No. 5 IC Catholic Prep (11-1) at No. 3 Byron (12-0)
Game time: 2 p.m. Saturday.
Road to the semifinals: IC Catholic beat No. 12 Watseka 55-6, No. 4 Peotone 29-16 and No. 8 Wilmington 46-21. Byron beat No. 14 Eureka 28-7, No. 6 Monticello 21-20 and No. 2 Williamsville 13-0.
Outlook: These two teams have met once in the playoffs when as Immaculate Conception the Knights beat Byron 35-27 in a 2010 Class 3A first-round game. Based on the schemes they've faced this run it'll be much the same for defending champion IC Catholic and a little bit the same for Byron, too.
In Peotone -- which hosted the Knights on a grass field as will Byron -- Wilmington and now the Tigers, ICCP faces heavily run-based single- or double-wing offenses, Byron at better than an 8-to-1 ratio. Both Peotone and Wilmington owned time of possession early, but as Knights coach Bill Krefft said after beating Wilmington in a second straight quarterfinal, ball control doesn't matter much when the defense can't stop ICCP from scoring.
No one has stopped ICCP running back Lazerick Eatman from scoring. The senior has run for 1,232 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 9.3 yards a carry. Darting through the line or showcasing perimeter shiftiness -- where he's earned 9 touchdowns and 454 yards receiving, 30 yards a catch -- Eatman has confounded opponents' concerted efforts to even contain him.
An injury to Liam Hipskind at Peotone (he's a game-time decision) took some sting out of the Knights' downfield passing game, but quarterback C.J. West still has the talented trio of brothers Khalil and Khali Saunders and Jacob Lytton to target, on top of swing and bubble passes to Eatman. Against Wilmington West threw touchdown passes to Khali Saunders and Lytton. The former third-string quarterback rarely makes mistakes, with 24 touchdown passes to 3 interceptions and a 63 completion percentage.
On the other hand Byron -- which won the 1999 3A title under legendary coach Everett Stine, father of Naperville Central coach Mike Stine -- blanked a Williamsville team whose quarterback and top receiver both set program single-season yardage records, per The State Journal-Register. The Tigers' 4-4 base defense bent but did not break. Linebacker and top tackler Michael Criscione recovered a fumble near the goal line and defensive backs Tanner Klein and Mason Snodgrass combined for 3 interceptions, Snodgrass' 2 for a team-high 7 picks. The Tigers' scoring margin of 508-149 is in the same ballpark as IC Catholic's 590-134.
Offensively, Byron coach Jeff Boyer said quarterback Pauly Rico has thrown well when needed. Rico has completed 23 of 48 passes for 539 yards and 9 touchdowns, with tight end Hayden Jancek and running back Nolan Bielskis his top targets -- 8 and 7 receptions respectively. But the bread and butter is a double-tight end, double-wing ground game that's amassed 4,660 yards rushing. Bielskis leads the way with 1,492 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 yards a carry, followed by Criscione at 999 yards and Ricky Messling with 978 yards and 19 touchdowns, including both Tigers scores last week.
Krefft is very impressed by how Byron's offense line, headed by guards Raymond Corkran and Gunnar McCoy and averaging 256 pounds tackle to tackle, get off the ball. Still, ICCP linebackers Kevin Cooke and Kemon Reese have combined for 228 tackles behind the stellar defensive line of Ricky Mysliwiec, Michael Johnson, Jack Enright and, especially in the playoffs, nose tackle Koby Reed.
Advancement: The winner advances to the Class 3A championship game against the winner between No. 16 Pleasant Plains and No. 3 Anna-Jonesboro.