Scouting DuPage County quarterfinal football playoff games
IC Catholic Prep (10-1) at Princeton (11-0)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Seeds: IC Catholic Prep is the No. 4 seed in the top-half of the Class 3A bracket; Princeton is the No. 1 seed.
Previous Matchup: IC Catholic Prep 31, Princeton 7 (2021 Class 3A quarterfinal)
About the Knights: The Knights scored 34 unanswered points on their way to a win over Stillman Valley last week. This is IC Catholic Prep's seventh time to the quarterfinals in coach Bill Krefft's tenure as head coach. "We traveled to Princeton back in 2015 (quarterfinals). It's a great atmosphere," Knights assistant coach Thomas Gibbons said. "They do a lot in the run game. It's another game that will be won or lost at the line of scrimmage." Gibbons said team camaraderie continues to be a headline with ICCP in the playoffs. "They players have gotten a lot closer," he said. "The playoffs bring our entire team together on and off the field. The energy in the school building is a little extra when the team is getting deeper into the playoffs. And this camaraderie has made us better. When you become close and can trust your brothers, you can rally around each other when the going gets tough and a big play needs to be made." One understated success aspect to the naked eye for the Knights has been their kickoff unit. "We treat it as the first play on defense," Gibbons explained. "Our kicker Brian Kolodziejczyk has gone a great job all year executing our scheme. Coach Matt Bowen and coach Mike Calcagno do a great job every week getting the unit ready." ICCP pounded Stillman Valley for 261 yards on the ground on 33 rushes last week. "Our offensive line has been excellent all postseason," Gibbons said. "Their attention to detail and execution when the lights are the brightest speaks volumes." Gibbons pointed out Jayden Sutton, Nathan Omolo and Durrell Taylor have been pillars of that offensive line unit. "Without them, we don't have the success we are having this season," he said. "Every play they are dialed in on their one job, knowing their brother next to them depends on it. They are all excellent young men of high character, and it's a privilege to coach these guys." Denzell Gibson, JP Schmidt and Marcheon Griffin continue to be difference-makers for the Knights in the postseason. "Denzell had another excellent game last week on the ground," Gibbons noted. "He's a leader for us through his play. JP is a leader for us on defense and an excellent communicator. His tackling in the open field is one of his best attributes. Marcheon is one of our captains. He does his job week in and week out. He had an excellent game against Stillman. Playing defensive end against power toss, etc., is not an easy feat, but Marcheon excelled."
About the Tigers: Princeton beat Peotone by 28 in the first round and held Genoa-Kington to a safety last week. The Tigers play in the Three Rivers (Mississippi) Conference and allowed 97 points during the regular season while scoring 471. Prior to Peotone putting up 28 in the first round, Princeton had allowed point totals of 0, 0, 7, 0 and 7 in the final five weeks of the regular season. Princeton has also put up point totals of 60, 55, 70, and three 56-point efforts this season. "IC is a very talented team that is very battle-tested with the schedule they play," Princeton coach Ryan Pearson said. "They have a great mix of athletic skill position players, as well as big, physical linemen. In order for us to compete, we have to do a better job of taking care of the football and try to limit their big plays. Our kids genuinely love each other and it shows with our team chemistry. They don't care who gets the credit, they just want to be successful." The Tigers are powered by senior quarterback-defensive back Teegan Davis, senior running back-linebacker Augie Christiansen and senior tight end-linebacker Danny Cihocki. The winner gets No. 2 seed Braidwood Reed-Custer (11-0) or No. 6 seed Byron (10-1).
St. Francis (10-1) at Rochelle (9-2)
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Seeds: St. Francis is the No. 3 seed in the top-half of the Class 4A bracket; Rochelle is the No. 7 seed.
About the Spartans: "Rochelle is a well-oiled machine," St. Francis coach Bob McMillen said. "They do everything well. This program knows how to win and has been to the dance before." McMillen said an increased attention to detail has paid off in the playoffs. "I think our boys are more focused and are working on the little things," he said. "We also are getting to the football on defense." Special teams play also has been key. "The third phase of football usually doesn't get enough credit," McMillen noted. "I thought our specials have really picked up the last half of the season, especially last week with a huge punt block for a touchdown." St. Francis hasn't allowed a point in the playoffs. "It's tough enough to beat teams, but when you are able to shut out two very good teams in the first two rounds, that's pretty good." TJ McMillen (senior two-way lineman) was cited for his strong leadership skills in the postseason. "Just having his leadership skills out there has really helped the other boys," Bob McMillen said. "This is TJ's fourth trip to the playoffs and he knows what's at stake, so I think the other boys are feeding off him." Wide receiver-defensive back Dash Dorsey also has been a key cog in the playoffs. "Dash has been a one-man wrecking crew doing what he's doing in the playoffs," McMillen said. "It seems every time he touches the ball, he's running for a touchdown." McMillen added running back Brady Piper "is running the ball as hard as anyone in the playoffs right now," he said. "This kid has really picked up his game and has continued to pick up the tough yards for us." Defensive back-wide receive Connor Shields has come up big in the defensive backfield for the Spartans. "Connor is doing everything right," McMillen said. "He has become our leader in the back on defense and continues to make play after play." McMillen added Jaylen Torres is excelling on the St. Francis defensive line. "Jaylen is another kid playing extremely well on the defensive line," he said. "He's not getting many stats, but he's eating up double teams and really doing the dirty work so our linebackers can get to the ball." In the last two weeks, defensive lineman Joey Ayala has 5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss and almost 15 tackles. "Joey is another kid not getting the recognition he deserves," McMillen said. "He continues to make play after play for this football team."
About the Hubs: Rochelle, out of the Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight Conference Blue Division, needed overtime to defeat Dixon 42-36 in the first round and then downed conference foe Johnsburg 34-22 last week. "St. Francis has a number of standout athletes with future plans," Hubs coach Kyle Kissack said. "They can score from any spot on the field and play disciplined defense. We are focused on being the best version of ourselves. We play a simple brand of football with a team-oriented mindset." Kissack said Rochelle has had success on offense due to that team-first approach in its running game. "Our running backs complement each other well and are primary blockers in the offensive scheme," he said. Rochelle played four playoff teams during the regular season and went 2-2, losing 34-0 to 5A power Sycamore (11-0) and 41-20 to 3A upper-bracket top seed Richmond-Burton (11-0), which won the conference. The winner gets either Richmond or Providence Catholic (7-4) in the semifinals.
No. 5 Glenbard West (10-1) at No. 13 Maine South (9-2)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
About the Hilltoppers: Glenbard West was only a four-point loss to York from an unbeaten regular season, a pretty fair accomplishment. But the Hilltoppers seemed to have found a second gear in the playoffs. After a 31-point win over Lockport, Glenbard West ran over what looked like a potent Glenbrook South team 42-0 in the second round. Julius Ellens ran for 312 yards and five touchdowns, and the Hilltoppers scored on their first six possessions. Defensively, Glenbard West held Glenbrook South to five first downs and forced three turnovers. Now the Hilltoppers hit the road for the first time this postseason. The two programs are not altogether unfamiliar with each other. They met in a season-opening series from 2017-2019, Maine South winning the first two matchups and Glenbard West the 2019 game.
About the Hawks: Maine South, last year's Class 8A runner-up, has rolled into the quarterfinals with two wins by a combined margin of 66-0. After a 2-2 start, the Hawks have won seven consecutive games, and to no surprise are a factor once again in the 8A bracket. The matchup to watch here is one between the irresistible force, Glenbard West's high-powered offense, versus an immovable object, a Maine South defense that has already shut out two potent offenses these playoffs in Bolingbrook and South Elgin. Senior QB Ryan Leyden, who missed the last eight games of the regular season with a separated shoulder, threw for 228 yards and four TDs in the 42-0 win over South Elgin. Michael Dellumo had five catches for 74 yards and a TD.
Up next: The winner advances to the semifinal round against the winner between No. 8 Warren (8-2) and No. 1 Lincoln-Way East (10-0).
No. 7 Palatine (10-1) at No. 2 York (11-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
About the Pirates: Palatine, the Mid-Suburban West champion for the second consecutive season, breezed into the quarterfinals with a 47-14 win over Minooka in the second round. The Pirates' only loss came by one point to Glenbrook South in Week 4. Palatine rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense in the win over Minooka. Dominick Ball ran for 172 yards and four TDs after going for 142 yards in a first-round win over Downers Grove South. Junior Tommy Elter, who took over at QB after senior Grant Dersnah was lost for the season in Week 4, threw for 272 yards. A high-powered Pirates' offense has scored 30 or more points in its last 10 games. Palatine is in the quarterfinals for the first time since making back-to-back semifinal appearances in 2015 and 2016.
About the Dukes: York continued its historic season in dramatic fashion last Saturday. QB Matt Vezza's 10-yard TD run, a play after the Dukes turned away a fake field goal attempt, gave York a thrilling 27-21 double overtime win at Marist to reach the program's first quarterfinal since 2006. It sets up what should be an electric environment in Elmhurst, where some 7,000 fans showed up for the Dukes' win over Glenbard West earlier this season. Vezza, who threw for 1,590 yards and 19 TDs during the regular season, showcased his dual-threat abilities at Marist with 142 yards rushing and two TDs on 26 carries, and a passing TD to Luke Mailander. Senior linebacker Evan Grazzini, with 21 tackles in two playoff games and the big stop on the fake field goal, and defensive lineman Ashton Nawrocki are among the leaders of a fierce York defense.
Up next: The winner advances to the semifinal round against the winner between No. 14 Lyons (9-2) and No. 6 Loyola (10-1).