Two of state's best football programs finally going to meet
They've combined for 63 playoff football appearances, 13 championship games and eight state titles.
And they've never played each other until now.
Remarkably, Naperville Central and Maine South meet for the first time at 1 p.m. Saturday in Park Ridge with a berth in the Class 8A semifinals on the line.
"It's kind of crazy with the success both programs have had that we've never met," said Redhawks coach Mike Stine. "A lot of those years it was hard for our paths to cross, but you'd think it would have happened at some point."
Sixteen times they've competed in the same playoff class but 12 times they ended up in opposite sides of the bracket when the field was divided in half geographically.
In 1998 they would have met in the second round, but Maine South lost a week earlier. They nearly played in the 2001 Class 8A title game, but Maine South lost to eventual champion Downers Grove South in the semifinals. In 2004 Naperville Central lost in the quarterfinals just before the Redhawks would have faced the Hawks.
It's interesting history, but only for some. For the players it's just another hurdle on the path to the ultimate goal of a state title.
"Our kids don't know the difference," Stine said. "The coaches and fans might know, but the kids are just focused on winning a football game."
On the run:
As far as defending offensive schemes, IC Catholic Prep's Class 3A quarterfinal draw Saturday against Wilmington is perfect timing.
"Thank God we saw Peotone ahead of time," said Knights' coach Bill Krefft.
Reason being is that ICCP (10-1) faces consecutive foes, both out of the Interstate Eight Conference Small Division, that rely on similar run-based offenses.
In the No. 5 seed Knights' 29-16 win at Peotone -- the tightest game ICCP has had since losing Week 2 to St. Laurence -- the Blue Devils mainly used a single-wing offense with a fullback. No. 8 seed Wilmington (10-1) goes a step further with its two-tight end, double-wing set.
It might look easy to prepare for, but that can be deceiving.
"It's hard to simulate them (in practice)," Krefft said. "Their scheme has been run to perfection through so many reps it's hard to get the scout team to do it at such a high level."
Like any championship-caliber team, Wilmington adjusts to the defense.
"They really do have options and answers within their system," Krefft said.
To their credit against Peotone, not only did ICCP linemen occupy bodies so linebackers could tackle -- Kevin Cooke with 15 tackles, Khali Saunders 10 and Jacob Lytton 9 -- they shed blockers to make numerous stops themselves.
Ricky Mysliwiec led Knights linemen with 7 tackles while burly Koby Reed had 5 and Dylan Packer and Michael Johnson made 4 tackles apiece. Jack Enright, David Vargas and Kevin Akins each had 2 tackles.
Getting off the ball fast and delivering blow after blow, Peotone and Wilmington make things tough despite apparent predictability.
"To a man we thought they (Peotone) were a physical football team and we know Wilmington beat them," Krefft said. "And the physical level of Wilmington has to be at that or above that level."
Not many points were necessary, not the way Benet's defense played on Saturday.
It made the decision to attempt four field goals much easier for Redwings coach Pat New, who turned to senior kicker Victor Karam for 14 points in a 26-0 victory over Hononegah that sent Benet to the Class 7A quarterfinals for a second straight year.
"The beginning of the game was like two boxers feeling each other out, and we kind of had a feeling it'd be a defensive game," New said. "Coming up with points is so important in the playoffs."
While "settling" for a field goal is natural at the college and professional levels of football, it's not a given in high school. Benet (8-3) is lucky to have an experienced kicker like Karam to depend on in red-zone situations that stall.
Not every coach can expect their kicker to go 4 for 4 in field goals, including a 41-yarder, in addition to a pair of extra points. It'll be another weapon the Redwings take into their 1 p.m. Saturday game against Lincoln-Way Central in New Lenox.
"I've always kind of believed in taking your points when you can get them," New said. "I feel a lot more confident doing that with the kicker we have."
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