Scouting: Fox Valley's high school football first-round playoff games
By Jerry Fitzpatrick and Dave Oberhelman
Class 8A (bracket order)
No. 25 Oswego East (5-4)
at No. 8 South Elgin (8-1)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Oswego East 16, West Aurora 13; South Elgin 56, Fenton 13.
Outlook: South Elgin coach Dragan Teonic thought this Southwest Prairie West opponent was about the best draw the Storm could expect. Oswego East made the playoffs with last week's 16-13 victory over West Aurora, which lost a red zone fumble in that game. The pass-loving Wolves finished fifth in a strong conference and against West Aurora, junior quarterback Michael Ford threw for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns, 1 to Western Michigan recruit Keion Battle. On film Teonic saw the Wolves defense show five different looks, and like most teams in their conference they are big up front with the likes of 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive lineman Alex Wollschlaeger. Teonic seeks a "team concept" both with Storm defensive linemen Dylan Bernal, Jacob Cooper, Jake Wascher and Justin Giannini and offensively with Kalvin Harvey, Michael Roath, Sam Minnifield, Jess Mize, Vince Tringali and tight end Andy Koch. However, Oswego East hasn't faced the offensive firepower of South Elgin, whose 45.7-point margin of victory is the largest of all 256 playoff teams. Extended only by Bartlett and Glenbard East, the Storm fields five players who've run for at least 5 touchdowns out of the triple option, headed by sophomore quarterback Ben Karpowicz with 11 and Corve King and Marquis Gillespie with 8 apiece. If it turns out to be close, kicker Drew Bucaro is a viable weapon (and is also 3-for-3 on onside conversions). The key, as was seen in the Bartlett game, is turnovers. South Elgin lost that battle 4-1, and the game with it. "If we do that," Teonic said, "we'll get embarrassed."
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 24 Brother Rice at No. 9 Bartlett.
No. 24 Brother Rice (5-4)
at No. 9 Bartlett (8-1)
Game time: 7 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Mt. Carmel 28, Brother Rice 13; Bartlett 47, Streamwood 6.
Outlook: Bartlett coach Matt Erlenbaugh liked this draw against the defending Class 8A runner-up. "We want to play against the best so we can see where we're at with the program," he said. Bartlett's 27-point margin of victory blows away Brother Rice's 3-point edge, but coach Brian Badke's Crusaders faced seven playoff teams and its nine opponents finished a cumulative 51-30. The lineup is sprinkled with Division 1 recruits including defensive end Justin Jefferson, defensive back Giacomo Iraci, receiver Dwayne Moorehead and versatile Willie Shaw, offensive player of the year in the CCL/ESCC Blue division. (The Crusaders also field 315-pound former West Aurora defensive tackle Denver Warren.) A two-quarterback offense features 6-2, 230-pound Colin Smyth and sophomore Jack Lausch. When playing a Chicago Catholic League team the stress is on physicality. Few do better at that than Bartlett defensive lineman Dan Angelone, or are faster to the football than linebacker Brenden Gran and linebacker-end Alec Palella, who made 17 tackles with 6 for loss last week against Streamwood. Erlenbaugh also likes his squad's ability to share the ball offensively starting with quarterback Mike Priami, who's passed for 1,366 yards and 17 touchdowns. Matt Young, Hayden Angell, Nick Bucaro and sneaky good tight end Palella (5 touchdowns on 7 catches) all have at least 2 touchdown receptions. Tyler Rivelli is up to 1,083 yards rushing, and Jordan Snyder provides quality ground support. To advance, Erlenbaugh said, it's "the same as always: I think we need to be the more physical team."
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 25 Oswego East at No. 8 South Elgin.
No. 28 Elgin (5-4)
at No. 5 Oswego (8-1)
Game time: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Elgin 32, East Aurora 26; Minooka 28, Oswego 21.
Outlook: A No. 28 seed, No. 1 in the hearts of a community. The Maroons used will, speed, swagger and an inspiring coach to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They'll need it all to beat a typically strong Oswego team out of the Southwest Prairie West, where five of six teams made the playoffs. Elgin's unsinkable senior, Xavier Bonds, set the program season touchdown record of 18 last week against East Aurora, scoring on 2 Jeffery Lomax passes, on a run, and on a 98-yard kickoff return, his second kickoff return to pay dirt this season. As has repeatedly been written here, Bonds is not the only concern for Oswego linebacker Evan Brown and physical defensive linemen Matt Egly, Jack Hugunin and Anthony Cikauskas. Since returning from injury running back Brandon Bridges has surpassed 100 yards rushing twice in three games. Darien Jackson averages just over 3 catches a game but his sneak attack nets 22.5 yards a reception. Receiver-linebacker Alex West trails only Bonds in all-purpose yardage and leads in tackles with 73, 11 for loss. Regardless of which side of the line of scrimmage Elgin linemen David Behrendt, Mike Stine and the gang will find Oswego a load up front. The Panthers' skill-position players, like running back Beau Miller and receivers Joey DeMarco and Jack Lemke, aren't big but are quick, and quarterback Cole Pradel is a dual threat. Maroons coach Anthony Mason hopes a big play or two can get the pounding Panthers off their game. "We want to use our athleticism, I think we have an advantage there," he said.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 21 Bolingbrook at No. 12 Hinsdale Central.
No. 17 St. Charles East (7-2)
at No. 16 Edwardsville (7-2)
Game time: 6 p.m. Friday.
Last week: St. Charles East 23, Lake Park 14; Edwardsville 51, Kirkwood (Vianney), MO.
Outlook: St. Charles East is back in the playoffs for the fourth straight season, thanks in part to what coach Bryce Farquhar calls a "special group of seniors." That group includes two-way players Clay Conn, Gino Cerrone and Nathan Hull, offensive linemen Alex Cox (6-foot-3, 275 pounds), and Wisconsin recruit Dylan Barrett (6-5, 300), leading rusher Cole Conn (170 carries, 763 yards, 12 TD) and linebacker Nick Schumann, who has 87 tackles (47 solo), 6 tackles for loss and 3 interceptions. "You want to keep wining just to spend more time with these guys because it's such a special class," Farquhar said. "They love being around each other and competing. Not many times do you enjoy showing up to your Monday practice as much as a game, but with this group it's been a special year." The Saints go to war with sophomore quarterback Nathan Hayes, who has thrown for 1,357 yards and 12 touchdowns on 92-of-182 passing (50.6%). He has been picked 10 times. Edwardsville's 3-4 defense allowed 87 points in the Tigers' two losses to East St. Louis and Christian Brothers of St. Louis. They otherwise held seven opponents to 107 combined points (15.3 ppg). The Edwardsville offense is paced by a pair of juniors: quarterback Ryan Hampton and running back Justin Johnson. Hampton has thrown for 734 yards and 7 scores on 47-of-102 passing, according to the Edwardsville Intelligencer. Johnson has rushed for 936 yards and 15 touchdowns. "He's a four-star running back," Farquhar said. "They'll put the ball in the air, but they'll run as much as they can."
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 32 Joliet West at No. 1 Minooka
No. 26 Taft (5-3)
at No. 7 Huntley (8-1)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Huntley 49, Dundee-Crown 13; Simeon 26, Taft 14
Outlook: Game on. The Chicago Teachers Union ended its strike Thursday. Thus, Taft will travel to Huntley Saturday to play this first-round contest as scheduled. The Eagles face a balanced Huntley team. A defense that held Cary-Grove (7-2) to 14 points and Prairie Ridge (8-1) to 10 points limits opponents to 8.7 ppg. Huntley defensive standouts include junior defensive back Alex Janke and senior linebacker Dominic Carone. Janke leads the team in solo tackles (26), interceptions (5) and forced fumbles (3). Carone boasts team highs in total tackles (49) and is tied for the team lead with 8 tackles for loss. The entire defense benefits from the stout line of seniors Matt Burba and Conor Rice and junior Brad Walker. Rice leads the Red Raiders with 6 sacks. They face a Taft offense led by quarterback Daniel Loch. The junior has completed 61 of 123 attempts for 963 yards and 15 touchdowns while limiting interceptions to 4. Senior Dexter Stigall sometimes lines up at quarterback while Loch moves to receiver. Five of Loch's 10 receptions have gone for touchdowns. Taft's top two receivers are 5-foot-9 senior Matthew Knutson (13 receptions, 317 yards, 3 TD) and 6-2 senior Justin Gniedziejko (17-287-2). Huntley quarterback Bruno Bosman is equally dangerous via the air or ground. The 6-1, 185-pound junior has thrown for 821 yards and 8 touchdowns on 84-of-126 passing (66.7%) and rushed for 821 yards and 16 touchdowns on 143 carries. Junior running back Ryder Havens (822 yards, 15 TD) follows a massive offensive line anchored by senior Trevor Masten (6-5, 300), committed to Minnesota State. Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak expects a tough test from Taft. "There are no easy games in the 8A bracket because you're getting really good teams from all over the state," he said. "It's a battle at every level."
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner of No. 23 Marist at No. 10 Glenbard East
No. 26 Thornwood (5-4)
at No. 7 Batavia (7-2)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Batavia 28, Wheaton North 3; Thornwood 34, CICS/Chicago Quest 6
Outlook: Coach Kenneth Smith's Thunderbirds make their first playoff appearance since 2016. Thornwood defeated five teams that finished with a combined record of 12-33. Their four losses came against four playoff teams. The T'Birds enter the postseason on a 3-game slide after losses to 2018 Class 6A runner-up Crete-Monee (44-12), Chicago Hope Academy (21-14) and Thornton (28-6). Batavia coach Dennis Piron said his team takes nothing for granted. "They played some top-flight competition and that game against Crete-Monee game was closer than the score makes it appear," Piron said. "They have a lot of size, big offensive and defensive linemen. They are very skilled in the secondary and sound at wide receiver and running back. Defensively they'll give you multiple looks, 3-4, 4-2-5, cover-2, cover-3. They're a physical team and they'll come after you." So will the Bulldogs. The DuKane Conference co-champs have 18 quarterback sacks, 81 hurries and 11 interceptions, led by senior Sam Barus' 3 picks. The safety also leads the team with 79 tackles. Senior outside linebacker Josh Costello's 5.5 sacks are a team high. Batavia's defense has caused 11 fumbles and recovered nine. A until that limits opponents to 15.4 ppg should get even stouter this week with the expected return of outside linebacker Quinn Urwiler after a two-week absence due to injury. Urwiler also leads the offense with 10 rushing touchdowns. Senior running back Art Taylor has rushed for a team-best 897 yards and 8 touchdowns on 154 carries (5.8 avg.). Junior quarterback Kyle Oroni has completed 87 of 161 passes (54%) for 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns. His leading receiver is Trey Urwiler. The junior has 40 catches for 654 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 23 Grant at No. 10 Hononegah
No. 13 St. Ignatius (5-4)
at No. 4 Cary-Grove (7-2)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: St. Ignatius 21, Fenwick 14; Cary-Grove 42, Burlington Central 14
Outlook: This is a 2017 playoff rematch. The Trojans defeated the Wolfpack 42-14 in a second-round game in Chicago. Both teams run the triple-option offense. St. Ignatius qualified for the playoffs last Friday by beating Catholic League rival Fenwick 21-14. They enter the postseason on a 3-game winning streak that began with victories over Marian Central and Marian Catholic. Junior quarterback Leo Rugai sent St. Ignatius to the playoffs by rushing for 60 yards a touchdown and passing for 65 yards against Fenwick. Senior running back Declan Callahan rushed for 83 yards and 2 of his 9 carries went for touchdowns. Junior slot back E.J. Talarico ran for 57 yards to go with a 55-yard reception. "They have a system and they run their system really well," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "They're good at what they do." A drawback for the Wolfpack? Seven players go both ways, whereas only fullback/linebacker Blake Skol pulls double duty for Cary-Grove. The Trojans allowed 42 points against Prairie Ridge two weeks ago but limited eight other opponents to 50 total points. Skol is the third-leading tackler with 30 total (21 solo) and 3.5 tackles for loss. The senior leads an offense that rushes for 267 yards per game with 869 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in 146 attempts (6 avg.). Senior quarterback Luke Eleftheriou last week threw for 3 touchdowns, including a pair to senior split end Ethan Carlson. Eleftheriou also rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries. "He's playing awesome," Seaburg said. "He was the backup quarterback last year and got mostly defensive reps. He's pretty shifty with the ball in his hands and he's very smart. He's continues to improve."
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 12 Chicago Mather (6-2) at No. 5 Antioch (7-2)
No. 15 Crystal Lake South (5-4)
at No. 2 Deerfield (7-2)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Prairie Ridge 79, Crystal Lake South 28; Deerfield 31, Niles North 6
Outlook: The Gators make their second straight playoff appearance. Like last season, they open on the road against a higher seed. In 2018, No. 14 Crystal Lake South dominated No. 3 Kenwood 49-0 at Chicago's Gately Stadium. This time they visit Adams Field to face a Deerfield team that finished second behind Maine West in the Central Suburban North. The Warriors make their 25th playoff appearance and fourth in five years under 21st-year coach Steve Winiecki. A Deerfield defense that employs five linebackers holds opponents to 16 ppg. That unit includes junior Chris Dawson, who has a pair of 20-tackle games to his credit, according to the Pioneer Press. A player to watch is 6-foot-4, 200-pound defensive end Colin Ward, who has an offer from Butler. "He looks like a machine out there," CL South coach Rob Fontana said. "He has a high motor and seems to cause chaos everywhere he goes. We have to be able to sustain drives. Our issue has been finishing." The Gators average 20.7 ppg. The CL South offense has been missing standout receiver Ian Gorken since midseason. Fontana said the 5-foot-11 senior has been at practice this week "doing what he does," but did not comment on his availability for Saturday. When healthy, the dynamic receiver has 28 catches for 356 yards and 4 touchdowns. Nevertheless, sophomore quarterback Justin Kowalak has thrown for 1,475 yards and 12 touchdowns on 104-of-192 passing (54%). Junior Brock Jewson has 22 receptions and leads the team in receiving yards (541) and touchdown catches (5). Senior running back Des McCarthy has rushed 154 times for 1,010 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 10 Riverside-Brookfield at No. 7 Kenwood
No. 11 Crystal Lake Central (6-3)
at No. 6 Kaneland (7-2)
Game time: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Last week: Kaneland 31, LaSalle-Peru 0; Crystal Lake Central 45, Jacobs 24
Outlook: Teams with prolific spread offenses square off. Kaneland's attack averages 39.2 ppg, directed by third-year quarterback Joe Smith. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound senior has completed 101 of 164 attempts (61.6%) for 1,504 yards and 17 touchdowns while limiting his interceptions to 5. Not just a dropback passer, Smith has rushed for 135 yards and 7 more scores. His stable of receivers includes Max Gagne (30 rec., 602 yards, 8 TD), Colton Doll (30-438-4), Ian Diehl (18-280-2), Brett David (10-140) and Trevor Carlson (11-108-3). The balanced Knights have rushed for over 1,200 yards, led by junior Jack McIntire, who has 518 yards and 9 touchdowns in 96 attempts (5.4 avg.). Short-yardage back Wilson Giffney (6-0, 205), also a linebacker, has scored 6 touchdowns on 34 carries. They face a CL Central defense led by 5-10, 175-pound senior middle linebacker Brenden Parks, who has 7 sacks. Offensively, the Tigers average 25.9 ppg, led by senior quarterback Aidan Ellinger. The 6-foot-, 190-pound senior has thrown for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns on 95-of-174 passing (54.6%). He has been intercepted 12 times. Ellinger has also rushed for 293 yards and 5 scores. His top receivers are 5-9 senior Jake White (26 rec., 561 yards, 7 TD) and 6-2 junior Connor Bartesch (25-379-4). Junior Jake Coss leads the Tigers in rushing yards (706) and touchdown runs (7). "We've got to slow down their passing attack and make them run the ball," Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said. "We have to put pressure on (Ellinger) and make him move out of the pocket. We can't let him stand back there and throw because he is accurate, has a nice touch and a good arm." Senior linebacker Dylan Calabrese leads the Kaneland defense with 65 total tackles, 5 for a loss. Carlson accounts for 4 of the Knights' 10 interceptions.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 14 Lake Forest (5-4) at No. 3 Belvidere North (7-2).
No. 10 Marmion Academy (6-3)
at No. 7 Amundsen (7-1)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last game: Joliet Catholic 49, Marmion Academy 7; Amundsen 40, Von Steuben 0 (Oct. 16)
Outlook: Back in the playoffs after a year's absence, Marmion is determined to kick start what coach Dan Thorpe said has been a "stagnant" offense over the last five weeks. The Cadets have scored 190 points in eight games (not including a Week 8 forfeit by St. Joseph). Marmion scored just 47 points in its last four games. Perhaps a return trip to Winnemac Stadium on Chicago's north side will do the trick. The Cadets excelled on Winnemac's synthetic surface in Week 2, when they drilled Von Steuben 49-0. "The stars aligned," Thorpe said of the site assignment. "Just the familiarity, that's huge. That becomes vital." Amundsen is 3-0 at Winnemac this season. Von Steuben is a common opponent. The Vikings likewise won by rout, 40-0, on Oct. 16. That was the last game Amundsen played due to Chicago Teachers Union strike, which was settled Thursday. The Vikings resumed practice Wednesday after a near two-week layoff. They score 31.8 ppg, led by quarterback Elisha Morris. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior has rushed for 671 yards and 10 touchdowns and passed for 604 yards and 7 touchdowns. Another focal point for the Cadet defense is running back Isaiah Morris (5-10, 185). The senior averages 10 yards per carry. He has rushed for 1,043 yards and 10 touchdowns in 67 attempts. The Marmion defense will be without fourth-leading tackler Caleb Modlin (31 tackles). The senior end was hurt last week against Joliet Catholic, as was junior tackle Matt Welch (20 tackles).
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 15 Hyde Park at No. 2 Boylan Catholic
No. 10 Orr (6-2)
at No. 7 St. Edward (6-3)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last game: Orr 20, Harlan 14 (Oct. 16); St. Edward 40, Ridgewood 0
Outlook: St. Edward makes its ninth playoff appearance overall, its seventh in the last 11 seasons under coach Mike Rolando. The Green Wave were eliminated in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs last year by Urban Prep/Bronzeville. A Class 2A participant this season, St. Ed's seeks the third playoff victory in the school's history, a feat achieved previously in 2010 and 2014. The 22-player squad faces a team it somewhat resembles in Orr. "This is probably the most similar team to ourselves we've seen all year," Rolando said. "I think they have seven seniors and about 20 kids just like us. Similar to most of the teams we've faced this year, they're significantly bigger than us. Their linemen outweigh us by 50-75 pounds a man." St. Edward has dealt with that consistent size disadvantage by using blocking angles, giving senior quarterback Anthony Holte extra protection and getting playmakers in open space. Both teams can put up points. St. Edward scores 34.1 ppg. Holte, a 64.6% passer (95 of 147), has thrown for 1,796 yards and 22 touchdowns. He is supported by a veteran offensive line, junior running back Joe Sacco (591 yards, 10 TD) and junior receiver Zeke Rolando (41 rec., 775 yards, 10 TD). The Spartans score 34 ppg, paced by hard-running quarterback Maqael Henderson, also a linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound junior's running style has been described as "punishing." He is countered by a Green Wave defense led by senior Luke Breier, the team's leading tackler with 97. Sophomore defensive back Clem McCullough accounts for 5 of the team's 15 interceptions.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 15 West Carroll at No. 2 Fieldcrest
No. 15 Aurora Christian (5-4)
at No. 2 Lena-Winslow (9-0)
Game time: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Last week: Aurora Christian 28, Wheaton Academy 21
Outlook: Aurora Christian coach David Beebe said his coaching staff saw their sophomore-laden team "grow up right before our eyes" in last week's 28-21 victory at Wheaton Academy. The win qualified the Eagles for their 16th playoff appearance and third straight. Aurora Christian reached a Class 1A quarterfinal last season but was blown out 49-0 by Lena-Winslow, the team it draws in the first round. Following last year's loss in wet, cold conditions, Beebe vowed to make the offense more balanced and less predictable. That goal has been achieved to a large degree. The Eagles have rushed for 500 more yards than at the same point last season. "That was a big thing we wanted to do," Beebe said. "Now, against Lena (running) still might be hard to do because, like last year, they are absolutely fantastic up front." Beebe isn't pulling a Lou Holtz when he compliments the Panthers' front four like they are the second coming of the Steel Curtain. The rural school of 231 students has two linemen committed to Iowa: 6-foot-2, 247-pound senior end Isaiah Bruce and 6-5, 275-pound junior tackle Gennings Dunker. They will try to shut down an Aurora Christian offense that has thrown for 1,915 yards and rushed for 1,017. Eagles quarterback Ethan Hampton last week threw for 251 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 83 yards and 2 scores. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior has completed 134 of 216 attempts (62%) for 1,915 yards and 27 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions. He has rushed for 360 yards and 4 TDs.
Advancement: The winner advances to play the winner between No. 10 Orangeville at No. 7 Chicago Hope Academy