Is it the impossible dream or does host St. Charles East have a realistic shot to upset top seed Lincoln-Way East on Saturday?
The undefeated Griffins enter Saturday's Class 8A second-round playoff game at Norris Stadium as the favorite for good reason. Not only are they ranked No. 1 in Class 8A, according to the final regular-season Illinois Associated Press poll, they are No. 21 in the nation, according to USA Today's Super 25 computer rankings. Lincoln-Way East is the only Illinois team ranked.
The forecast calls for showers Saturday afternoon. Can the Saints run their triple-option offense on a wet, grass field efficiently enough to offset the speed and physicality of the Lincoln-Way East defense in this playoff matinee?
"First and foremost, they are really good," Saints coach Bryce Farquhar said. "It might be the best team I've seen in years. But great games build great programs. You have to be able to play these great games in order to move your program forward. Our kids, our coaches, the entire program is excited for this opportunity."
The Griffins average 36 points per game but their defense rightly gets more attention. That unit has limited 10 opponents to 8.9 ppg.
It's a talented, physical defense led by senior end Devin O'Rourke (6-foot-6, 250 pounds), rated the No. 1 senior in Illinois, according to some scouting services. O'Rourke is the jewel of Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald's recruiting class. He anchors a stout defensive line that unit includes Dylan Shelton (6-1, 210), Ben Ravetto (6-2, 210) and Jaden Hacha (6-0, 250).
Along with linebackers Declan Carr (6-0, 180), John Christensen (5-9, 200) and Gus Christensen (5-5, 160), it's a front seven that tends to overwhelm opposing offenses. Check out their resume.
- • Lincoln-Way East defeated Crete-Monee in the season opener 27-7. Crete-Monee (8-2) went on to average 47.7 ppg over its next 9 games.
• The Griffins avenged last year's quarterfinal loss to eventual 8A champion Maine South with a 28-26 win in Park Ridge in Week 2. It was the only game this season in which an opponent scored more than 14 points.
• In a 27-9 win over Homewood-Flossmoor (9-1), they limited NIU-bound running back Justin Hall to 8 yards on 14 carries and held the Vikings under 200 total yards. H-F otherwise averaged 42.7 ppg.
• They defeated Lockport (2-7) by 39 points, in part by holding the Porters to minus-14 rushing yards.
Both teams own 19-3 records over the last two seasons. The Saints respect the Griffins but welcome the challenge.
"Obviously, they have some talented kids but so do we," Farquhar said. "I really like the squad we have. I like our competitive nature. We might not be 300 pounds across both lines, but our kids are excited to go out and compete with a top-25 nationally ranked team."
St. Charles East counters offensively with senior quarterback Clayton Isbell (6-3, 205), junior fullback Justin Jett and speedy ball carriers Ronan Macaluso and Nick Garlisch, the latter of whom left last week's 24-14 win at Oswego East due to injury but is expected to play Saturday, his coach said.
Jett is the workhorse. In his second varsity season the junior has carried 187 times for 1,276 yards (6.8 avg.) and 18 touchdowns, all team highs. He is coming off a 185-yard rushing performance against Oswego East.
Isbell was slowed by a midseason high-ankle sprain but has rushed for 650 yards and 8 touchdowns in 76 attempts (8.6 avg.). Garlisch, a two-way player, has 339 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns while Macaluso has added 167 yards and 3 scores.
Can the triple-option offense be the equalizer against the Griffins?
"I think it gives you a really good chance against what they do," said Farquhar. "We haven't had a game in two years that has been decided by more than 8 points. That's the most we've been beaten by so our kids aren't really afraid of anything."
Trojans, Wolves ready for rematch: Like St. Charles East, Cary-Grove gets the opportunity to play the top seed in its class on home turf Saturday.
Cary-Grove (7-3) hosts defending Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge (10-0) at Al Bohrer Field at 1 p.m.
It's a rematch of a terrific season opener played between these neighboring District 155 rivals. The Wolves won that game 7-6 in Crystal Lake on Aug. 25.
This is the last time the Trojans will face Iowa-bound quarterback Samson Evans, against whom they are 1-2. Cary-Grove's defense limited Evans to 104 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Aug. 25 meeting.
Overall this season, Evans has rushed for 1,300 yards and 26 touchdowns in 138 attempts (9.4 avg.), much of it by running behind future Iowa teammate Jeff Jenkins (6-foot-4, 275 pounds). Evans has thrown for 625 yards and 7 touchdowns without an interception on 20-of-40 passing.
"He's such a great player," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "You can tell he's a leader. You can tell that the guys on his team believe in him. He's a great competitor. He has another gear that you can just see and he runs like few if any quarterbacks I've seen around here. He has the ability to run over a guy and break away from everybody. We can have guys in the right spot and have them exactly where we want them but he's the X Factor. He can make guys miss or run over guys and take it to the house. He's a really, really, really special player."