Scouting Lake County opening round playoff football games
Stevenson (6-3) at Warren (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds; Stevenson No. 25; Warren No. 8 in the 32-team Class 8A bracket.
Previous matchup: Warren 36, Stevenson 16 (Week 4 at Stevenson)
About the Patriots: A North Suburban rematch to open the Class 8A playoffs. Stevenson rolls into Gurnee having won 5 games in a row. "We are playing a familiar opponent in the first round," Stevenson coach Brent Becker said. "The kids are excited for the opportunity to see how much we have grown this season. Coming off a 5-game winning streak, we feel good about where we are at this point in the season." Stevenson's last loss this season was to Warren at home. Quarterback Matt Projansky has thrown for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns. Michael Maloney has run for 488 yards and 8 touchdowns, while Ben Snider has 30 catches for 696 yards and 6 touchdowns. Stevenson has put up some impressive defensive numbers with Luca Morelli leading the way with 75 tackles. Kevin Jimenez is next with 60, while Ethan Aghakhan has 55 tackles, a team-best 10.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Colin Schultz has 9.5 sacks, while Mackenzie Delevitt has 6.5 sacks and Tamer Dalloul has 5.5 sacks. Keegan Latulippe has 12 pass breakups, while Charlie Skolnik has 3 interceptions.
About the Blue Devils: Warren, ranked No. 5 in the Week 9 Associated Press Class 8A poll, opens the playoffs against what coach Bryan McNulty calls a different team than the last time the two played. "We will have to play very well," he said. "Stevenson is a much-improved football team since we same them Week 4. Their quarterback is very good and their defensive front is one of the best in the area." McNulty said team-first football continues to be at the forefront for the Blue Devils. "We continue to come together as a group," he said. Running back Charley Thompson has rushed for 1,148 yards and 12 touchdowns. McNulty also has been impressed with the defensive play of strong safety Jaden Turner and defensive lineman Aidan Porrecca. "Jaden continues to be a standout with his ability to cover physicality," McNulty said. Aidan has gotten better each week." Offensive lineman and three-year starter Cohen Pye also has factored heavily into the Blue Devils' 8-1 success. "Cohen is the most consistent performer on our team," McNulty said. "He's a quiet guy who just goes about his business and performs at a high level."
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."
Carmel (6-3) at Chicago Noble/Bulls (7-2)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (Lane Stadium, Chicago)
Seeds: Carmel No. 9; Nobles/Bulls No. 8 in the upper half of the Class 5A bracket.
About the Corsairs: Coach Jason McKie's squad has enjoyed a 3-game improvement from a year ago, which resulted in an earned automatic playoff berth here. Carmel is 2-2 against teams with winning records this season (wins over 6-3 Antioch and 5-4 St. Viator). Carmel heads to Chicago having won two of its last three contests.
About the Bulls: Noble/Bulls, under the direction of coach Tom Mannix, has gone 8-1 since a season-opening loss to 2-7 Chicago Leo. Noble/Bulls is one of three teams out of the Chicago Public League Red-West Conference to go 7-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play. "Based on the film, I can tell they are a big, physical team," Mannix said of Carmel. "For us to be successful, we will need to match their physicality so we can stop their run game." Mannix said success for the Bulls has come from results being produced on both sides of the ball. "We have been able to be successful this year because of our ability to create explosive plays on offense and create turnovers defensively," he said. Junior running back Jaden Pointer averages 150 rushing yards per game and has 11 total touchdowns. Senior wideout/defensive back Kameron Pointer has 10 total touchdowns and 2 interceptions, while senior quarterback Christian Bankston has 17 total touchdowns.
Chicago Schurz (5-4) at Wauconda (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Schurz No. 16; Wauconda No. 1 in the top half of the Class 6A bracket.
About the Bulldogs: Schurz has gone from 1-8 a year ago to 5-4 this season. The Bulldogs play in the Chicago Public League Red-North Central Conference where they finished tied for third with Senn and Lake View. "We know they are well-coached and disciplined because of what we have seen on film and in the amount of wins they have put together this season," Bulldogs coach James Marable said. "They like to run the ball and we need to make tackles. We just hope that it's a good game. Our kids have put in a lot of work in the weight room and we added a few athletes from the basketball team." Senior Jewgante Abraham (RB-DB) is a 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns, while senior wide receiver-defensive back Jashawn Knighten has 13 touchdowns and more than 500 yards receiving. Senior wide receiver/defensive end Monjae Bell is a multipurpose athlete who will also line up at the quarterback position," Marable noted. Junior quarterback-defensive back Mason Moscatello "has been the bright spot for leading the team this year," Marable said. "He has made some big plays for us."
About the Bulldogs: In the trivia department, this is Wauconda's third Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs matchup this year (Riverside-Brookfield and Grant are the other two). Wauconda, as coach Chris Prostka pointed out, has had an interesting couple of weeks with the forfeit win against North Chicago in Week 8 and then dropping a 31-13 decision to Grayslake North last week that cost the Bulldogs the undisputed Northern Lake County title. "We have been dealing with adversity lately," Prostka said. "Those two results were not how we had planned weeks 8 and 9 to go. We have talked all year about how a team's response to adversity will dictate their season. We look forward to seeing how our team responds Friday." Prostka said Schurz's record is a tad deceiving. "They are very close to being 6-3 or 7-2," he said. "They are a run-heavy offense, but use their passing game effectively. They do a good job of getting the ball to their playmakers in space and making space for them as well. In order to be successful, we need to continue to be physical in all phases of the game. Our offense is at our best when we get our run game going. Defensively, we need to gang tackle and run to the ball carrier. Our tackle stats are very even as a team, which means we have multiple players hustling on every play. We will need to pursue as a group to keep Schurz from breaking explosive plays." Running back Connor Vanselow has run for 909 yards on 97 carriers and has 14 rushing touchdowns to go with 3 receiving touchdowns. Quarterback Logan Olsen has passed for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns, while completing 60% of his passes. Linebacker Nick Smith has 10 tackles for loss in 5 games. Prostka likes how Caleb Apodaca and Ryan Frisch have played on the defensive line. "Caleb and Ryan have been tough," he said. "They both play with great effort and have been harassing other teams in their backfield. They have also done a great job holding their ground when challenged with a double team, allowing our linebackers to make plays."
Antioch (6-3) at Niles Notre Dame (6-3)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seed: Antioch No. 9; Notre Dame No. 8 in the top half of the Class 6A bracket.
About the Sequoits: Antioch rolls into Niles winners of three in a row and six of its last seven contests. "Notre Dame is a tough draw," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said. "They play in a tough league. We played them in a tough game in 2018. Coach (Mike) Hennessey has been doing this a long time. Their kids are disciplined. We need to win the turnover battle and special teams phase to beat them. We are progressing in all aspects of our game. Special teams has improved every week, as well as the little things such as taking care of the football as well as creating turnovers." Sophomore running back Martin Cohen has 33 catches for 700 yards and has run for 216 yards on 26 carries with 15 touchdowns. Junior running back Nick Day has run for 1,003 yards on 131 carries and also has 15 touchdowns. Senior linebacker Caleb Nobiling has 90 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, a sack and a pick. Division I commit Joey Neumann is also having an outstanding season. "Joey is an absolute stud and a D-I scholarship player at tight end," Glashagel said. "He has secretly become one of the best outside linebackers we have had and I have ever seen." Junior Carter Webb is 45-for-50 on extra-point kicks and has a 34-yard field goal to his credit.
About the Dons: Notre Dame plays in the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference Green Division that also includes St. Rita (7-2), Nazareth Academy (5-4) and Benet (4-5). The Dons' losses have come to Chicago Mt. Carmel (42-0), Benet (21-14) and St. Rita (30-6). "We know that Antioch is a quick, disciplined, well-coached team," Hennessey said. "They play a tough schedule, so they are battle tested for the playoffs. We have been able to attain playoff success because of hard work that has developed into good leadership and teamwork. We have also faced a tough schedule, which prepares us for this challenge to play Antioch." Hennessey added the Dons' success can be traced to all aspects of the game. "We try our best to play good, complementary offense, defense and special teams so all areas are covered."
Grayslake Central (6-3) at Belvidere North (7-2)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Grayslake Central No. 12; Belvidere North No. 5 in the top half of the Class 6A bracket.
About the Rams: If this matchup looks familiar, it's because it is! This is a rematch of last year's playoff opener, won by Central 27-22 in Belvidere. "It's a Deja-Vu first round matchup," Rams coach Mike Maloney said. "Coach Beck has a disciplined squad that monopolizes time of possession. They are built for 3 yards and a cloud of dust offensively. They are a precision-based offense that can bust the big play at any time when the defense over-pursues, under-pursues or fails to be gap-sound. This will be a tremendous challenge for us. Defensively, they are athletic and quick to collapse on the ball carrier. Their gang tackling mentality jumps out on film. I'm sure they will key on Kaiden Miller, similar to several of our previous opponents. We hope to make that difficult using our misdirection, play-action and a variety of formations that will create conflicting reads. Against Lakes (last Friday), we didn't do ourselves any favors in the kicking game, basically creating a 20-point swing due to penalties and coverage gaffes. It's imperative we play a clean game in all areas of special teams. Lastly, tackling and take-aways produce playoff victories." Miller is about 200 yards away from the Central single-season rushing record. He already owns the school career records for points and touchdowns. Matty Jens is the team's leading tackler with 64 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception and 1 defensive touchdown. Central's offensive line has allowed 10 sacks in 9 games on 127 passes and has allowed the Rams to amass 3,209 yards of total offense, 1,922 of it coming on the ground. Jens and Jordan Cleaves have been a pair of defensive leaders. "Matty and Jordan both consistently lead their position group with solid communication and consistent play," Maloney said. Maloney noted Jayden Kante has kicked a pair of key field goals this season, one to put the game out of reach against Geneseo and one last Friday against Lakes to tie the game at an intense moment. Maloney said team chemistry has to be listed as part of the Rams' success recipe this season. "The progress we are making as a group off the field has been more noticeable than any visible productivity in competition," he said. "Our locker room has become closer through this season's journey of strain and struggle. Trust and dependability continue to develop among the players. As the relationships and bonds continue to strengthen, we become a more potent football team. We are in the playoffs for the second consecutive year. We have created a culture and environment where that is now the expectation. The credit goes to the large number of graduates who put in all the sweat equity to build this program up from the depths. Guys like Colin O'Malley, Payton Waigand, Joey Jens, Matthew Ogunnubi and Keaton Dietch, just to name a few. They didn't experience a large number of wins, but they sure did pave the path."
About the Blue Thunder: Belvidere North finished tied for second in the NIC-10 Conference behind 8-1 Rockford Boylan. North plays only conference games in the 10-team league. Interestingly, North defeated Boylan 31-28 earlier in the season, but comes into this game on a two-game losing streak after dropping Week 8 and 9 contests to Harlem (21-17) and Rockford Guilford (14-7) on the road.
Chicago Senn (5-4) at Grayslake North (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Senn No. 14; Grayslake North No. 3 in the top half of the Class 6A bracket.
About the Bulldogs: Senn plays in the Chicago Public League Red-North Central Conference along with Chicago Schurz, which will also play a Northern Lake County foe in Wauconda in the first round of the playoffs. Senn is 1-3 this season against teams with a winning record.
About the Knights: North is fresh off its exciting Week 9 win over Wauconda which produced the first share of a conference title since 2012 when the Knights went 8-1 and won the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division. The 8-1 effort ties for the most wins in school history. "Unfortunately, we do not know much about our opponent this week, and it is always on us getting better," Knights coach Brian Johnson said. "That is our main focus to be successful. The most important thing is we need to prevent having a letdown after an emotional, intense game the week before. As much as we want to revel in our victory, it's the playoffs now and everyone is 0-0." Johnson likes how the North defense has been playing lately. "Our defense is really coming together," he said. "We are playing team defense and our defense is peaking at the right time. We implemented a new defense this year and we needed some game time to get adjusted to it." Jake Donohue has thrown for 5,180 yards and 59 touchdowns in his North career and is at 1,666 yards and 20 touchdowns this season on 114-for-200 passing. Michael Jefferson has run for 418 yards on 43 carries with 5 touchdowns, has caught 14 passes for 184 yards and 5 touchdowns and 310 return yards and two more scores. On defense, he has 39 tackles and 2 picks. DJ Neely has caught 33 passes for 580 yards and 6 touchdowns. Sophomore Mitchel Hughes had 2 interceptions and 4 tackles against Wauconda last week, while Max Bouma had 4 tackles for loss in the critical win and now leads the team in tackles with 51. Gavin Congalton booted a 38-yard field goal last week. Johnson also likes how Jeffery Ventura has been playing. "Jeffery started the season as a defensive back and stepped up to play defensive line in Week 1," he said. "He recently mixed in at linebacker. This young man has a motor and is fun to watch play the game."
Libertyville (5-4) at Yorkville (8-1)
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Seeds: Libertyville No. 26; Yorkville No. 7 in the 32-team Class 7A bracket.
About the Wildcats: "Yorkville is a big, physical team that likes to run the ball and plays very good defense," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "Offensively, they are a power offense with oftentimes three backs in the backfield and then play-action pass off that action. Defensively, they are a four-man front that is very good and expect them to dictate the game so they do not have to blitz that much." Jones said the Wildcats' defense continues to take strides forward. "Our defense is playing better as a group," he said. "They are running to the ball better and tackling better. Helping with that improvement are defensive lineman Cole Matulenko and linebacker Charlie Clark. "Cole has a great motor and works as hard as anybody to prepare to play a game," Jones said. "Charlie was moved to inside linebacker and has flourished. He reads plays well and is quick to react." Jake Richter has been a key factor for Libertyville as well on the offensive line. "Jake has played several positions on the offensive line for us and has done so willingly," Jones pointed out. "He has moved from guard to center and then back to guard. He is very unselfish."
About the Foxes: Yorkville's only loss was a 24-0 setback at the hands of undefeated and state-ranked Plainfield North. "Libertyville is very aggressive on both sides of the ball," Yorkville coach Dan McGuire said. "They look for explosive plays on offense and defense. They have a quarterback with a strong arm who is also very mobile. Defensively, they are sure tacklers and look to pressure the offense into mistakes. We need to do our best to limit big plays on offense and handle their pressure on defense." McGuire said defensive play has been key this season. "Our defense has led our team throughout the season," he noted. "Many of our defensive players have played for three years with the varsity and have kept us in games throughout the season." Senior defensive end Andrew Laurich has 40 tackles and 20 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Blake Kersting has 47 tackles, while senior defensive end Jake Davies has 36 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.