Glenbard West, Brodner will be a challenge for Cary-Grove
Recent history shows if the Cary-Grove football team advances deep enough into the playoffs, it will eventually tangle with one of the state's best players.
The Trojans reached the Class 6A final in 2012, only to be denied 33-26 by Crete-Monee, led then by LaQuon Treadwell, who made 6 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Now a junior at Ole Miss, Treadwell leads the Southeastern Conference with 1,002 receiving yards.
Last year the Trojans reached the Class 7A final against Providence, led then by 6-3 wide receiver Miles Boykin, now a freshman at Notre Dame. The Trojans limited Boykin to 3 catches for 48 yards, but the Celtics narrowly prevailed 31-28.
Cary-Grove again faces one of the state's best this Saturday at 1 p.m. After dispatching No. 28 Belleville West 48-7, No. 12 Benet Academy 35-17 and No. 4 Batavia 42-21, No. 5 Cary-Grove (11-1) takes on running back Sam Brodner and top-seeded Glenbard West (12-0) with a trip to the Class 7A state championship game in DeKalb at stake.
The game will be played on synthetic turf at Glenbard South High School.
Committed to Vanderbilt, Brodner is responsible for 1,313 of Glenbard West's 2,796 rushing yards. He has scored 33 touchdowns in 214 attempts and has fumbled only once. He also has 22 receptions for 334 of the Hilltoppers' 1,540 passing yards, including 6 touchdown catches.
"Brodner is just a special player," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "For some reason we have a knack for finding those special players late in the playoffs."
Named Thursday to the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 7A All-State team, Brodner has picked up his game since the playoffs began. Of his 1,313 rushing yards, 38.7 percent have been gained in the last three weeks alone (509).
Against No. 32 Moline, the 6-foot, 210-pound senior rushed 16 times for 166 yards and 6 touchdowns.
The following week against No. 16 Mt. Carmel he finished with 141 yards on 29 carries and scored the only touchdown in a 7-0 win.
In last week's 45-14 win at Rockford Auburn, Brodner gained 202 yards and scored 3 touchdowns in 25 attempts. He also returned a kickoff 92 yards for his second return touchdown of the season.
"He's a load," Seaburg added. "When he picks up a full head of steam, get out of his way."
Cary-Grove counters with its triple-option offense, featuring fullback Tyler Pennington (6-0, 205). The junior has rushed for 1,335 of his team's 3,584 yards and has only fumbled twice in 262 rushing attempts. Junior Ryan Magel last week carried 9 times for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns against Batavia.
"We've done a pretty good job against the run this season, but this will be different," said Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet, who went 0-2 against Cary-Grove when he coached McHenry in 2004 and 2005. "It's the best team we've played so far. I don't think it's even comparable."
Both defenses pride themselves on pursuit to the ball. Led by IHSFCA All-State linebacker Nico Gagliano (5-11, 190), who counts 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss among his team-leading 71 tackles, Glenbard West limits opponents to 199 total yards and 11.3 points per game and has a plus-16 turnover ratio.
"They find a way to free up people to make plays," Seaburg said. "Their middle linebacker really is fast and powerful and gets to the football. They just have a lot of hard-nosed players who have a knack for getting to the football. We've got to execute and do something to negate their speed, whether that's play action or something else."
Cary-Grove's defense limits opponents to 11.8 points per game, led by junior defensive back David Daigle (3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles), hard-hitting junior Zach Underwood (34.5 tackles, 3 forced fumbles) and senior lineman Erik Norberg (5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss). Pennington has forced 2 fumbles and notched 2.5 sacks among his 35 tackles since becoming a two-way player in Week 8.
The winner will face the winner of Saturday's 3 p.m. semifinal between No. 3 Libertyville (12-0) and No. 23 Bradley-Bourbonnais (9-3) for the Class 7A title in DeKalb next Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Hilltoppers, making their fourth straight semifinal appearance and sixth in eight seasons, hope to advance to the title game after losing in the Class 8A semifinals last year to eventual champion Stevenson, 7-3.
"We made it this far last year and didn't finish the job," Hetlet said. "These guys are pretty motivated."
Kevin Schmit contributed to this report