BELVIDERE -- When Jimmy Burks was growing up in Hoffman Estates, he did not think that there was a particularly bright future for Hawks football.
"As a little kid, I never thought Hoffman would make it to the playoffs, let alone win any games," Burks said. "We were 0-9, 0-9, 1-8. Now we are one game away from going to state."
Indeed, Hoffman Estates has turned things around completely. The Hawks added to that narrative by advancing to the state semifinals for the first time in school history after belting host Belvidere North 35-10 on Saturday in the Class 6A quarterfinals.
The Hawks (10-2), who tied a school record for wins in a season, next face the biggest test of the year in the semifinals. Hoffman Estates, which was seeded No. 8 in the North region, will host top-seeded Prairie Ridge for the opportunity to play in the state title game. Prairie Ridge (12-0) rolled on by beating Willowbrook 42-7.
Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse says his team and his school are ready for the challenge.
"This is going to be a fun week," Heyse said. "And we are not done. The kids aren't satisfied. They have talked about it since last year when we lost to a Benet in the playoffs. They don't want to see their brothers crying."
On Saturday, a stern Hoffman Estates defense had Belvidere North (8-4) in tears. With Burks and linebacking mate Jaylan Alexander taking the dive play away from the Blue Thunder's triple option offense, Belvidere North never really got its offense going.
"We play as one unit," said Alexander, who along with Brandon Sheppard, Femi Oginni, Ryan Edwards, Shawn Brown and Ben Cotton bottled up the Blue Thunder. "That's something we emphasize at Hoffman. We play together as a brotherhood. When you play an offense like this you have to be disciplined. And that's what we came out here to do."
The Hoffman Estates defense set the tone early, forcing Belvidere to go three-and-out on its first possession.
Hoffman's offense went right to work after a short punt. The Hawks went 36 yards on 7 plays, with Alexander scoring on a 2-yard run to make it 7-0.
The defense made another statement on the Blue Thunder's next possession. Brown drilled a Belvidere running back, forcing a fumble, and Oginni recovered for the Hawks at midfield.
With Jayvon Johnson running behind the offensive line of Javi Hurtado, Edwards, Bailey Hurd, Sheppard and Dan Kim, the Hawks again marched down the field. Johnson scored on a 1-yard burst and suddenly it was 14-0 Hoffman.
"I have to give all the credit to the O-line," said Johnson, who gained 92 yards on 14 carries. "We practiced trapping them all week and the guys up front did a good job for me."
Heyse said it was important for his team to get a lead early.
"We figured if we could get points on the board early, that they would have to find ways to get extra possessions," Heyse said. "We didn't run much offense tonight. But when we did, we did a good job with it."
It became 21-0 early in the second quarter thanks to a key pass from Austin Coalson to Will Nune that covered 45 yards. Nune fumbled the ball on the play but the Hawks' Jayvon Blissett picked it up and took it another 8 yards. Coalson scored on a 9-yard run and the Hawks were flying.
"This is the stuff we dreamed of," said Coalson, who finished 8-of-14 passing for 133 yards. "It's great seeing everyone come together and make plays and keep winning. It is amazing. It really is."
Belvidere North kicked a field goal on the last play of the first half. And with Blue Thunder forced to kickoff the second half, Hoffman Estates expected some trickery.
The Hawks sent Max Lock up to the front line on the kickoff to become the sixth player there in the event of an onside kick. The strategy locked up the game for the Hawks.
Belvidere did attempt an onside kick. And after the ball bounced twice and took a huge hop, Lock snagged it after 8 yards on a full run. The sophomore didn't stop until he was in the Blue Thunder end zone, giving Hoffman a 28-3 lead.
"We knew they were going to try the onside kick so they brought me up to make the play," Lock said. "Coach (Jeff) Mandel helped me prepare for it. He told me to get the ball before it crossed that yard. I got a little head start and took it in."
Belvidere finally was able to mount a scoring drive, taking nearly six minutes to do so. That cut the lead to 28-10 with 6:01 left in the third quarter.
Coalson and Hoffman put the game away for good early in the fourth quarter when Coalson connected on 4-yard slant pass to Blissett for a touchdown.
"We talk about the top five plays each week that teams run," Heyse said. "If we stop their top five plays, we are going to be in good shape. And the kids have pretty much done that this year."