Willowbrook looking for breakthrough to semifinals
Willowbrook reached the quarterfinals the last two football seasons, and both times lost to the eventual state champion.
The Warriors are back in the quarterfinals a third straight season, this time to face unbeaten defending Class 7A champion Batavia. Getting to that next level is never easy.
"You never look that far ahead in the bracket, but eventually you're going to run into great programs," said Willowbrook coach Nick Hildreth. "For us it's just another opportunity to take a step forward and grow as a program. Our guys have worked hard to put themselves in this position."
A win would send the Warriors (11-0), who travel to Batavia for a 1 p.m. Saturday showdown, to the semifinals for the first time since 1975 -- the only other season the program won 11 games. It's been a steady climb for Willowbrook after winning six games in 2012, seven in 2013, eight in 2016 and 10 last season.
A friendly rivalry has even developed between the recent classes, a true sign of a successful program.
"You want that healthy competition from class to class, and that's starting to build with us," Hildreth said. "You love to have the alumni come back and have arguments about who the best team was."
It was three weeks ago, but it seems like only yesterday Wheaton Warrenville South and St. Charles North dueled in the regular-season finale.
Now they're back to face each other again in a much bigger game, the Class 7A quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday in Wheaton.
"I'd rather play someone else, to be honest with you," said Tigers coach Ron Muhitch. "That's another game where we somehow snatched a win."
The Tigers (10-1) beat the North Stars (8-3) 13-11 when Jack Olsen kicked a 41-yard field goal with 21 seconds left. That was in response to St. Charles North's touchdown and go-ahead 2-point conversion by Tyler Nubin with 2:10 on the clock.
"If we can top the first game," Muhitch said, "I'd be surprised."
Clearly these teams are pretty evenly matched, a scenario that's been kind to Wheaton Warrenville South throughout this season. The Tigers are unbeaten in seven games decided by two touchdowns or fewer.
The St. Charles North game began a streak of three straight games the Tigers won by a total of 16 points. In the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when the Tigers lost to Providence in the quarterfinals, they're staying close and finding a way to pull out victories.
Even last week when WW South faced a 14-3 deficit deep in the third quarter and rallied to a 20-14 victory over previously unbeaten Hononegah.
"It's been an amazing story of our kids just hanging in there," Muhitch said. "There's a competitiveness with this group that we saw even back in the summer. We'll have our hands full (with St. Charles North), but we'll see if we can keep this thing going."
Running six plays for 2 yards and trailing Sycamore by halftime, Montini had to do something in last week's Class 5A second-round game.
"We adjusted defensively in the second half to get stops and the offense exploded," Broncos coach Mike Bukovsky said of Montini's 21-17 victory.
Montini (10-1) is well-equipped to do that. The Broncos' defense is solid at all three levels, from line to linebackers to the secondary.
Led by defensive tackle Patrick Peters' 9 tackles, the Broncos' starting defensive line racked up 25 tackles against Sycamore.
Linebackers Jackson Bruscianelli and Trevor Swier combined for 29 stops. DiAndre Harris, a rover type, led the team with 16 tackles, while cornerback Jermari Harris supported run defense to make 14 tackles.
Between physical defense and just 1 interception by quarterbacks Deontay Bell and Robert Brazziel, Montini has a plus-15 turnover ratio. Scott West intercepted a rare Sycamore pass, his sixth of the year to join Harris in that category.
"They've been a very strong unit all year long," Bukovsky said of defensive backs West, Jermari Harris, C.J. Bufkin, Ray Wojkovich, Zach Olson and DiAndre Harris.
"One of the things I really like about them is they maximize their opportunities. Sycamore only threw the ball six times and they had a pick. That's happened a lot this year."
It may continue at quarterfinal foe Evergreen Park, a No. 16 seed Bukovsky will not underestimate after "reinventing itself" to beat No. 1 Payton and No. 8 Elmwood Park.
"They'll be tested this week, the way they pass the ball and their speed level and their depth," Bukovsky said.
"Usually I call big guys 'The House,'" Bukovsky said of Evergreen Park's 6-foot-4, 318-pound two-way lineman Jamal Brothers. "I call him 'The Museum.' He's a lot bigger than a house."
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