By Dave Oberhelman
Scouting the Class 3A football championship game
No. 1 IC Catholic Prep (13-0) vs. No. 4 Carlinville (12-1)
Game time: 4 p.m. Friday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Road to the championship: IC Catholic, the No. 1 seed in the northern half of the 3A bracket, beat No. 16 St. Joseph-Ogden 49-8, No. 8 Paxton-Buckley-Loda 65-0, No. 4 Wilmington 48-14 and No. 6 Monticello 48-6. Carlinville, the No. 4 seed from the southern half, beat No. 13 East Alton-Wood River 76-19, No. 5 Williamsville 42-35, No. 1 Newton 32-21 and No. 3 North Mac 27-21.
Playoff history: IC Catholic is 26-15 in 18 playoff appearances including its second straight. The Knights won the 2002 Class 3A title and also the 2008 Class 2A title. They lost in the 2015 semifinals and also in the 1974 semifinals, the first year of the state series, each time to the eventual state champion. Carlinville, enjoying its 10th straight playoff berth, is 27-30 in 31 appearances also dating back to 1974. The Cavaliers were the 1978 Class 2A runner-up and also placed second in 1993. This is the first time since 2001 that Carlinville has advanced past the second round of the playoffs.
Coaches: IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft owns a 41-15 record in five seasons. A 2003 graduate of the school, he was a co-captain and an all-state two-way lineman on the Knights' 2002 state championship team and assisted head coach Bill Schmidt on the 2008 titlist. Carlinville coach Chad Easterday is 71-27 over nine seasons. Easterday's son, Jarret, is the Cavaliers' backup quarterback. Chad himself is a coach's son, a 1992 Nokomis graduate who played for his father, Dan.
IC Catholic Carlinville
Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Luke Ricobene 6-0 163 Jr. QB Adam Walton 6-3 180 Sr.
Jordan Rowell 6-2 195 Sr. RB Jacob Dixon 6-0 175 Sr.
Matt Sutton 5-8 165 Sr. WR/RB Dylan Chism 5-8 170 Sr.
Khalil Saunders 5-11 190 So. WR Brady Jamieson 6-4 190 Sr.
Brendan Russ 6-2 185 Sr. WR Konnor Emmons 6-1 180 Sr.
Khali Saunders 6-3 195 So. WR/TE Brady Egelhoff 6-0 185 Sr.
Ricky Mysliwiec 6-6 215 Jr. LT Gabe Long 6-2 280 Jr.
Kemon Reese 5-10 190 So. LG Daniel Card 6-0 250 Jr.
Robert Vitek 6-4 220 Sr. C Jake Hannig 5-11 200 Sr.
Dylan Packer 6-0 200 So. RG Nate Thompson 6-2 295 Sr.
Jimmy Kenneally 6-1 235 Sr. RT Ryan Bowman 5-9 190 Sr.
Sam Buffo 5-11 160 Sr. K Hayden Thompson 5-9 150 Sr.
IC Catholic Carlinville
Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Robert Vitek 6-4 220 Sr. DE Jake Hannig 5-11 200 Sr.
Chuck Hipskind 6-1 175 Sr. DT Zach Simons 5-11 200 Sr.
Ricky Mysliwiec 6-6 215 Jr. DT Nate Thompson 6-2 295 Sr.
Jimmy Kenneally 6-1 235 Sr. DE Brady Egelhoff 6-0 185 Sr.
Kemon Reese 5-10 190 So. LB/NG Max Rogers 5-10 160 Jr.
Chris Johnson 6-1 210 Sr. LB Dylan Chism 5-8 170 Sr.
Khali Saunders 6-3 195 So. LB Killan Mitchell 6-1 175 Sr.
Matt Sutton 5-8 165 Sr. DB Kyle Dixon 5-11 150 So.
Khalil Saunders 5-11 190 So. DB Jacob Dixon 6-0 175 Sr.
Jordan Rowell 6-2 195 Sr. DB Donovan King 5-9 175 Jr.
Lazerick Eatman 5-10 165 Jr. DB Josh Hinzman 6-0 150 Jr.
Luke Ricobene 6-0 163 Jr. P Adam Walton 6-3 180 Sr.
When IC Catholic has the ball: The 1-back, read-option Knights are the 10th highest-scoring team in state history at 678 points, averaging 52. They force foes to pick their poison between two-time all-stater Rowell, who has sprinted for 2,025 yards, 34 touchdowns and ranks eighth all-time in rushing; and all-stater Ricobene, who has run for 646 yards, 11 touchdowns, and thrown for 2,247 yards, 27 touchdowns. Limiting Rowell is key, but when Riverside-Brookfield did that Ricobene threw for a season-high 342 yards, 5 touchdowns. Russ and the Saunders twins have had their moments, but Sutton leads IC with 532 yards receiving, 7 touchdowns. Along with the continued ability of sophomores to rotate in on the line alongside high-IQ seniors Kenneally and Vitek, the surging Eatman is a great story and shows a different, shifty style. He ran for 160 yards against Monticello, nearly sharing the load with Rowell. On the other side, Carlinville's brain trust felt it needed to improve defensively. It shifted to a 5-man front from a 4-man. With an ace front 7 headed by three-year starter Chism, by far the Cavaliers tackles leader at 149, the experienced unit halved its points allowed to 14.5 on average. He's not listed as a starter but senior defensive end Ryan Kleeman's 11 sacks trail only Egelhoff's 12. Kyle Dixon has a team-high 5 interceptions while Hinzman has batted down 13 passes. The defensive goal, Easterday said, is to limit explosive plays and make Ricobene indecisive with his reads.
When Carlinville has the ball: The Caveliers average 44 points behind their own all-state tailback, Jacob Dixon. Running for 328 yards against East Alton-Wood River, 315 against Newton, Dixon's 2,998 yards this season on 329 carries ranks seventh in IHSA history, his 45 touchdown runs tied for third. Still a nearly 2-to-1 rushing edge, Carlinville quarterback Walton hits the play-action passes for 1,660 yards, 17 touchdowns, 5 interceptions. Emmons and Blake Richardson are more possession types but Jamieson is a potential game-breaker with 40 catches for 688 yards, 9 touchdowns. A little bigger up front than IC Catholic, Carlinville's all-returning offensive line has enabled expanded offensive schemes. Knights coach Krefft described the Cavaliers' offense as a similar read-option scheme that depends on the defensive ends' actions. That's not bad when Jimmy Kenneally is a defensive end. The physical senior leads ICCP in sacks a second straight year and the whole 4-man front -- also rotating fresh legs -- has enabled Reese and Johnson to make 136 and 135 tackles, respectively. Safeties Matt Jordan and Khalil Saunders and cornerback Rowell each have 3 interceptions. Last week Rowell and Eatman held two receivers who'd combined for more than 2,000 yards to 6 catches for 41 yards. ICCP's defense is as solid as its offense, allowing 7.2 points a game, its 94 points second in the finals to Forreston's 68. Getting off the field on third down is Krefft's emphasis.
Intangibles: The way IC Catholic has cakewalked actually applies pressure on the Knights to finish the job. Carlinville handily beat East Alton-Wood River and edged Williamsville in an even match, but was at least a slight underdog in the next two games and might welcome that scenario again Friday. However, IC Catholic has taken a focused, day-by-day approach and fields a coaching staff that brings a wealth of championship experience from IC, Driscoll Catholic and Glenbard West. The Knights won't get too high or too low. After 13 games both teams are, surprisingly, equal in turnover ratio, each an outstanding plus-29; IC is listed with only 1 lost fumble, an area in which Carlinville has thrived with 26 recoveries.
-- Dave Oberhelman