Scouting the Class 6A football semifinal game between Cary-Grove and Lake Forest
No. 6 Lake Forest (10-2) at No. 1 Cary-Grove (12-0)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Last week: Lake Forest 22, Prairie Ridge 21; Cary-Grove 42, Crystal Lake Central 21
Advancement: Winner plays the winner of East St. Louis (10-2, No. 4) at Crete-Monee (9-3, No. 7) in the 6A state title game Nov. 27 at NIU's Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
Outlook: Cary-Grove finds itself in a state semifinal game for the fifth time since coach Brad Seaburg took over the program in 2011. A real easy comparison here is the Prairie Ridge Wolves.
Cary-Grove beat Prairie Ridge 42-7 in a Week 5 Saturday matinee game at Cary. Lake Forest edged Prairie Ridge by a point in the quarterfinals last week. The Scouts trailed by 6 at the 2-minute warning, scored with under a minute left and kicked an extra point to break the tie.
Lake Forest plays in the North Suburban Conference and finished second to NSC champion Warren (18-14 loss in Week 9). Also of note on their schedule, the Scouts lost to 3-6 regular-season Carmel in Week 2, edged 5-4 playoff qualifier Lake Zurich by 3 points and had a COVID-19 forfeit win against Waukegan. Prior to Prairie Ridge, Lake Forest defeated Antioch 27-6 in the first round and edged Machesney Park Harlem 13-8 in the second round.
Cary-Grove's starting offense has scored on every drive in the postseason except one. Through 12 games, the Trojans have run the ball for 300 or more yards nine times. Nick Hissong leads the Cary-Grove rushing attack with 1,378 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Quarterback Jameson Sheehan has run for 726 yards and 13 touchdowns and has thrown for 806 yards and 13 touchdowns. His favorite target is Noah Riley, who has 26 catches for 529 yards and 8 touchdowns.
"This is a very special opportunity we have earned," Cary-Grove senior safety Toby Splitt said. "We have had a very good season so far. As a team, we're very proud, but we also feel like we have a lot to still accomplish. All we want to do is accomplish our end goal of getting to DeKalb."
Splitt said this journey the Trojans have been on started a while ago. "Overall, this is the result of the hard work that we have been doing, even throughout last season and last winter," he said. "We have a lot of experience from last year and that has helped us out. We have been focused from Day 1 and are dedicated to this program."
Defensive backfield mate Ben Hurt-Haller said Saturday will boil down to limiting large chunk plays. "We have to contain their quarterback (Leo Scheidler), play fast and play our game," he explained. "We have to shut down any big plays. If we can minimize the big plays and steal a couple of possessions I feel like we are going to be fine."
Each team had two players earn Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 6A all-state honors. Cary-Grove's Sheehan and senior Zach Petko made the team, along with Lake Forest quarterback Scheidler (6-1, 180) and linebacker Brock Uihein (6-1, 207).
"Lake Forest's quarterback and their linebacker-running back (Scheidler and Uihein) are definitely two guys who stand out," Seaburg said. "They are really good athletes. Lake Forest's team speed is very good. Lake Forest has played some close games and they have a knack for winning the close games. Every week is a different challenge and a different opponent. Ultimately, it comes down to the same kind of things we have been working on all year and focusing on what we need to do to win against Lake Forest."
Looking back on 12 weeks of progress, Seaburg said the pride level is high for a specific reason. "It's been a great year overall," he said. "We are very proud of them and happy. When we came into this particular season with as many guys returning and the talent we had, we fully expected to be in this situation. I speak for the players and our coaches when I say it is one thing to expect to be there and it is another thing to actually get there. So far, we are right where we want to be."
Seaburg has been thrilled with Hurt-Haller's progress this season. Hurt-Haller, a baseball stalwart headed to Carroll College, tore his ACL last October and then broke his finger during baseball season this past spring.
"Junior year for Ben was really rough for him physically," Seaburg said. "He's started all 12 games for us this year and made a huge impact in our quarterfinal game."
In the odd trivia note category: In Seaburg's first state semifinal appearance in 2012, Cary-Grove beat Lake Forest in the semifinals and went on to face Crete-Monee in the 6A title game. Crete-Monee plays at home in the other 6A semi Saturday.