By Dave Oberhelman
No. 5 IC Catholic Prep (12-1) vs. No. 16 Pleasant Plains (10-3)
Game time: 4 p.m. Friday at Huskie Stadium, DeKalb.
Scouting IC Catholic: Coming off a 2016 campaign in which the Knights went 14-0 and won the program's third state title, a championship return seemed uncertain when in Week 2 fourth-year starting quarterback Luke Ricobene suffered a season-ending knee injury in ICCP's sole loss, 26-23 to St. Laurence. Backup quarterback Khalil Saunders got dinged Week 4 and in stepped receiver and third-string quarterback C.J. West. With the team already brutally physical, technically sound and expertly coached, under West's grasp and execution of the zone-read offense the Knights have never looked back.
Scouting Pleasant Plains: The Cardinals, far better known as a baseball and basketball school, have only played football since 2003. They were seeded No. 16 after losing to the three teams ahead of them in the Sangamo Conference -- Athens, Maroa-Forsyth and Williamsville, with a combined record of 33-5. Coach Brody Walworth points to two games that lifted his team's fortunes -- a Week 3 43-40 shootout win over Auburn, which proved the Cardinals could win a close game; and a Week 7 37-22 win over New Berlin in which the Cardinals healed their midseason injuries to win all three phases of the game.
Road to the championship: ICCP beat No. 12 Watseka 55-6, No. 4 Peotone 29-16, No. 8 Wilmington 46-21 and No. 3 Byron 7-0. Pleasant Plains beat No. 1 Wesclin 51-20, No. 8 Newton 29-27, No. 5 Carlinville 20-14 and No. 3 Anna-Jonesboro 41-2.
Coaches: ICCP coach Bill Krefft, a 2003 graduate of the former Immaculate Conception, owns a 54-16 record in six seasons. He's been part of each of the Knights' three state championship teams -- offensive guard and linebacker in 2002 in Class 3A, assistant coach for the 2008 Class 2A titlists and head coach for last year's champs. Pleasant Plains coach Brody Walworth is 24-18 in four seasons. He led the Cardinals to the playoffs each of his first two seasons, eliminated in the first round both times. A 2005 Mattoon graduate and lineman, Walworth got his first assistant coaching job at Arcola at 19 while still attending Eastern Illinois, the Journal Gazette & Times Courier reports.
IC Catholic Pleasant Plains
Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
C.J. West 6-2 185 Sr. QB Ben Reinert 5-10 165 Sr.
Lazerick Eatman 5-10 165 Sr. RB Nik Samson 5-9 195 Sr.
Khalil Saunders 5-11 185 Jr. WR Kevin Ingram 5-9 165 Sr.
Khali Saunders 6-3 215 Jr. WR Zach Ely 6-3 185 Sr.
Jacob Lytton 6-0 170 Jr. WR Kai Carlberg 6-1 175 Sr.
Andrew Falduto 5-11 170 Sr. WR/TE Tristen Tewes 6-3 220 Jr.
David Vargas 6-1 215 Jr. LT Carter Weiters 6-2 225 Sr.
Kemon Reese 5-10 190 Jr. LG Ethan Ankenbrandt 6-2 235 Sr.
Ryan Kenneally 5-11 215 Jr. C Nathan Curry 5-10 205 Sr.
Dylan Packer 6-1 205 Sr. RG Luke Ozenkoski 6-1 215 So.
Ricky Mysliwiec 6-1 275 Jr. RT Devin Burns 6-3 250 Jr.
Joey Maci'gerace 5-4 134 So. K Kai Carlberg 6-1 175 Sr.
IC Catholic Pleasant Plains
Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
Koby Reed 5-10 275 So. DT Austin Ellis 5-10 205 Sr.
Ricky Mysliwiec 6-1 275 Jr. DT Ethan Ankenbrandt 6-2 235 Sr.
Jack Enright 5-11 175 Sr. DE Nathan Curry 5-10 205 Sr.
Michael Johnson 6-0 245 Jr. DE Griffin Tebrugge 6-0 185 Sr.
Khali Saunders 6-3 215 Jr. LB Tristen Tewes 6-3 220 Jr.
Kevin Cooke 5-10 180 So. MLB Nik Samson 5-9 195 Sr.
Kemon Reese 5-10 190 Jr. LB Jake Hermes 6-0 215 Jr.
Khalil Saunders 5-11 185 Jr. SS/DB Lucas Western 5-9 175 Jr.
Lazerick Eatman 5-10 165 Sr. FS Kevin Ingram 5-9 165 Sr.
Steven Crady 5-11 165 Jr. CB/DB Sam McAfee 6-0 175 Jr.
Max Cook 5-9 145 So. CB/DB Nick Sunley 5-10 160 So.
C.J. West 6-2 185 Sr. P Tristen Tewes 6-3 220 Jr.
When IC Catholic (45.9 points per game, 463.4 yards per game) has the ball: The Knights use the whole field with their zone-read scheme out of an up-tempo shotgun spread. West has completed 86 of 137 passes (63 percent) for 24 touchdowns, 5 interceptions -- 2 last week at Byron before his clutch 12-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds left. With Sean Hipskind (knee) probably out, West's top targets are Khalil Saunders, Jacob Lytton and Khalil's twin, Khali, who has made 34 catches for 632 yards, 9 touchdowns. While dealing with ICCP's outstanding offensive line Walworth called "road-graders," Pleasant Plains' key is containing Eatman, who has run for 1,277 yards and 19 touchdowns and averages 27 yards a catch with 9 touchdowns. The Cardinals' defense, which has allowed 20.5 points a game, has been effective since shifting mainly to a three-man line earlier this season, despite the lineup listed above. Tewes brings 129 tackles and 10 for loss, Samson 104 with 24 tackles for loss. Hermes plays like a strong safety with 71 tackles and defensive captain Ingram holds the Cardinals' single season and program interception records with 5 this year, 13 overall. Sunley has returned 2 of his 4 interceptions for touchdowns.
When Pleasant Plains (32.8 points per game 329.4 yards per game) has the ball: Having passed for 2,212 yards and run for 2,070, the Cardinals are ICCP's first opponent since Watseka that is even mildly interested in throwing the football. From a one-back spread with a tight end the smart, shifty Reinert has completed 142 of 296 passes (48 percent) for 2,114 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 picks. Special teams ace Carlberg, 36 catches for 509 yards and 10 touchdowns, heads a top trio of receivers including Tewes and possession man Ingram. Samson has run for 1,470 yards, 19 touchdowns with Western and Carlberg carrying a lesser load. After facing a steady diet of Wing-T teams ICCP won't have the luxury of simply sending Khalil Saunders downhill to support punishing linebackers Kevin Cooke, Khali Saunders and Kemon Reese, who made a program-record 26 tackles at Byron. It all starts up front for the Knights, who allow 10.8 points and 173 yards a game. Of ICCP's 27 sacks 18 come from linemen, headed by Enright's 4 with 3 apiece by Johnson, Mysliwiec, Packer and sophomore Kevin Akins. While the average lineman weights of both teams are similar on either side of the ball, ICCP has the edge in the pure bullrush heft of Mysliwiec, Reed and Johnson.
Intangibles: More relevant than Pleasant Plains' No. 16 seed is IC Catholic's championship experience. The Knights' speed, held in check by grass fields at Peotone and Byron, will emerge on Huskie Stadium turf. IC Catholic has 16 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries, a plus-21 turnover ratio; Pleasant Plains has 20 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and is plus-14. Neither kicker has been asked to win games: Maci'gerace has 1 field goal, a 32-yarder, and Carlberg has none. Both coaches emphasize the fun of playing football, but IC Catholic isn't happy just to be here again. "We want to go after it, put our best foot forward, and enjoy it," Krefft said.