DuPage County: Breaking down the brackets

  • Neuqua Valley will host Conant in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A football playoffs next weekend.

    Neuqua Valley will host Conant in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A football playoffs next weekend. Daily Herald File Photo

Updated 10/26/2019 9:57 PM

By Dave Oberhelman and Kevin Schmit




DuPage County's Class 8A qualifiers (bracket order)

No. 12 Hinsdale Central (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 21 Bolingbrook (6-3)

The resume: The only thing standing between the Red Devils and 9-0 is a Week 8 overtime loss. While quarterback Michael Brescia and receiver Braden Contreras lead the offense, defensive back Owen Goss leads a quietly impressive effort on that side of the ball. In their ninth straight playoff berth, the Red Devils seek their first advancement beyond the second round since 2008.

The draw: State-ranked heading into this week, Bolingbrook was stunned Friday in an overtime loss to Andrew. The Raiders are no typical No. 21 seed. Defensive back Justin Walters is just one of the many Bolingbrook players with major interest from colleges. The Raiders have lost two straight games by 8 total points.

Advancement: Winner plays the Elgin at Oswego winner.

No. 2 Glenbard West (9-0)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 31 Downers Grove South (5-4)

The resume: Seven games with running clocks. The Hilltoppers have been flat-out dominant behind a ground game of Jalen Moore, Nic Seifert, Joey Richmond and Samson Zander that's combined for nearly 2,700 rushing yards. With lineman Dave Lanciloti, linebackers Greyson Metz and Will Skowronski, and safety Sean Michel, the defense has standouts at all three levels.

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The draw: A West Suburban Gold foe awaits the perennial Silver champs. Survive that and it's a matchup with Class 8A royalty -- either six-time state champion Maine South or defending 8A champion Loyola, which has won three state titles and has appeared in the title game in each of the last four seasons.

Advancement: Winner plays the Loyola at Maine South winner.

No. 31 Downers Grove South (5-4)

First-round opponent: at No. 2 Glenbard West (9-0)

The resume: The Mustangs did what they had to do to qualify, including survive three losses by a combined 13 points. In the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Downers South has electric athletes in Jayden Lambert and Eli Reed and a poised dual-threat quarterback in Cole Warehime. Lineman Shawn Lee's return from injury has bolstered both sides of the ball, especially the defense.

The draw: The Mustangs enter the field for the first time in five years, but that's where the good news ends. Friday's 14-7 loss to Downers Grove North proved pretty costly. It's tough to imagine a tougher draw, and that's not even looking past the potential second-round matchup against the Maine South-Loyola winner.

Advancement: Winner plays the Loyola at Maine South winner.

No. 10 Glenbard East (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 23 Marist (5-4)

The resume: Despite returning only three full-time starters from an outstanding 2018 season, the Rams became the first team in program history to repeat as a playoff qualifier and as a conference champion. The trust placed in sophomore quarterback Connor Cerkas has paid off. Often on the other end of Cerkas' passes, senior receiver Deon Cook has compiled an all-state-caliber season.


The draw: Really tough. Playing in the bruising CCL/ESCC Blue, on Saturday Marist beat defending Class 8A champion Loyola 14-6 to get in the playoffs. Two of its losses are to 9-0 Mt. Carmel and 9-0 Nazareth. The RedHawks reached the 8A semifinals last season, the quarters in 2017 and were 8A runner-up in 2015.

Advancement: Winner plays the Taft at Huntley winner.

No. 11 Neuqua Valley (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 22 Conant (6-3)

The resume: The Wildcats are one of the most dangerous teams in the field. Quarterback Mark Gronowski leads a balanced offense with 1,361 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. He's rushed for 501 yards as a complement to running back Armani Moreno's 890 yards. The defense doesn't boast the numbers of past teams, but it's gotten better throughout the season.

The draw: Expectations are high for the Wildcats, whose deepest run was the semifinals in 2012. Should they get past the fourth-place team in the Mid Suburban West, losers of three straight, the road toughens immensely. Homewood-Flossmoor likely awaits in the second round with unbeaten Lincoln-Way East looming beyond.

Advancement: Winner plays the Curie at Homewood-Flossmoor winner.

DuPage County's Class 7A qualifiers (bracket order)

No. 16 Glenbard North (6-3)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 17 Benet (6-3)

The resume: From a winless 2018 campaign this proud program rebounded to earn its 13th playoff appearance in coach Ryan Wilkens' 15 seasons. Wilkens has two Class 8A runner-up finishes as did predecessor Dale Evans in Class 6A. The Panthers have won five straight games, offensively more diverse than normal with quarterback Mike Vazquez arriving to support the power run game.

The draw: DuPage County fave. Benet ended the regular season with losses to Loyola, St. Rita and Nazareth. The expected return from injury of starting quarterback Colin Gillespie should add a boost. Probable second-round foe Mt. Carmel is 2-1 over Glenbard North with a 2015 first-round win and for the 2012 Class 8A title.

Advancement: Winner plays the Eisenhower at Mt. Carmel winner.

No. 17 Benet (6-3)

First-round opponent: at No. 16 Glenbard North (6-3)

The resume: Like in 2013, the Redwings won their first six games and lost their last three. That's where they hope the comparisons end because that team lost in the first round of the playoffs. Two losses this year came to the defending Class 8A and 7A champs. The health of third-year starting quarterback Colin Gillespie is a concern, but he's expected to return to balance a stout defense.

The draw: The eighth straight playoff appearance for Benet won't be easy. Glenbard North, winless last year, rides a five-game winning streak with an impressive dose of power and athleticism. The Redwings will lean on a tough schedule to make a run, although a second-rounder against No 1 Mt. Carmel likely awaits.

Advancement: Winner plays the Eisenhower at Mt. Carmel winner.

No. 5 Willowbrook (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 28 Moline (5-4)

The resume: West Suburban Gold champs for a third straight year, the Warriors romped through the regular season after an opening loss to Providence. Quarterback Sam Tumilty is an elite high school player who's piled up nearly 2,600 total yards while also anchoring the secondary. With Deandre Holliday and Everett Stubblefield, the Warriors have no shortage of explosiveness.

The draw: After three straight quarterfinal berths, is this the season the Warriors break through to the semifinals and beyond? No state powers reside in their semifinal bracket. T.F. South or Yorkville awaits in the second round, then possibly No. 4 Hersey or No. 13 Andrew, which is coming off Friday's win over Bolingbrook.

Advancement: Winner plays the T.F. South at Yorkville winner.

No. 27 Downers Grove North (5-4)

First-round opponent: at No. 6 Maine West (8-1)

The resume: It's been a roller-coaster, but the Trojans qualified with Friday's emotional win over Downers Grove South. Senior quarterback Drew Cassens is as tough as they come. He leads DuPage County with 1,310 rushing yards and also plays punishing defense in the secondary. Between running back Josh Lumpkin and linebacker Drew Bielawski, there's a bunch of talent here.

The draw: Trojans coach Joe Horeni, formerly at Highland Park, may go back in his film archives from the Central Suburban League to figure out how to beat Maine West. Do that and imagine a second-round game against WW South. It'd be their fourth playoff meeting. Downers North claimed two of the previous showdowns.

Advancement: Winner plays the WW South at Harlem winner.

No. 22 Wheaton Warrenville South (6-3)

First-round opponent: at No. 11 Harlem (7-2)

The resume: The Tigers graduated a bunch of talent from last season's bounce-back team, but WW South answered the challenge, especially on defense. Lineman Ben Burger and linebackers Will Cassens and Michael Rogers have carried the unit. Offensively, the Tigers lean on the running tandem of Jake Arthurs and Prince Lankah ... and the big-play potential from receiver Kaleb Clousing.

The draw: As a 22nd seed the Tigers could have done worse than a trip to Harlem. Hard to tell how good the NIC 10 is because it's a closed conference where the nine teams only play each other. Win on the road and it's not a jump to envision the Tigers in a winnable quarterfinal game. Toughening up in the DuKane will help.

Advancement: Winner plays the Downers Grove North at Maine West winner.

DuPage County's Class 5A qualifiers (bracket order)

No. 9 Glenbard South (6-3)

First-round opponent: at. No. 8 St. Rita (6-3)

The resume: Finding a solid niche in the Upstate Eight Conference, the Raiders make their ninth straight playoff appearance and 12th in 13 seasons. Glenbard South didn't take a bad loss all season despite constant skill-position injuries. Through it all senior Nick Plaso remained upright to improve as a dual-threat quarterback. The Raiders seek their first quarterfinal appearance since 2009.

The draw: St. Rita running back Kaleb Brown, a Class 2A all-state sprinter as a freshman last spring, is a load. Just a sophomore, he's amassed 1,210 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns. Closing the regular season with five straight victories, the CCL/ESCC Green team is 5-0 at home this season. A tough draw for the Raiders.

Advancement: Winner plays the Marian Catholic at Sterling winner.

No. 6 Montini (7-2)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 11 Elmwood Park (6-3)

The resume: Now in the playoffs for 27 straight seasons, the Broncos reached championship games eight of the past 10 years with five titles. This season's losses were to 9-0 Mt. Carmel (27-20) and 7-2 Notre Dame. Dual-threat quarterback Deontay Bell has helped the offense average 33 points even while up to eight key players like DiAndre Harris were on the shelf. They're back and ready.

The draw: Very favorable for the Broncos. Elmwood Park accrued 34 playoff points and placed second in the Metro Suburban Red, the weaker of the two MSC divisions. Montini moved to 6-0 against Sycamore since 2007 with last year's 21-17 second-round win. A possible quarterfinal between Boylan or familiar Marmion awaits.

Advancement: Winner plays the Evergreen Park at Sycamore winner.

DuPage County's Class 4A qualifiers (bracket order)

No. 4 St. Francis (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 13 Clark (5-3)

The resume: In 2017 the Spartans suffered their second straight 1-8 season. Since then the development under coach Bob McMillen has been remarkable. An 8-3 record and second-round Class 5A finish last season, now the Metro Suburban Blue title at 6-0 and a Class 4A top seed. A concern is the Week 8 injury to starting quarterback Tommy Rittenhouse. Will he be full-go, and when?

The draw: Third in the Chicago Public League's Illini-Prairie West conference, Clark would be subject to forfeit if unable to practice by Wednesday due to the CPS teachers' strike. Regardless, St. Francis is strongly favored to advance. A potential quarterfinal against No. 1 seed Coal City would be pure warfare in the trenches.

Advancement: Winner plays the North Chicago at Genoa-Kingston winner.

No. 3 IC Catholic Prep (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 14 Sullivan (5-3)

The resume: Here's how the Knights answered the Week 8 loss to St. Francis that ended a 33-game winning streak -- junior running back Kyle Franklin scampered for 291 yards, 2 touchdowns against a 6-3 team. Winning Class 4A in 2018 and Class 3A in 2016 and 2017 and exceedingly well coached, IC Catholic remains the team to beat. Senior linebacker Kevin Cooke is saving his best for last.

The draw: Another school affected by the CPS strike, Sullivan is 0-13 in the playoffs. With Bishop McNamara in the southern bracket, Coal City or St. Francis not up till the semifinals and Rochester in Class 5A it's not a terrible draw for the Knights. Potential quarterfinal foe Richmond-Burton has long been on ICCP's radar.

Advancement: Winner plays the Dixon at Stillman Valley winner.

DuPage County's Class 3A qualifier (bracket order)

No. 14 Lisle (5-4)

First-round opponent: at No. 3 Wilmington (8-1)

The resume: Friday's 55-14 win over Streator sent Lisle into the playoffs for a second straight year, its first repeat since consecutive appearances from 2001-06. Demetrius King Jr. is on an incredible two-game run with 2 special teams touchdowns, 2 defensive touchdowns and a touchdown catch. The Lions have been banged up, but coach Paul Parpet Sr. is a master at instilling confidence.

The draw: Out of all the potential opponents Lisle could have drawn ... These longtime Interstate Eight/Illinois Central Eight opponents played in Week 5, Wilmington winning 27-6. The positive is the familiarity between the two, including Lisle's own 27-6 win over Wilmington last season, the Lions' first since 1995.

Advancement: Winner plays the Dunbar at Eureka winner.

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