Lake County teams excited about playoff matchups
A pep assembly at Warren High School's Almond Campus on Friday morning was featured live on Chicago's local Fox affiliate.
The gym was packed with rowdy students, playing for the camera, but also genuinely jacked about the football team, which had the opportunity to finish the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record later that night.
"It's a cool time to be around our community," Warren head football coach Bryan McNulty said about the enthusiasm at the pep rally. "Our kids are so into our season. Our community is into it. I think a really big part of it is that our kids are just such good kids. They don't create problems in the hallways, they are good students. People like to rally around them. People like to be around them."
People like to be around winners, too.
And Warren has done nothing but win this season.
The 9-0 Blue Devils put together their first undefeated regular season since 1982 and for that, they got handsomely rewarded. On Saturday night during the IHSA playoff pairings show, Warren was given the No. 4 seed in Class 8A, and matched up with No. 29 Plainfield East (5-4) in the first round of the state playoffs, which begin next weekend throughout the state.
Plainfield East missed the playoffs last year at 3-6.
Warren, meanwhile, is hoping to exceed last year's success, which yielded an undefeated North Suburban Conference championship, a 10-2 record and a march to the state quarterfinals, all while sporting one of the toughest and stingiest defenses in the state.
"It's been a blessing that we had the season that we did last year," McNulty said. "Everyone came out really wanting to beat us this year. And we got used to everyone playing like that. I think that helped us a lot."
Another big headline in Class 8A is the surprising absence of Stevenson from the field.
The Patriots had earned 30 straight, yes 30, playoff appearances dating back to 1989. But they finished the season 4-5 after blowing a big lead and losing to Lake Forest in Friday's season finale. That 28-27 win for Lake Forest pushed the Scouts into the Class 6A playoffs on points with a 5-4 record. The No. 14 Scouts will face No. 3 Belvidere North, which is 7-2.
In Class 6A, three teams from the Northern Lake County Conference made the field and two, Antioch and Lakes, have some uncertainty to their draws.
Both Antioch and Lakes drew Chicago Public League teams, and the current strike involving the CPS teachers has wreaked a bit of havoc on the IHSA playoffs.
If the strike is not settled in time for CPS teams to start practicing again on Wednesday, so that they can get in at least three days of practice before their games, the CPS teams will be forced to forfeit their playoff games. No other teams will be put in their place and those CPS opponents would move on to the second round.
No. 5 Antioch (7-2) drew No. 12 Mather (6-2), which missed the playoffs last year at 2-7. The Sequoits, who were upset on Friday by a North Chicago team that was fighting for its playoff life and slipped into the Class 4A playoffs at 5-4, earned their fourth straight playoff berth.
It was Antioch's first Northern Lake County Conference loss in four years.
"Obviously, we are going to prepare as if we will be playing next weekend," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said of the Mather draw. "But anyone who has a CPS team, this is new territory. Who knows what will happen. For us, it might be a blessing to (get a forfeit and) have an extra week. We are really banged up by now. But it's high school kids, and could they come out flat the next week with a break like that? You never know."
No. 9 Lakes, Antioch's sister school, drew Chicago Public League heavyweight Simeon, which is 6-1 on the season. Simeon, seeded eighth, earned its 19th straight playoff berth and is coming off an 11-1 run last season.
"I'm really excited and Simeon will be a good challenge for us," said Lakes coach Jordan Eder, whose team is 6-3 and is making its 11th straight playoff appearance. "That's a highly regarded team and it will be a good test for us. I just hope we get to play. We want to keep playing. We don't want (an off week)."
Grayslake North didn't want its season to end. And the Knights live on for at least another week after slipping into the Class 6A playoffs on points with a 5-4 record. Just a year ago, Grayslake North missed the playoffs with a 5-4 record because it didn't have enough points.
"The emotions are completely different from last year," said Grayslake North coach Sam Baker, whose team is making its seventh playoff appearance. "We are playing as a team and we are playing together. We're excited and we get to play a team that is in the place we want to get to as a program."
The No. 10 Knights drew No. 1 Prairie Ridge (8-1), which won the 2017 and 2018 Class 6A championships.
In Class 7A, No. 23 Grant (6-3) takes on No. 10 Hononegah (7-2). It's the Bulldogs' first playoff appearance since 2012. No. 31 Libertyville slipped in on points at 5-4 and will take on No. 2 Nazareth, the 2018 Class 7A state champion, as well as a state champion in 2016 (Class 5A) and 2015 (Class 6A). No. 20 Lake Zurich (6-3) earned its 17th playoff berth in the last 18 years and will face No. 13 Andrew (7-2).
First-year Lake Zurich coach Ron Planz, who used to coach at Elmhurst College, frequently recruited players from Andrew and knows the program well.
"I have a lot of respect for their staff and how they have really turned around the program there," Planz said of Andrew. "One year, we got a quarterback and a tight end from Andrew. The coach there has done a great job with that program and he does a great job with his kids. We're really excited to have the opportunity to play a program like that."
Finally, in Class 8A, Barrington is making its ninth playoff appearance in the last 10 years. The No. 19 Broncos (6-3) will take on No. 14 Notre Dame (7-2).