Unbeaten Lake Zurich, Antioch lead the postseason charge
Most football coaches will tell you that every team is undefeated when the playoffs start. In other words, everyone is 0-0.
And yet, no one is going to forget which teams are truly undefeated.
They are favorites in their classes, and they are the teams that will draw the most attention and respect as the IHSA playoffs open with first-round action next weekend.
The Daily Herald's Lake County coverage area boasts two undefeated teams that were rewarded with top seeds and favorable matchups on Saturday night during the IHSA's televised playoff pairings show.
Lake Zurich (9-0) earned a No. 3 seed in Class 7A and will face No. 30 Schaumburg (5-4). Meanwhile, 9-0 Antioch, which recorded its second straight undefeated regular season, also earned a third seed and will open up the Class 5A playoffs facing No. 14 Woodstock's Marian Central, which qualified for the playoffs on points at 5-4.
"I honestly never thought about whether or not we could go 9-0," first-year Lake Zurich coach Luke Mertens said. "I got hired so late (in April of 2017) and had so much to do, I really gave no forethought about what the future might hold.
"I knew we had some talent and a great tradition but I also knew we had a lot of work to do. Here we are nine weeks later and we're 9-0. But we aren't overconfident about it. I think everyone is aware that once you're in the state playoffs that it only gets tougher from here."
Antioch coach Brian Glashagel is convinced that the playoffs will be tough for his team, starting with that first-round game. He says that Marian Central isn't your typical 5-4 team.
"They've got a really big-time quarterback at Marian who got hurt early in the season and was out. They were also missing a really good running back," Glashagel said. "Those guys came back in Week 8 and Marian beat a Notre Dame team that was ranked in Class 8A and then won by 30 (on Friday night). That is a big-time deceiving (5-4) team."
Also in Class 5A, No. 5 Lakes (8-1) earned a home game and drew a favorable matchup in No. 12 Westinghouse (5-4). The Eagles' only loss this season was to Northern Lake County Conference rival Antioch, its sister school.
"The biggest lesson that we took away from the Antioch game was the importance of each play," Lakes coach Jordan Eder said. "If you let a couple of plays get away from you in a competitive, playoff-type of game, they will come back to haunt you. We had a 14-point lead in the second quarter and had the ball again but we weren't able to do anything with it to put the game away and Antioch came back. Some of those plays that you think are little plays early in the game can really make a big difference later and I think we learned that lesson."
Along with Lake Zurich in Class 7A, Libertyville pushed its way into the playoffs with a 5-4 record. The No. 26 Wildcats, who rolled up among the most playoff points in the state, will have to travel all the way to the other end of the state for a matchup with No. 7 East St. Louis (8-1).
"We're not just traveling 45 minutes down the road, we are making a trip," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "But we're kind of excited about playing someone different. There's some mystery to it. This will be something our kids will remember."
In Class 6A, first-year Grayslake North coach Sam Baker will remember his first playoff pairings show. He got it on tape. He and the Knights celebrated the occasion with a party at a local restaurant.
No. 11 Grayslake North (6-3) will face No. 6 Mather (7-2).
"The way they did the show was a lot of fun," said Baker, who came to Grayslake North from a coaching job in Minnesota. "They way they announce the playoffs in Minnesota is kind of anti-climatic. This was cool and the kids liked it. They were all cheering when our name came up.
"It's been a good first season for us. The transition was pretty easy. We have a good group of seniors who really bought into what we are trying to do. They were used to winning and they were ready for the next challenge."
In Class 8A, Warren and Stevenson again made the field. The Patriots are making their 29th playoff appearance, but they are entering on a down note. They lost their Week 9 game to Warren to finish the season 6-3.
No. 22 Stevenson will face No. 11 Hinsdale Central (7-2).
Meanwhile, No. 21 Warren (6-3) will take on No. 12 Bolingbrook (7-2).
"I'm from the (Bolingbrook) area, so I know the football down there is really good, there's a lot of talent down there and that team will be very well coached," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "But we are feeling really good. When you beat a team like Stevenson at their place, that is a very quality win. That was good for us. I think that will really help us (in the playoffs)."
Games will be played either next Friday or Saturday; starting times for the entire field will be released by the IHSA on Monday.
Class 8ANo. 21 Warren (6-3) at No. 12 Bolingbrook (7-2)
No. 22 Stevenson (6-3) at No. 11. Hinsdale Central (7-2)
Class 7ANo. 26 Libertyville (5-4) at No. 7 East St. Louis (8-1)
No. 30 Schaumburg (5-4) at No. 3 Lake Zurich (9-0)
Class 6ANo. 11 Grayslake North (6-3) vs. No. 6 Mather (7-2), site TBA
Class 5ANo. 12 Westinghouse (5-4) at No. 5 Lakes (8-1)
No. 14 Marian Central (5-4) at No. 3 Antioch (9-0)