello is not as adept. If there was a snag in ICCP's offense last week it was 6-of-15 passing, but quarterback Luke Ricobene made up for it, running for 200 yards, 2 touchdowns on 8 carries. Rowell is at 1,723 yards rushing, 30 touchdowns, averaging 14 yards a pop. Monticello, which beat common foe St. Joe-Ogden 44-22, won an Okaw Valley Conference that produced three quarterfinalists. A senior leading a one-back spread, Hanson is 193-of-275 passing for 3,109 yards, 37 touchdowns, 6 interceptions. He trails only 969-yard tailback Lucas Lieb in rushing. Nathan Graham and 6-3 Isiah Florey combine for 121 catches for 2,130 yards, 31 touchdowns. The Sages' defense has picked off 23 passes led by safety Alek Bundy with 6. The goal, coach Cullen Welter said, is to seize momentum by eliminating the big play. Monticello would be the first team to do that against IC Catholic Prep.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 4 Carlinville and No. 3 North Mac in the Class 3A championship game in Champaign.