Trio of 9-0 teams leads Fox area postseason contingent
The IHSA high school football playoffs are back after a yearlong hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg, whose team is 9-0 and top-seeded in Class 6A according to pairings brackets released Saturday evening, there's much more to the story.
"Part of it is, you went through last season and realized how precious it is, and it can be taken away," said Seaburg, whose team will host 16th-seed Rockford East (5-4). "I think the best way to describe our guys is they are enjoying this season. They are appreciating each other's company."
Hear, hear, said Batavia coach Dennis Piron, whose Bulldogs are also 9-0 and top-seeded in Class 7A. They'll start the playoffs by hosting 32nd-seed Lake Zurich (5-4) behind the rushing prowess of senior Jalen Buckley, who has bailed the Bulldogs out late multiple times this season.
"It was a crazy, disappointing year last year with all that happened," Piron said. "With the compression of sports (in the spring) and the summer, we were the most exhausted that we've ever felt. Our players and our coaches and families and community have done a fantastic job keeping us going."
Let the games begin. If Batavia gets past Lake Zurich, waiting in the second round is a potential matchup with always-tough Chicago Mount Carmel (6-3). After that could come another dangerous CCL-ESCC club in Brother Rice (7-2).
Cary-Grove, meanwhile, will have its hands full if it beats Rockford East, with either Belvedere North or Grayslake Central in the second round, both 7-2. Seaburg said his two X-Factor players are sure to be senior offensive lineman Zach Petko and senior running back Wade Abrams, who both play linebacker as well.
Staying in Class 6A, 14th seed Crystal Lake South (5-4) will travel to 3rd-seed Harlem (8-1).
South Elgin (9-0) just missed a top seed in Class 8A, finishing as the runner-up to Loyola Academy, also undefeated. The Storm will host 31st-seed Edwardsville, and its reward for a win will be a tilt with either 15th-seed Glenbard East (7-2) or 18th-seed Chicago Marist (6-3).
Bartlett, seeded 30th (5-4), will travel to third seed Neuqua Valley (8-1) in Class 8A.
The Fox Valley area will be well represented in Class 7A. Along with Batavia, 19th-seed Jacobs (6-3) will travel to 14th-seed Hersey (7-2), while 26th-seed Geneva heads out of town to seventh-seed Collinsville (8-1). Hampshire (28th seed, 5-4) has a long trip, too, off to Moline (5th seed, 8-1). Then there's Larkin, making its first playoff appearance in years, under first-year head coach Grant Dietz. The Royals are seeded 29th (5-4) and face a stern test at fourth-seed Wheaton North (8-1).
Dietz made annual trips to the Virginia state playoffs when he coached there before coming to Rockford East. Getting to the playoffs in Illinois is a big hurdle, he said.
"Where I've been, Virginia, it's Game No. 10 and that's where we wanted to be, that was the expectation," he said. "It's a little different here, but the same expectation."
In Class 5A, Marmion coach Dan Thorpe is hoping for better consistency from his crew, who are seeded 11th (6-3). They'll travel to sixth-seed Chicago Comer (7-2).
"If we can get consistent in all three phases of the game, we could be really good," Thorpe said. "We have breakdowns at certain points, and it makes it tough to overcome."
Also in Class 5A, Kaneland (15th seed, 5-4) will hit the road to Chicago Fenwick (second seed, 7-2).
In Class 1A, 11th seed Aurora Christian will travel to sixth-seed Lena-Winslow (7-2).