Another strong playoff turnout from DuPage County football teams
When you think about it, 16 playoff teams out of 28 DuPage County football programs is pretty good.
But now think about this ... Downers Grove North, Downers Grove South, Fenton and Westmont all went into the final week of the regular season with the chance to qualify with a win. Wheaton North and York finished 4-5, just shy of playoff qualification.
We were so close to DuPage domination this postseason, but we'll gladly settle for 16.
This week's Eyes on Five looks at some of the more interesting storylines heading into Week 10.
1. Lilacs and Gardens:
Lombard and Villa Park aren't exactly known as football hotbeds but this season a lot of heads are turning in the Garden and Lilac villages.
Located 2 miles apart, Glenbard East and Willowbrook both are experiencing historic seasons as they enter the postseason unbeaten. Throw in Montini, located in the middle and just to the south in Lombard, and the combined records are 26-1.
The success for the six-time state champion Broncos is no surprise, although an 8-1 record stepping into the elite competition of the Chicago Catholic League Blue is impressive.
No one, however, saw Glenbard East and Willowbrook coming.
Flash back to 2011. John Walters became head coach at Glenbard East and Nick Hildreth took over his alma mater at Willowbrook. The Rams and Warriors went a combined 1-17 that season with no sign of a turnaround, let alone a flip of the script to 18-0 a handful of seasons later.
But here they are.
Glenbard East romped through the Upstate Eight for its first conference title since 1965. The Rams are in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 -- their only other postseason appearance.
Willowbrook went 9-0 for the first time since 1975 while winning a second straight outright West Suburban Gold title. After two straight quarterfinal appearances, the Warriors hope to vault beyond that point this postseason.
Two incredible stories just a stone's throw away from each other.
2. A draw:
When it comes to DuPage County's playoff paths, some draws I like and some draws I don't like.
One that stands out is Wheaton Warrenville South's.
The Tigers, in the playoffs for the first time since 2014 after three straight 2-7 seasons, are 8-1 as the 14th seed in Class 7A. WW South wound up in the lower half of the bracket, which looks like the ideal spot.
While the seven unbeaten teams in 7A are equally distributed in the bracket's top and bottom halves, that doesn't tell the full story of the power distribution in 7A. In addition to Simeon and defending Class 7A champion Batavia, the bracket's top half also features a very dangerous Nazareth squad.
If WW South beats No. 19 Belleville West in the first round, the Tigers would face the winner between Hononegah and Buffalo Grove. After that it'd likely be Rolling Meadows, Normal Community or St. Charles North in the quarterfinals.
At that point WW South could face Glenbard East, East St. Louis, Mt. Carmel ... any number of teams in what would be a pretty tough matchup.
But at that point ... in the semifinals? You take your chances against whoever stands between you and a trip to Champaign.
I'm certainly not at the point where I'll say an eighth state title is in the cards for the Tigers, but, like I said, I do like that draw.
3. Selfish second-rounder:
I can't help but look ahead to the second round of Class 7A and think about the possibility of a great local matchup.
If Benet (6-3) beats Maine West (8-1) and Willowbrook (9-0) downs Lincoln Park (5-4), they'll meet in the second round as both programs try to reach the quarterfinals for a third straight year.
Willowbrook's offense, powered by junior quarterback Sam Tumilty, runs at a lightning-quick pace to keep defenses off balance and limit substitutions. Benet's defense is a perennial strength, from Jack Benish up front to Mike Wymer in the middle and Jack Cooney in the secondary.
It'd be an intriguing matchup, one we've never seen before in the playoffs.
Selfishly, I really hope it happens.
4. Case closed:
If you're looking for one local game to be completely clueless about, I nominate Glenbard South at Boylan in Class 5A.
It's difficult to figure out how this one is going to turn out based on regular-season results. With both teams emerging from a "closed" conference, there's no measuring stick to gauge.
A closed conference is one with 10 teams that plays all nine regular-season games in-conference. There are no nonconference games, just nine league matchups.
It works out great for scheduling but playoff qualifiers become unknowns because there are no comparisons to make with other conferences. With "open" conferences, you can look at nonconference games from every team in a given league and get a handle on how good that league actually is.
But third-seeded Boylan (8-1) comes out of the NIC-10 and No. 14 Glenbard South (5-4) from the Upstate Eight -- two closed conferences, which means wait and see.
There are nine closed conferences in the state with a total of 43 playoff qualifiers. That'll impact a number of our local qualifiers, including Glenbard West, which plays Bartlett from the UEC, and Naperville Central, which faces Plainfield South from the Southwest Prairie.
Glenbard East, the second seed in Class 7A, also represents the UEC.
We'll learn more about the closed conferences after this weekend when some falter and others send a slew of teams to the second round.
Until then, it's a guessing game.
5. Stat time:
Montini has by far the longest playoff streak in DuPage County with 26 straight appearances.
How big of a margin is it? Glenbard West is second on the list with 12 straight playoff berths.
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