No. 2 Maine South (10-0) at No. 7 Stevenson (8-2)
When: 3 p.m. today
Last week: Maine South def. Chicago Curie, 35-13; Stevenson def. York, 31-28.
Skinny: Not that Stevenson isn't up for every playoff game, but you've got to think that the Patriots have the engines revving a little louder for Maine South, the three-time defending Class 8A state champion. Not only have the Hawks, who are a mind-blowing 50-2 since 2008, owned Class 8A in recent years, they've also been a habitual playoff stumbling block for Stevenson. The Patriots are 0-6 in the postseason against Maine South, with all of those games having been played since 2001. In two of the last three years, Stevenson has been eliminated by Maine South, including last year in the quarterfinals. In 2008, Maine South put an end to Stevenson's season in the first round. "Our entire program is excited about playing Maine South," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said. "They've got great talent, a great tradition and the state championship has gone through them. Our guys know about the history between us and them, but we are just trying to look at it from this year's point of view. We like our chances."
Lots of options: The Patriots are really liking their versatility on offense, which they believe has been the key to a season in which they claimed their second straight North Suburban Lake Division title, a tri-championship with Lake Zurich and Lake Forest. Stevenson has been potent on the ground thanks primarily to the hard-nosed running of Kevin Foley, but has also been effective through the air. Last week against York, quarterback Matt Micucci rolled up 147 passing yards on 10 completions while connecting with seven different receivers. "We try to keep defenses off-balance with a lot of different options," McNamara said. "I've been really happy with the diversity we've shown on offense."
Prolific point-scorers: However, the Patriots might want to go a bit heavier on the run against Maine South in an effort to control clock and keep Maine South's high-powered offense off the field. The Hawks are averaging 41.5 points per game. "Teams must defend the run and the pass against us," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "Either facet can get the job done."-The focal points of the Maine South offense are quarterback Matt Alviti and running back Paul Preston. "Matt is as good as advertised and Paul always seems to come up with the big play," Inserra said. "Both are very exciting."
Heart and soul: As potent as the Maine South offense is, McNamara believes that the defense is the heart and soul of that team. The Hawks are allowing just 11.4 points per game, fewest in the Central Suburban League South. Luke Lenti and Tyler Fahey are arguably two of the best linebackers in the state. "That defense gives its offense so many more opportunities because it creates turnovers and gets a lot of three-and-outs. We're going to have to control the ball on offense."
Holding down the Hawks: The Patriot defense, led by Carl Miller, Dom Bickus and Jon Way, will also need to buckle down at key times as it did against York, which tried to make a last-minute drive but was stopped. "Stevenson is always very consistent defensively," Inserra said. "They are letting up very few points and can really hit." Stevenson is allowing 14.8 points per game.
Home, sweet home: The Patriots got the gift of hosting dropped in their laps because of Maine South's punishment from the IHSA for handing out too many sideline passes at last year's state championship game in Champaign. The Hawks were to play at least their first two playoff games in 2011 on the road before the situation would be reassessed by the IHSA. Last week, despite being the higher seed, Maine South faced Curie at Lane Stadium.
Winning ways: Maine South has won a total of five state titles, and four since 2000. The Hawks have also finished in second place a total of three times. Most of the team's success has been in the last decade. Since 2000, Maine South has finished as either a state champion or a state runner-up seven times.
Patricia Babcock McGraw
No. 8 Lake Zurich (8-2) at No. 1 Glenbard West (10-0)
When: 1 p.m. today
Last week: Lake Zurich def. Geneva, 35-32; Glenbard West def. Prospect, 34-7.
Skinny: This is a matchup of two of the top teams in Class 7A in recent years, not to mention the two teams that have helped to cement Wheaton Warrenville South as the two-time defending state champion. Last year, Wheaton Warrenville South defeated Lake Zurich in the Class 7A state title game, 28-17. In 2009, Wheaton Warrenville South took out Glenbard West in Champaign, 31-24 in double overtime-Lake Zurich and Glenbard West have another connection. During its run downstate in 2009, Glenbard West defeated Lake Zurich in the semifinals, 21-17-Glenbard West has won one state championship, the Class 5A title in 1983. Lake Zurich won its only state championship in 2007. Both Glenbard West and Lake Zurich have been runners-up twice.
Time for Till: On Wednesday, Lake Zurich quarterback Zach Till received clearance to play in Saturday's game. He was a question mark after injuring his left ankle in the fourth quarter of the Bears' first round victory over Geneva. If he finds it difficult to perform and function on his tender ankle, the Bears will go with reserve quarterbacks Steven Kuhn and Matt Moon. "I feel really good about (Kuhn and Moon)," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "They've both been in there and done well." Kuhn started for Till during the first two weeks of the season while Till rehabbed an injury to his other ankle. "He did a really good job, especially as the game went on," Stortz said of Kuhn's performance in the season opener against Fremd. He was battling and you could tell he was playing his butt off."
Shield and Schrader: If injured quarterback Zach Till isn't able to play, or is far less than 100 percent, more of the offensive burden will fall on the shoulders of running backs Mike Shield and Connor Schrader. They have been threats out of the backfield all season and Shield reeled off a 51-yard touchdown run last week against Geneva. "A lot of it is going to be dictated by what Glenbard West gives us, but if we can go to Shield and Connor 30 times, that's what we'll do," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "But really, the job of stepping up (if Till is limited) is on everyone. There are going to be extra things that everyone is going to need to do."
Getting defensive: Both of these teams take great pride in their defenses. Glenbard West is allowing just 5.7 points per game and has pitched three shutouts this season. Lake Zurich, meanwhile, is allowing just 10.5 points per game. Both teams led their respective conferences in points allowed. "Defensively, they are big up front and very athletic and fast," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said of Glenbard West, which won the West Suburban Silver while his team shared the North Suburban Lake Division title with Lake Forest and Stevenson. "Their defense reminds me a lot of the Cary-Grove defense, just bigger."
Weapons for West: Glenbard West turned the ball over four times last week in its win over Prospect but it barely seemed to matter. The Hilltoppers still scored 34 points, just four points below their average. Quarterback Justice Odom and backs Avery Balogh and Kendall Johnson rolled up 360 rushing yards as the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. "They've got a big line, their skill players are fast, they can run or pass. They're probably the most complete team we've seen all season," Lake Zurich coach Bryan Stortz said. "They're good all the way around."
Patricia Babcock McGraw