Rolling Meadows quarterback Jack Milas will return after throwing for 29 touchdowns this season.
Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer
A 92-yard kickoff return by Tom Zidek to start the second half Saturday was just one of the highlights of Conant's return to the playoffs for the first time in five years.
George LeClaire | Staff Photographer
Conant and Rolling Meadows wanted their football postesason returns to last longer.
But both teams hope this was just the beginning after they lost first-round games last weekend.
Meadows had made seven straight playoff appearances before falling short at 4-5 last year. But it quickly re-joined the 256-team mix this year.
"We definitely had higher goals than this but it feels good (to get back in the playoffs)," Meadows junior quarterback Jack Milas said after last Friday's 38-35 Class 6A loss at Lakes. "Coach (Matt) Mishler did a great job this year and so did all the rest of the coaches."
Milas threw for 2,670 yards with 29 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in his first full season as the starter. Senior Artie Checchin finished with 70 catches for 1,052 yards and 14 TDs and caught 14 passes against Lakes for 268 yards.
"That might have been one of the best performances I've ever seen a high school wide receiver have maybe the best," Mishler said after Checchin put him in the top 20 in IHSA history for single-game receiving yards. "He was making catches he had no business making.
"The kid was just unbelievable and he's all heart. I can say that about all of our kids."
Conant made its first postseason appearance in five years with its 36-14 loss in its 7A opener at Elk Grove.
"We had a good year and our seniors did a great job," said Conant coach Bill Modelski. "They kind of brought us back."
The Cougars' losses include quarterback Matt Cullen after he threw for 1,739 yards with 17 TDs and only 2 interceptions. But receiver Tim Manczko (59 catches, 752 yards, 7 TDs) is among their returnees.
Trick or treat: Elk Grove senior Dejan Basara wasn't talking about Halloween costumes when he mentioned how his coaches tend to look like zombies around school.
"Our coaches all did an unbelievable job this whole week," Basara said after Saturday's playoff win over Conant. "They're just unbelievable. These guys never sleep. I don't know how they do it."
That includes head coach Brian Doll and his wife adjusting to the sleeplessness that goes with their first child which was born just before preseason practice started.
Doll said it's a blessing to have assistants who have been part of state championship teams in Elk Grove graduate Rick Magsamen, Mike Mullaney and Dan Meyo. It has kept minds from wandering too far ahead to the possibility of meeting Glenbard West or Lake Zurich in a quarterfinal.
"The theme this week is we have to beat Harlem," Doll said. "It's good to have guys with that experience around us so we focus on what we have to do to beat them."
That shouldn't be an issue since Basara said this is a team that enjoys the process as much as the results.
"Practice is the best part with the guys," Basara said. "You get to spend time with the guys you love and coming out here is the icing on the cake."
A potentially long road: Maine South could literally end up on the road to Champaign if it gets a chance to play for a fourth straight 8A state title.
IHSA penalties for rules violations during last year's postseason included the loss of hosting privileges for the first two rounds of the playoffs. However, the Hawks' opener against Curie and Saturday's visit to Stevenson still are techncially considered home games toward the IHSA's criteria of determining who hosts playoff games.
So, if Maine South wins Saturday, it would be on the road at Palatine or Glenbard North for the quarterfinals since it technically played two home games. The first criteria to determine the host school after the first round is who has hosted fewer games with Palatine and Glenbard North at one apiece.
And Maine South would be traveling again if it wound up meeting Loyola in the semifinals. If both schools have hosted the same number of games which would be two apiece if this scenario occurred the second criteria at that stage is best record.
Both are undefeated so the next criteria is final regular-season playoff points (total number of opponents' wins). Loyola had 48 and Maine South had 41.
A long, long time ago: The history between Glenbard North and Palatine goes well beyond Saturday's rematch of last year's 8A playoff opener.
The Pirates' 28-14 win last year put them at 7-0 in their all-time meetings. Glenbard North played five seasons in the Mid-Suburban League from 1968-72 and its best finish was fourth in the old South division in its final year.
From bottom to top: Machesney Park Harlem has never won 10 games in a season or made it to the postseason quarterfinals in program history.
But Harlem is a long way from where it once was and a model for struggling programs as it comes to Elk Grove for Saturday's second-round 7A playoff game.
Harlem did not have a winning season in between its first two playoff trips in 1977 and 1997. That stretch included a state-record 47-game losing streak and a total of seven winless seasons.