Elk Grove wide receiver Jeff Miceli made some crucial catches in Saturday's first-round win over Conant.
George LeClaire | Staff Photographer
Cam Kuksa has become a big factor on both sides of the ball in the second half of the season for Palatine.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
No. 3 Palatine (9-1) at No. 11 Glenbard North (7-3)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday at Weber Field
First round: Palatine d. No. 14 Proviso West 28-7; Glenbard North d. No. 6 Barrington 27-21.
Playoff history: Palatine beat Glenbard North 28-14 in last year's Class 8A opener to improve to 7-0 all-time against the one-time member of the Mid-Suburban League. The Pirates' quarterfinal trip last year was the fifth time they have advanced beyond the second round, they made consecutive trips to the quarters in 1996-97 and were second in 5A in 1994. The last of Glenbard North's five trips past the second round was in 2009 when it reached the semifinals. The Panthers have finished second in the state in 1991, 2000 and 2007.
When the Pirates have the ball: Glenbard North's defense led by LBs Dan Fierro and Mario Rodriguez and DL Chris Dewing will have to account for a lot of weapons and formations. There is the running game of John Serio (885 yards, 11 TDs) and Cam Kuksa (589 yards, 6 TDs), the receiving of Taylor Hall (27 catches, 445 yards, 6 TDs), dual threats in Kuksa (22 for 316, 4 TDs) and Alex Nawrot and the multiple capabilities of junior QB Ethan Olles (1,430 yards passing, 14 TDs, 5 INTs; 417 yards rushing, 4 TDs), who has progressed nicely in he Pirates' nine-game winning streak. "What I like ideally is a guy who can throw the ball downfield," said Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly. "You don't see vertical stretch games much anymore. He can throw the deep ball really nicely and that causes problems for defenses." Donnelly said Glenbard North will blitz frequently but not as much as what the Pirates saw from Conant or Barrington in the MSL West. "They're a physical team and that's what they've always been known for," Donnelly said. "It should be another big, physical game."
When the Panthers have the ball: Bobbit and Kuksa shouldn't plan on many chances to pad their interception totals of 6 and 5 respectively as Glenbard North QB Brian Murphy has attempted only 9 passes the last two weeks while battling ankle issues. What the front men led by Nick Novelli and Julian Turner and LB Lucas Rago will look to do is slim down the steady running diet from the Jackson brothers as Phil and Justin combined for 249 yards and 3 TDs last week and 1,604 yards and 24 TDs for the season. "Their quarterback last year was more elusive but Rick (defensive coordinator Splitt) thinks their offense is better this year," Donnelly said. "They'll run the ball as long as you let them. They do throw more than they have the last two games but they've stuck to the 4 yards and a cloud of dust mentality." Phil Jackson provides more power running complemented by his brother Justin's elusiveness. With LB Kurt Becker out after breaking his ankle in practice before the Proviso West game, Jake Demars has moved to LB from CB and junior Tom McHugh has stepped in at CB. "They want to run the ball, run the ball, run the ball so we have to tackle well and hopefully we'll do that," Donnelly said. "They're a mirror image of Barrington."
Extra point: Returning to Glenbard North is familiar territory for Palatine, which could have also faced Barrington for the second time this season. "It's fun to prepare for different teams," Donnelly said. "They do some little things that are different than we're used to." Palatine is trying to win at least 10 games for the sixth time and first since 1997 when it finished 11-1.
Advancement: The winner would host a quarterfinal against No. 2 Maine South (10-0) Palatine would host No. 7 Stevenson (8-2) and Glenbard North would be on the road.
No. 5 Machesney Park Harlem (9-1) at No. 4 Elk Grove (9-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday at Robert Haskell Stadium
First round: Harlem d. No. 12 Rockton Hononegah 41-31; Elk Grove d. No. 13 Conant 36-14.
Playoff history: Elk Grove beat Harlem 28-21 in a 7A opener two years ago in Machesney Park. The Grenadiers lost in the second round to St. Charles North 20-14 but have advanced past the second round in 1981 and 2004. Harlem is making its fourth straight playoff appearance and sixth under coach Jim Morrow but has never advanced past the second round including a 38-21 loss to St. Rita last year.
When the Huskies have the ball: Harlem is balanced not only with the run-pass but in who gets the ball in the offense triggered by senior QB Cody DiGiovanni (school-record 1,644 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs). He can find WR Brandyn Stout (30 catches, 540 yards, 5 TDs), Jordan Baxter (19 for 412, 8 TDs) and Devyn Bailey (25 for 355) and RBs Brenton Benedict (816 yards, 18 TDs) and Kevin Witcik (763 yards, 12 TDs) are also receiving threats Sa the Huskies have scored 40 or more points eight times. "We're about as balanced as a high school team can get," Morrow said. "We don't favor any particular side when we run the ball and we spread it around in the passing game. It's all about what the defense wants to take away that night." But Morrow is concerned with the physicalness of Elk Grove's defense fueled by Greg Johnsen and Dan Egan up front. Junior LB Mike Maize had 2 sacks, LB Alfonso Lavin and DB Dylan Edwards should also be more involved in their return from injuries and DBs Jeff Miceli and Travon Royal will try to slow Baxter's track sprint speed. "They're extremely fast on offense probably faster than anyone we've seen on film or live this year," said Elk Grove coach Brian Doll. "They have four skill kids who are as good as anyone we've seen. But I'm kind of excited because I don't think they've seen many defensive lines like ours." Both teams also have weapons in the kicking game with Basara for Elk Grove and Harlem's Gustavo Rocha, whose 9 field goals include a long of 43 yards.
When the Grenadiers have the ball: Although Harlem has now seen one game with the mix of Dejan Basara (510 yards rushing, 12 TDs; 537 passing, 3 TDs) and sophomore Adam O'Malley (822 yards passing, 6 TDs, 1 INT), Morrow said "they do so many things to set up the next play that it's hard to defend." Which is exactly what the Grens want as O'Malley threw for 185 yards last week with Miceli (21 for 395, 3 TDs) and Lozano (37 for 609, 2 TDs) as his top targets, Basara ran for 96 yards and 4 TDs and didn't attempt a pass and Stefan Skoneczka rushed for 42 yards. "We don't want to get too crazy with it," Doll said, "but I like what we're doing and feel pretty good about how we're doing it." Harlem did get some good news Wednesday as junior LB and leading tackler A.J. Wentland (6-3, 200) was cleared to practice after a knee injury Morrow initially feared was much worse. Senior LB Tom Tammen is No. 2 on the Huskies in tackles for a team that has allowed 27 or more points five times.
Extra point: Both teams are on eight-game winning streaks since Week 2 losses Elk Grove 17-10 to Barrington and Harlem 41-27 after it blew a 20-0 lead to unbeaten NIC-10 champion Rockford Boylan, which won last year's 6A title. "We learned a lot from that game and it all started caving in when we turned the ball over," said Morrow, whose team hasn't committed any miscues the last four games after struggling with turnovers last year. "The kids understood they could play with just about anybody if they didn't beat themselves." This is the fourth straight year Harlem has won at least 8 games and it tied the single-season school mark for wins set in 1997. Elk Grove is trying to win at least 10 games for the fourth time and first since it was 11-1 in 2004.
Advancement: Elk Grove would be on the road and Harlem would be at home for a quarterfinal against the winner of No. 1 Glenbard West (10-0) and No. 8 Lake Zurich (8-2).