Week 1 playoffs, West Suburban: Hinsdale Central hosts Neuqua Valley
No. 19 Neuqua Valley (6-3) at No. 14 Hinsdale Central (7-2) Game time: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Outlook: Neuqua Valley enters its 12th postseason coming off two straight losses. Common denominators are chasing points and a ground game seeking greater offensive balance. Good news is coach Bill Ellinghaus said top back Nick Osikowicz, also Neuqua's leading tackler at linebacker, is his healthiest in weeks. He'll need help from DeVaughn Welch and receiver Owen Piche in at the Wildcat. Safety Isaiah Robertson will buckle down against a team averaging 39 points. Hinsdale Central limps in after last week's loss to Oak Park, which proved especially costly when Michigan State-bound offensive lineman Matt Allen was ejected. He won't play in this one. With Doug Kramer still in the mix and Tommy Kavanagh back from injury, the line should be strong enough to protect quarterback Michael Sessa and open holes for running back Christian Bobak, who's closing in 1,000 rushing yards. Defensive leader Matt Bradley also returns at linebacker.
Advancement: The winner advances to a Class 8A second-round game against the winner of No. 30 Waubonsie Valley (5-4) at No. 3 Edwardsville (9-0).
No. 32 Moline (5-4) at No. 1 Glenbard West (9-0)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday at Glenbard South.
Outlook: After notching a combined three wins over the previous two years, the Maroons are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011. In 17 appearances Moline has only three victories -- one was over Glenbard West in 1979. Don't expect the Maroons to pass much. They're all about the ground game out of their Wing T with Tyler Womack, Shaquon Davis and others. That's fine with Glenbard West, which counters with a lightning-quick defense led by linebackers Nico Gagliano, who may play some safety, Ross Andreasik, Jackson Goleash, Chris Langan, Eric Samuta and Mark Mattson. Glenbard West's ground game gets a bunch of attention with Vanderbilt-bound running back Sam Brodner and Isaiah Skinner, but quarterback Brian Cochrane's been amazingly efficient while completing 69 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Skinner, Brodner and receiver Chrystian Maciorowski have combined for 56 catches and 10 touchdown receptions.
Advancement: The winner advances to a Class 7A second-round game against the winner of No. 17 Glenbard North (7-2) at No. 16 Mt. Carmel (7-2).
No. 30 Downers Grove North (5-4) at No. 3 Libertyville (9-0)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Outlook: Despite a rash of injuries, Downers North survived the West Suburban Silver to qualify with last week's win over Proviso West. Now that they're in, the Trojans are finally healthy and preparing to reinforce their reputation as a playoff giant slayer. In its three previous appearances Downers North upset Young, Batavia and Wheaton Warrenville South. To do it again, though, the Trojans have to find a way to slow do-it-all Libertyville quarterback Riley Lees. a Northwestern recruit who reminds Trojans coach John Wander of some of his best signalcallers. The run-pass threat will be tough for Downers North's defense, led by linebacker Dalton Baran, to handle. Trojans quarterback Brandon Bancoro, who shares time with Quinn McAnally, may also see time at safety. Downers North, though, knows its best defense is a clock-grinding offense that'll keep Lees off the field. That means a heavy dose of running backs Connor Olson and sophomore Drew Shelly.
Advancement: The winner advances to a Class 7A second-round game against the winner of No. 19 Jacobs (7-2) at No. 14 Lincoln-Way East (7-2).
No. 13 Hinsdale South (6-3) at No. 4 Thornton (8-1)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Outlook: Like with last year's run to the Class 6A quarterfinals, the Hornets are hoping their regular season filled with 7A and 8A competition will make them battle tested enough to upset the Wildcats. Hinsdale South's offense is humming right now with quarterback Sean McCormack at the helm. He set program records for passing yards in a season with 2,153 and touchdown passes in a season with 23. Running back Marcus Curry balances an offense that includes several solid receivers in Ravon Johnson, Robert Hall, Jevais Harris and Connor McCormack. Thornton, the largest school in the 6A field, boasts a run-heavy offense averaging 36 points a game. Michigan State-bound lineman Josh King and middle linebacker Deontae Curry lead Hinsdale South's defense, but they also count on two-way play from Hall, Johnson and Harris. Thornton quarterback Samuel Taylor has thrown and rushed for 1,000 yards. Running back Tionte McDaniel also has run for 1,000 yards.
Advancement: The winner advances to a Class 6A second-round game against the winner of No. 12 Quincy (6-3) at No. 5 Oak Forest (8-1).