Scouting this weekend's DuPage County football games
By David Oberhelman and Kevin Schmit
No. 20 Glenbard West (7-2) at No. 13 Neuqua Valley (8-1)
Game time: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Glenbard West 49, Addison Trail 14; Glenbard North 35, Neuqua Valley 14.
Outlook: With linebacker Eric Samuta's return last week from injury, Glenbard West's starting defense is healthy for the first time since early in the season. Samuta's return allows Jackson Goleash to return to safety. Offensively, the running back trio of Ryan Diver, Dre Thomas and sophomore Tyquan Cox is tough to slow. The Hilltoppers are at their best when quarterback Cole Brady is working the play-action pass to 6-foot-5 tight end Alex Pihlstrom, 6-4 receiver Alec Pierce and 6-foot Ben Reifel. Last week's loss dealt Neuqua Valley a huge hit in seeding. Still, the Wildcats have proved resilient given continuous injuries impacting every position set but the effective quarterback duo of Jake Eskoff and Jack Bastable. Good news is the probable return of Jon Rhattigan, who joins fellow linebacker Anthony Ippolito and linemen Tommy Ciesla and Jackson Keating as key run stoppers. In the playoffs big players make big plays. One of those is Notre Dame-bound receiver Isaiah Robertson.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 8A second-round game against the winner between No. 4 Homewood-Flossmoor and No. 29 Evanston.
No. 31 Waubonsie Valley (5-4) at No. 2 Hinsdale Central (9-0)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Waubonsie Valley 17, Wheaton North 14; Hinsdale Central 21, Oak Park 12.
Outlook: Seed is just a number to Waubonsie Valley's many returners from last year's 30th-seeded semifinalist. Averaging only 0.2 points more than its foes -- and here on Cross Holmes' field goal with 19 seconds left -- mistake-free football is crucial. That means ball control by tailback Nate Ashford and quarterback Tanner Westwood, receivers Chuck Robinson, Eric Esch and Josh LeMoine, all behind an experienced offensive line including Dan Dominiak and Corey McKnight. Considering the Warriors' run last season, Hinsdale Central probably hoped for a better draw as a second seed. Surviving the WSC Silver for their first conference title since 2004, however, has the Red Devils prepared. Columbia-bound quarterback Josh Bean gets better each week. While he's known for his accurate arm, last week he rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown. With sophomore running back Luke Skokna and 6-foot-3 tight end Matt Bjorson, the Red Devils can lean on a bunch of skill.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 8A second-round game against the winner between No. 15 Taft and No. 18 Lincoln-Way East.
No. 19 Lyons Twp. (7-2) at No. 14 Naperville North (8-1)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Lyons Twp. 38, York 0; Naperville North 28, Wheaton Warrenville South 17.
Outlook: Among the top teams in their respective conferences, this will be an excellent showdown between the West Suburban Silver and DuPage Valley. The foes may be unfamiliar with each other, but Naperville North definitely knows the most important thing about the Lions -- junior quarterback Ben Bryant, who holds scholarship offers from Wisconsin and Central Michigan. Combined with running back Reggie Terrell and a big offensive line, the Huskies have a lot to handle on defense. Big-play potential exists at all three levels, though, especially in the secondary with Grant Ericksen, Kiser Floyd and Cam Hardy. On offense Naperville North also will be a handful for the Lions. After a combined 277 carries between them, Eric Wright and Cross Robinson have rushed for 1,804 yards and 17 touchdowns. If Luke Cegles consistently connects with receivers Nick Calcagno and Mitch Lewis -- who have caught a combined 13 touchdown passes -- the unit will be tough to slow.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 8A second-round game against the winner between No. 3 Palatine and No. 30 Notre Dame.
No. 18 Pekin (6-3) at No. 15 Glenbard North (7-2)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Pekin 42, Limestone 0; Glenbard North 35, Neuqua Valley 14.
Outlook: Pekin's a first-time foe for Glenbard North but not unfamiliar with the area, having visited Addison Trail in 1996 and Batavia last year. A no-huddle spread option team from the Mid-Illini Conference, the Dragons' offensive line features 300-pounders Ryan Salazar, Heyden Connell and Ethan Trumpy. Coach Doug Nutter realizes limiting Glenbard North tailback Vittorio Tricase is key. He's got linebacker Cole Gianessi and defensive tackle Cody Hunt, with 38 and 59 tackles, respectively, on the case. Tricase has run for 1,640 yards and 30 touchdowns, but the Panthers are better suited for a playoff run due to balance provided by quarterback Shane Conway. He comes off his best game yet, 278 yards passing with 3 touchdowns. On the season Conway has completed a sparkling 61 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns and a vastly improved 3 interceptions. Northwestern-bound Jace James has 9 interceptions. He'll eye Pekin wideouts Julian Hill and Cameron Whitford.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 7A second-round game against the winner between No. 2 East St. Louis and No. 31 Lincoln-Way West.
No. 23 Willowbrook (6-3) at No. 10 Quincy (8-1)
Game time: 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Leyden 21, Willowbrook 9; Quincy 34, Quincy-Notre Dame 7.
Outlook: With DuPage County's longest first-round road trip on tap on Friday, the Warriors will have a full night's sleep to rid themselves of any dead legs. One player whose legs never seem to tire is Warriors running back-linebacker Jack Jessen. He's a critical cog on both sides of the ball. Quarterback M.J. Ranieri is capable of balancing the offense with a talented corps of receivers featuring Mike Dembowski, Khalif Copeland, Jon Kelso and Freddie Clay, but Willowbrook must do a much better job converting touchdowns in the red zone. Quincy's offense is pretty straight forward out of a double tight wing set. Last week the Blue Devils had a pair of 100-yard rushers in Jirehl Brock and Deven Smith as they passed the ball only once in the second half and ran for more than 200 yards. Both programs are trying to buck their respective playoff history. Willowbrook hasn't won a first-round game since 1990, while Quincy has only one postseason victory in its eight prior appearances.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 7A second-round game against the winner between No. 7 Glenbrook North and No. 26 Simeon.
No. 22 Hoffman Estates (6-3) at No. 11 Benet (7-2)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday at Benedictine University in Lisle.
Last week: Fremd 51, Hoffman Estates 0; Benet 38, Carmel 14.
Outlook: Take what you will from Hoffman Estates' lopsided loss last week, but know that the Hawks did not play a single starter in that game so they could be completely healthy for their first playoff appearance in 22 years. The defeat came at a cost, though, with a matchup against a power conference like the East Suburban Catholic and a team like Benet that earned an unprecedented fifth straight postseason berth facing a schedule with seven qualifiers. Slowing Hoffman Estates means trying to slow quarterback Austin Coalson, who's thrown for 1,743 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Redwings' defense has been up to the challenge all season. John D'Angelo boasts a team-high 5.5 sacks while defensive back Ben Cooney has 8 interceptions. Alec McEachern is another force in the secondary. Last week Benet had perhaps its best offensive effort of the season with third-year quarterback Jack Sznajder completing 21 of 30 passes for 245 yards to give him 1,579 yards on the season.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 7A second-round game against the winner between No. 6 Normal Community and No. 27 Belleville West.
No. 9 Montini (6-3) at No. 8 St. Ignatius (7-2)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Montini 44, St. Francis 0; St. Ignatius 16, St. Laurence 9.
Outlook: Defending Class 6A champ Montini survived injuries and a 1-3 start to enter its 24th straight playoff berth on five straight wins. Led by the return of Western Michigan-bound tailback Prince Walker, the Broncos are now deeper and at nearly full strength. Coach Chris Andriano, at 299 wins and seeking to be Illinois' ninth 300-game winner, knows mistakes and special teams often decide playoff games. Kicker Michael Cooney hit a 47-yard field goal last week. Earning a second straight playoff appearance and third overall, fellow Chicago Catholic League entry St. Ignatius is hosting its first playoff game in history after going 7-2 for the first time since the 1950s. Wolfpack coach John O'Connor seeks a balanced triple-option ground game between wingbacks Tim Plomin and Dan McMahon, fullback Patrick Jennings and quarterback Quinn Donath -- if healthy, otherwise probably Alex Callum. Star linebacker Blaise Malisch, who has 5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, directs a physical defense.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 6A second-round game against the winner between No. 1 Prairie Ridge and No. 16 Deerfield.
No. 11 Glenbard South (5-4) at No. 6 Hillcrest (7-2)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Riverside-Brookfield 21, Glenbard South 7; Hillcrest 38, Oak Forest 13.
Outlook: Glenbard South's second straight South Suburban Blue playoff foe, having lost to Tinley Park in 2015. The Raiders' offensive recipe remains the same -- run the ball with Sean Cooke and quarterback Jack Crouch and keep Hillcrest off balance by passing to Mike Paprota, Brian Maroney and Peter Jeske, with 3 touchdown catches apiece. Linebacker Nick D'Ambra and defensive lineman Talha Ayman, team leaders with 91 and 75 tackles, respectively, will sprint sideline to sideline to contain Hillcrest quarterback James Lipscomb. Raiders coach Ryan Crissey said the Hawks' spread offense favors the pass over the run. Leading the vertical aspect is receiver Marcus Garrett, also a basketball star, who averages more than 20 yards a catch. Thus, Raiders defensive backs such as Rod Rivera and T.J. Springfloat must keep Garrett and fellow Hawks receiver Jordon Moore in front of them. The bottom line, though, could be getting a stronger push from Nick Puleo and the offensive line.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 5A second-round game against the winner between No. 3 Payton and No. 14 Marian Central.
No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Wheaton Academy 44, St. Edward 30; Aurora Central Catholic 33, Elmwood Park 12.
Outlook: Metro Suburban Conference crossover foe ACC beat two teams Wheaton Academy lost to, Riverside-Brookfield and Glenbard South. Wheaton Academy receiver-defensive back Miles VanderKlok comes off a great Week 9, joining Noah Jones, Mikey Alfano and Harrison Taylor among many targets for quarterback Ben Thorson. Warriors defensive linemen Michael Callentine, Mitch Brunner and Sean Blum, linebackers Nori Kasai and Dimitrie Skakavac have a physical test ahead. Wheaton Academy has committed 24 penalties for 240 yards the last two games. That can't happen. ACC coach John Belskis, who won the 2001 Class 8A title at Downers Grove South, directed the Chargers' best season since 1995. Anchored up front by Dan Eul and three-year starter Jairo Varela, the Chargers' spread offense features Belskis' son, Johnny, at quarterback. Tailback Ryan Cerza has run for 1,253 yards, 22 touchdowns; receiver Griffin Zajac has 30 receptions for 718 yards, 10 touchdowns.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 4A second-round game against the winner between No. 4 Phillips and No. 13 Kewanee.
No. 16 St. Joseph-Ogden (5-4) at No. 1 IC Catholic Prep (9-0)
Game time: 4 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: St. Joseph-Ogden 42, Prairie Central 22; IC Catholic Prep 49, Fenton 0.
Outlook: Graduates square off -- St. Joseph-Ogden coach Shawn Skinner, Spartans Class of '91, against IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft, Knights Class of '03. A player and assistant for retired hall of famer Dick Duvall, Skinner preserved tradition with a 26th straight playoff berth. The Spartans' pro-style offense features Jack Fritz and Dwight Colvin, who've combined for 1,514 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns, with quarterback Marty Wright adding 964 yards passing, 10 touchdowns. In St. Joe-Ogden's wins it is plus-12 in turnover ratio; in its losses, minus-11. Skinner is high on linebackers Evan Hawkins and tackles leader Colton Hale as well as versatile defender Griffin Meeker. Making its longest playoff trip north in history, St. Joe-Ogden will have to do something no IC foe has all year, simultaneously contain both Knights quarterback Luke Ricobene and running back Jordan Rowell. The former has thrown for 1,543 yards, 19 touchdowns; the latter has run for 1,342 yards, 22 touchdowns.
Next week: The winner advances to a Class 3A second-round game against the winner between No. 8 Paxton-Buckley-Loda and No. 9 Mercer County.