Taking on the defending state champion is a tough enough assignment.
But on Saturday night, in Class 8A second-round playoff action, Warren was also faced with another tall task: trying to stop the all-time leading rusher for a Maine South program that not only won last year's state championship but has been a state champion six times since 1995, and a state runner-up three times.
Maine South has been the gold standard of Class 8A teams for the last two decades. For Fotis Kokosioulis, a Northern Illinois recruit, to be the program's all-time leading rusher with more than 3,500 yards, is quite a statement about him and his place among plenty of Maine South greats.
And speaking of statements, he made quite a few against Warren. Kokosioulis certainly looked like a history-making running back as he rolled up 204 yards on 22 carries and scored 4 touchdowns to lead Maine South to a 47-13 victory over Warren.
The 10-1 Hawks, the fifth seed in Class 8A, clung to a 17-13 lead at halftime, but flexed their muscles all throughout the second half, pouring on 30 unanswered points, including 3 touchdowns by Kokosioulis. Maine South will face No. 13 Naperville Central (9-2) in the quarterfinals next weekend.
No. 21 Warren closes the season with a 7-4 record.
"Through the second half, we just kept pounding and pounding and pounding and our line did a great job," said Kokosioulis, who has been starting since his sophomore year. "I don't know if there is pressure on us (to repeat), and we don't really focus on that. We just focus on us. If we can do what we know we can do, get our line blocking and our quarterback throwing, we can't be stopped.
"This program has so much culture and tradition. We know we are Maine South and we know we can pull through because we have done that many times in the past."
Maine South had some work to do in the second half in order to uphold that tradition of pulling through.
Warren gave the Hawks everything they could handle early.
The Blue Devils, down 10-0 early in the second quarter, got on the board with 7:33 left in the second quarter when quarterback Ian Schilling ran in a touchdown from 3 yards out. Then they forced and recovered a Maine South fumble on the ensuing kickoff and got a 33-yard field goal by Adan Saul to tie the game at 10 with 4:14 before halftime.
Kokosioulis responded on Maine South's next possession by scoring his first touchdown, a 16-yard run. But Warren answered again with another field goal (22 yards) by Saul. That made the halftime score 17-13, Maine South.
"We executed in the first half," said Schilling, who completed 11-of-22 passes for 178 yards. "We thought we were ready for the second half, we were hyped up for it, but we didn't score right away and we kind of just fell down from there."
Maine South, on the other hand, did score right away, and scored on their first two possessions of the second half to go up 31-13 by the end of the third quarter. Both touchdowns came on runs from Kokosioulis (5 yards, 9 yards).
"Fotis is just a special kid," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "He's so physical and tough for his size. He gets the extra yards.
"You've got to cover him, and we can pass too. That makes our offense pretty tough."
Maine South quarterback John O'Sullivan rolled up 151 passing yards and threw a 45-yard touchdown to Cam Stacy (5 catches, 99 yards) but was without his top receiver Rory Hayes, who fell sick just hours before game time.
Warren wasn't able to get much out of its leading receiver either. Notre Dame-bound Micah Jones was double-teamed on every play. Inserra said it was a priority to take Jones out of the game for Warren.
Jones caught just 2 passes for 11 yards, both in the fourth quarter, long after the outcome had been decided.
Warren's leading receiver was Ryan Short, who caught 5 passes for 103 yards.
"They did a great job with Micah," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said of the Maine South defense. "We needed to make some plays with some other kids. But (Maine South) also defended our run really well, too."
Warren lead running back Martin Walker Jr. finished with 90 yards on 19 carries.
Walker is one of many underclassmen who will be back next year for Warren, which also started seven sophomores this season.
"We had some great senior leaders this year and I think they changed the course of the program in the long run," McNulty said. "We were so young. We won't be able to replace our seniors, but we've got a great culture now and we've got some nice young kids coming back. I think the program is on the rise."