And then there were two

Updated 11/14/2017 5:39 PM
  • Benet is one of two DuPage County football teams to reach this weekend's state semifinals.

      Benet is one of two DuPage County football teams to reach this weekend's state semifinals. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

We're living by the unfortunate theory of halves here in DuPage County.

Our original 14 football qualifiers got slashed the first two weeks of the playoffs until four quarterfinal teams remained. Now we're down to just Benet and IC Catholic Prep.

This week's Eyes on Five looks at the final two. And, as always, some other stuff.

1. GoT:

I must admit to having doubts about Benet's chances at a deep playoff run.

But then I found out Saturday the Redwings have been watching select clips from Game of Thrones. Not to leak any spoilers, but think the ninth episode of the sixth season.

Now I get it. This group is ready for anything.

Doubt crept in when quarterback Matt Boyle went down with an injury in Week 5. Backup Colin Gillespie obviously can play -- and play well -- but it's asking an awful lot of a sophomore to step in and guide a team through the brutal East Suburban Catholic Conference and beyond.

Guide the Redwings he has. And now we've reached beyond.

Gillespie hasn't needed to carry the team, but he's been steady. If not for his two touchdown passes last week, the Redwings (9-3) don't advance to a second straight Class 7A semifinal with a 14-10 win at Lincoln-Way Central.

Between Gillespie, running back Ben Hickey and receivers Jack Eschenbach and Nick Keyes -- not to mention an improving offensive line -- Benet flashes just enough offense.

Considering the strength of the Redwings' defense, just enough has been just enough.

With defensive lineman John Benish, linebacker Devin Petersen and defensive backs Ben Cooney and Connor Reid, Benet's defense is the clear force of a team on the verge of the program's second title game appearance and first since 1984.

Fourth-seeded Batavia (11-1) stands in the way in what will be No. 17 Benet's biggest test of the season.

Time to fire up some more Game of Thrones.

2. ASG:

Someone provided glowing terms about IC Catholic Prep.

"They're like a Class 3A all-star team."

Hard to argue with that...even without the team's MVP coming into the season. Fourth-year starting quarterback Luke Ricobene went down with an injury in Week 2, but the Knights haven't skipped a beat.

They're simply too deep with talent.

Lazerick Eatman is the biggest star among the all-stars, rushing for 1,232 yards and 19 touchdowns and catching 15 passes for 454 yards and 9 touchdowns. But consider this: That accounts for less than half the Knights' rushing yardage this season, and freshman Kyle Franklin is over 900 yards on the season.

That's where IC Catholic Prep really gets scary. This team isn't disappearing anytime soon.

Eatman, Ricobene, current quarterback C.J. West and a few other key contributors are seniors, but the bulk of the team is young.

Standout twin brothers Khalil and Khali Saunders are juniors. Leading tackler Kevin Cooke is a sophomore and the next six leading tacklers are juniors.

IC Catholic Prep never hurts for experience on its lines because the Knights typically blend senior talent with younger players.

Last season's Class 3A champions earned the chance to defend the title with a Saturday win over Byron, and they'll be favored to win another title next season.

Get used to seeing the Knights this time of year.

3. Time to Wander:

I'd be remiss if I didn't tip a cap to John Wander, who announced last week he's stepping down as Downers Grove North's coach after 16 years at the helm and 32 years in the program.

I've heard a bunch of stories about the venerable coach in the days since I wrote last Thursday's story about Wander's departure. My favorite stories involve the Trojans' run to the 2004 state championship.

In the opening round of the playoffs, Downers North was at home and hammering Steinmetz 41-0 at halftime. The start of the second half, which would be played with a running clock, had to be delayed due to inclement weather.

Instead of playing the second half, Wander approached the opposing coach and offered an alternative. How about the two teams meet in the gymnasium, eat together, hang out and get to know each other better? The Steinmetz side agreed, and it turned into an amazing bonding moment.

The other story from 2004 is more simple...a Thanksgiving team meal on Carstens Field two days before the Trojans beat Maine South 33-13 for the program's first state title.

Downers North football is a family. Wander made sure of it.

4. All-stating:

A quick word about the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association's all-state teams.

The Class 1A-4A teams will be released Wednesday night, with Class 5A-8A unveiled Thursday night. I'm already anticipating the uproar.

Inevitably there are glaring omissions from the teams, but people need to understand what it is and what it isn't.

It is not a statewide search for the best players. It's a nomination process by a group of coaches representing statewide conferences and regions.

If there is a glaring omission, it's not because the player wasn't deemed good enough. It's because he wasn't nominated in the first place.

I'm not saying it's a good process or a bad process, just that it's the process of the IHSFCA.

5. Stat time:

Of the 32 remaining teams spread among eight classes, 21 have combined for 66 state championships.

Eleven teams -- including Benet -- seek their first title.

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