Scouting Fox opening round playoff football games
Larkin (6-3) at Lake Zurich (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Larkin No. 22; Lake Zurich No. 11 in the 32-team Class 7A bracket.
About the Royals: Larkin is in the playoffs for a second year in a row under coach Grant Dietz. "We are excited with the positive buzz surrounding Larkin football," he said. "Alumni and the community are active in their support. We have come a long way in a short time, but there is still a lot of work left to be done." Dietz pointed out Lake Zurich's only loss is to St. Charles North, whose only loss is to Palatine, which finished 8-1 as well. "This time of the year is exciting to break out of the usual teams you play and play someone else," Dietz said. "Zurich is well-coached and they play hard. They have weapons on offense and play very well on defense. They will be a tough challenge." Dietz said the Royals' biggest steps will be continuing the process "that has got us to where we are currently," he said. "We finally have a full offseason under our belts and continue to get quality athletes in the program. Slowly, we are becoming more disciplined. I tell them you can't expect different results from doing the same thing. We are performing better in the classroom. The stat and accolades go with them are nice, but our goal is to prepare the young men to be better people to help themselves after their time with us is done. We have come a long way in a short time and we hope we can continue this ride. Football is back at Larkin." Junior running back Jalen Miller has rushed for 755 yards on 80 carries with 9 touchdowns. He also has 20 catches for 350 yards and 4 more receiving scores. Miller has 7 games this year with multiple touchdowns scored. "Jalen has stepped up and played a vital role in the success we are having this year," Dietz said. "I do not normally have a junior as a captain, but his intangibles and quality leadership exemplifies Larkin Pride and he was chosen to be a captain this season. He has raised his level of play and subsequently raised the players around him, too. He runs angry. Senior running back-linebacker Chevy Clements has rushed for more than 700 yards and has 5 touchdowns. "He has played a vital role in our success," Dietz said. "He is a captain and provides leadership on and off the field. He plays in another gear." Senior linebacker and kicker Hector Flores (also a team captain) has 80 tackles and "is always around the ball," Dietz said. "He has stepped up and played well in our games since Week 4. We use him as a special teams weapon." Sophomores Kevin Malone (linebacker) and Robert Grant (defensive tackle) have played well on defense. "Kevin has played awesome this season," Dietz said. "He is a little undersized, but he makes up for it with heart. He plays bigger than he is and glad we have him for the next few years. Robert is a first-year varsity player and has played very well earning player of the week honors a couple weeks. He had an interception. He has quickly matured into a team leader. We are excited to have him for the next few years. Junior defensive back Michael Bresnen and sophomore defensive end Diyonnes King also have made big strides, Dietz noted. "Michael has been getting better each week with our defense. He has had to learn our new defense in a short time and become a leader this season," he said. "He has grown as a person. I am very proud of the job he has done this year. DK is an impressive sophomore who we are excited to have for the next few years. He has gotten better at defensive end each week. He has game-changing capabilities and a strong work ethic with a motor that doesn't stop."
About the Bears: The North Suburban Conference-champion Bears (first NSC since 2017 and fifth overall) are also in the playoffs for a second year in a row. "Larkin is an explosive, athletic team," Lake Zurich coach Ron Planz said. "Their team speed is very good. They hit a lot of big plays on offense and fly around on defense. We are going to need to be disciplined with great pursuit on defense to limit their big play. On offense, we have to make sure we take care of the ball and stay on our blocks. It is great to finally be healthy. We took a beating in the middle of the season with playing the top part of conference. It is also good to see that the guys look comfortable in all our schemes. Guys have accepted their roles and we keep getting better every week. "Ashton Gondeck has passed for 924 yards with 11 touchdowns against 2 picks. Chris Pirrone has 400 rushing yards and 6 TDs, while Gondeck has 380 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. Tyler Erkman has 27 catches for 422 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Jackson Piggott has 22 catches for 351 yards and 3 scores. On defense, Lincoln Adams has 50 tackles and 2 forced fumbles, while Tyler Burkley has 50 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 3 interceptions, while Calen Grabowski has 49 tackles, 2 sacks and 7 tackles for loss. Short snapper Nick Quiroz took over midway through the year after an injury. "Nick has done a great job with that," Planz said. Cason Gwisdala is the team's long snapper. "Cason has been great," Planz added. "Both those guys helped contribute to kicker Danny Vuckovic's great year."
Belleville East (5-4) at South Elgin (9-0)
When: Friday, 6 p.m.
Seeds: Belleville East No. 29; South Elgin No. 4 in Class 8A.
About the Lancers: Belleville East, out of the Southwestern Conference, is no stranger to the Chicago suburbs. The Lancers traveled to Metea Valley in Week 3 and scored a 52-19 win. This time, the Lancers will cover nearly 300 miles and 5 hours of driving time on their way to South Elgin. "South Elgin has been really successful over the past three or four seasons in terms of wins and losses," Belleville East coach Michael Harrison said. "They have a great offense with a dominant rushing attack and their starting quarterback is a rising junior and one of the better quarterbacks in the area. They are physical and their defense runs to the ball well. Their linebacker-running back No. 9 is physical and one of the better linebackers we have seen on film all year. To be successful against them, we have to contain their rushing attack and not give up big plays in the passing game. We will have to find a way to move the ball and score points." Senior captains Anthony Cunningham, Jayden Howard and OJ Mosley lead the way. "We have a great group of seniors led by our captains," Harrison said. "The guys have stayed together and stayed focused over the course of the season, focusing on each individual opponent. We've been able to bounce back from some tough losses to good teams. " Howard, a linebacker, has 100 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and a forced fumble. Cunningham, on the defensive line, has 25 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, while line mate Mosley had 29 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and has a defensive touchdown.
About the Storm: "We know Belleville East has had a good season and is turning their program around," South Elgin coach Dragan Teonic said. "They are well-coached and very athletic. They have several Division I players and have plenty of size and speed. We will be tested because our regular season can't prepare us for this level of football. We hope that being at home is an advantage for us and we need our crowd to be rocking Friday." Teonic has been thrilled with how his team has turned up the focus and intensity in its preparation of late. "Our team has improved our tackling and ball security steadily this season, and that's something we will need to do well moving forward," he said. Running back Jordan Green has 62 carries for 685 yards and 10 touchdowns while splitting time with junior running back Ari Kravis. Wide receiver Mason Montgomery has 38 carries for 505 yards and 8 touchdowns to go with 22 catches for 468 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns. Michael Tringali has 120 tackles and 7 sacks. Also of defensive note has been the play of senior linebacker Christian Tecza and senior defensive end Danny Viscuso. "Christian has been playing great football for us and has been a standout at middle linebacker alongside Michael Tringali," Teonic said. "Christian has great vision and a nose for the ball (44 tackles). Danny has been playing better every week. He came back to football after a two-year hiatus and has been a great addition to our team (29 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 hurries)." Teonic also had great things to say about South Elgin's special teams unit, which is led by special teams coordinator Chris Capps (also the Storm's defensive line coach). "Our kickoff team is playing at the highest level since we have been here (2018)," he said. "They are allowing only 15.1 yards per return and our punt team has averaged 35.4 yards per punt (South Elgin has punted only 10 times this season). And our defensive line has been one of our greatest strengths every season and coach Capps is the key to all of that."
No. 24 Andrew (6-3) at No. 9 Huntley (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
About the Thunderbolts: Andrew defeated Lockport 28-27 last week. ... The Thunderbolts' losses came to Kaneland (52-8), Lincoln-Way East (42-0) and Bradley-Bourbonnais (38-14). ... Andrew is in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. The Thunderbolts were knocked out in the first round in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
About the Red Raiders: Huntley defeated Crystal Lake South 27-19 last week. ... QB Sam Deligio ran for 204 yards, and RB Haiden Janke had 196 in last week's victory. ... Janke leads the Red Raiders with 1,321 rushing yards. ... Huntley's defense has allowed an FVC-low 149 points. ... The Red Raiders shared the FVC title with Jacobs and Prairie Ridge. Their only loss came to Prairie Ridge (35-7).
No. 24 Brother Rice (5-4) at No. 9 Jacobs (8-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
About the Crusaders: Brother Rice lost to Marist 34-16 last week. ... The Crusaders were one spot outside the Class 7A top 10 last week, even with three losses. Their other losses came against St. Rita (17-12), Chicago Mount Carmel (28-21) and Loyola (57-21). ... Brother Rice has been to the playoff semifinals each of the past three seasons, in 2018 and 2019 in 8A and last year in 7A.
About the Golden Eagles: Jacobs defeated Dundee-Crown 31-19 last week. ... The Golden Eagles, No. 8 in Class 7A, return to the playoffs for back-to-back seasons after one of their most successful runs to last year's quarterfinals. ... RB Antonio Brown has 1,677 rushing yards, second in the area, and has scored 21 touchdowns. ... RB Joey Scrivani has 789 yards. ... QB Max Benner does not throw often but has two 6-foot-6 TEs in Grant Stec (21 catches) and Nick True (16) when he does go to the air. ... Jacobs won a share of the FVC title with Huntley and Prairie Ridge. The Eagles' only loss came against Huntley, 37-20.
No. 29 Maine West (5-4) at No. 4 St. Charles North (8-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
About the North Stars: The North Stars are back in the postseason for the first time since 2018, when they were the Class 7A state runner-up. St. Charles North is riding an eight-game winning streak and wrapped up the DuKane Conference title outright (7-0 record) with a thrilling double overtime victory over Batavia last Friday. Headlined by two-way standout RB/LB Drew Surges, the North Stars have rolled since their Week 1 loss to Palatine. Starting quarterback Will Vaske is back and healthy after missing time with a shoulder injury. Vaske has numerous pass catchers to pick apart defenses, including Jake Mettetal, Zach Priami, Anthony Taormina and Jake Furtney.
About the Warriors: After beginning the season 1-3, Maine West surged and reached the postseason with a win over Highland Park in Week 9. The Warriors had three consecutive Class 7A playoff appearances from 2017-2019. Quarterback Tommy Delaney ran for two touchdowns last week and was 12-of-16 passing for 159 yards. Isaac Pittman ran for 105 yards and had one interception defensively.
No. 18 Batavia (6-3) at No. 15 Rockford Guilford (7-2)
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
About the Bulldogs: Losing in double overtime to St. Charles North to miss out on a share of the conference title wasn't the way that Batavia planned to end the regular season. The Bulldogs' conference losses to St. Charles North and Wheaton North were by a combined four points. Batavia boasts a solid defense and has enough offense from quarterback Ryan Boe, running back Ryan Whitwell and others to potentially make a run. Defensively, the Bulldogs feature a difficult front seven that really limits the rushing attack, headlined by Jack Sadowsky and Tyler Jansey. The status of two-way standout Drew Gerke, who suffered an apparent injury last Friday, is unknown.
About the Vikings: Rockford Guilford had a four-game winning streak snapped by Rockford Boylan in Week 8, but bounced back to beat Belvidere North last Friday. In their previous four wins, the Vikings scored 42, 44, 47 and 52 points. Junior running back Jayvon Jones is a highly potent option out of the backfield while quarterback Skyler Wolf is just two yards shy of 1,000 yards passing, per the RJ Star.
No. 21 Geneva (6-3) at No. 12 St. Rita (7-2)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
About the Vikings: This is a rematch of last season's second-round matchup. The Mustangs prevailed 28-7 last season. Geneva started off hot at 4-0 this season, but tripped a bit with losses to St. Charles North, Batavia and Wheaton North. The Vikings are headlined by Nate Stempowski at quarterback. He's flanked by Troy Velez in the backfield. Sophomore wideout Talyn Taylor has been reliable all year. Defensively, Tommy Diamond, Charlie Morrison, Jackson Reyes and Charlie Winterhalter are others to watch.
About the Mustangs: St. Rita has qualified for the playoffs each season since 2000 with the exception of 2012, 2015 and 2018. The Mustangs will try to win a state title after losing in the Class 7A state title game in the last two playoffs. St. Rita earned a No. 4 rating in the latest Class 7A AP poll. The Mustangs' two losses came to arguably the two best teams in the state. St. Rita fell to Mount Carmel, 35-3, and Loyola, 34-14. St. Rita's defense is led by Illinois commit Pat Farrell on the defensive line. There is strong senior leadership with Matt and Joe Kinsbury at linebacker and Johnny Schmitt in the secondary. This season is coach Todd Kuska's last after 25 seasons.
No. 15 Crystal Lake South (5-4) at No. 2 Prairie Ridge (8-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
About the Gators: South lost to Huntley 27-19 last week. ... The Gators scored 41 or more points in their three games before last week. ... RB Nate Van Witzenburg has rushed for 1,217 yards and 21 touchdowns and has caught 30 passes and has five touchdowns. ... QB Caden Casimino has thrown for 2,333 yards and 16 touchdowns. ... WR Michael Prokos has 60 catches, while WRs Brady Schroeder (30) and Colton Hess (27) are next. ... South led Prairie Ridge 27-14 at halftime in Week 8, but the Wolves came back to win 48-41.
About the Wolves: Prairie Ridge defeated Crystal Lake Central 56-49 last week. ... Prairie Ridge is No. 4 in Class 6A and has been to the state championship game three times since 2016. ... QB Tyler Vasey has 2,443 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns. He broke Samson Evans' school season rushing record (2,211) last week. ... FB Nathan Greetham has rushed for 1,072 yards. ... This is Prairie Ridge's eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs. ... Prairie Ridge's only loss came against Jacobs, 42-35, and the Wolves tied Huntley and Jacobs for the Fox Valley Conference title.
Riverside-Brookfield (6-3) at Kaneland (6-3)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: R-B No. 10; Kaneland No. 7 in the top half of the Class 6A bracket.
About the Bulldogs: An instance here where a pair of 6-3 teams square off, this time in Maple Park. R-B took second in the Metro Suburban Conference Red Division behind St. Francis, a team it lost 35-14 to. The Bulldogs also lost 48-14 to 3A standout IC Catholic Prep. Another notable on the schedule was a 35-21 setback to Northern Lake County champion Wauconda.
About the Knights: Kaneland competes in the Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight White Conference, where it took third behind champion Sycamore and runner-up Morris. "R-B is a lot like us," Kaneland coach Pat Ryan said. "They are multidimensional on offense and they play tough defense. They seem athletic on both sides of the ball. For us to be successful, we have to continue to play good defense. Our defense has been playing really well in the second half of the season. We need to be able to stop the run and not get beat deep. That has been our mantra this year. Offensively, we need to be able to protect our quarterback and allow him time to hit his targets." Ryan has been pleased with things he has seen on both sides of the ball. "Our defense has been good most of the year," he said. "We are much more balanced on offense than we were a year ago. We have been able to effectively run the ball with three good backs in Tyler Bradshaw, Chris Ruchaj and Josh Mauthe. We are much more experienced than we were a year ago and that has helped us. Our schedule has made us battle ready." Seven of Kaneland's nine opponents are in the playoffs. Junior quarterback Troyer Carlson has completed 119 of 194 passes for 1,698 yards and 17 touchdowns (5 interceptions). Junior wide receiver-defensive back Aric Johnson has 37 catches for 720 yards and 8 touchdowns. He also has 2 interceptions on defense. Junior defensive lineman-running back Josh Mauthe has 4 touchdowns to his credit, and has 68 tackles, 18 tackles for loss and 5 sacks on defense.
Aurora Christian (5-4) at Fulton (7-2)
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Seeds: Aurora Christian No. 13; Fulton No. 4 in top half of Class 1A bracket.
About the Eagles: Aurora Christian heads way west (just over 100 miles) to face Fulton. The Eagles finished the regular season 2-2 over their last four games and have not won on the road this year. In its four losses, Aurora Christian has given up 127 points (30-6 opponent combined record) compared to 25 allowed in its five wins (10-35 combined opponent record in those games). Aurora is in the playoffs for the sixth time under coach David Beebe.
About the Steamers: Fulton plays in the Northwest upstate Illini Conference where five teams qualified for the playoffs. Fulton's only two losses are to Muskegon Catholic Central (7-2) out of Michigan and to conference champion Lena-Winslow (54-32), a team Aurora Christian knows all too well from recent playoff encounters.