Scouting DuPage County semifinal playoff football games
No. 5 York (11-1) at No. 1 Loyola (12-0)
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday
Tune in: This game will be broadcast on the Marquee Sports Network.
About York: The Dukes are back in the semifinals for the second straight season, with a familiar opponent. Loyola beat York 30-3 in last year's semifinal. York comes in off an impressive 36-29 win over Edwardsville, a game in which the Dukes scored 29 consecutive points to erase an early 21-7 deficit. Senior WR Luke Mailander, an Illinois State recruit, had a huge game with 10 catches for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Senior QB Sean Winton threw for 248 yards. Jack Trautmann tied a school record with four sacks and also had five tackles. Mailander, Winton and workhorse running back Jake Melion will be tested by a Loyola defense that has allowed just 99 points this season. Two-time All-State linebacker Cole Ostendorf, linebacker Joey Maucieri and defensive lineman Joe Reiff, a Notre Dame recruit, are anchors of the York defense.
About Loyola: Defending Class 8A state champion Loyola has not missed a beat this season under first-year head coach Beau Desherow. The Ramblers come in off a 41-7 quarterfinal win over St. Ignatius. Eleven of their 12 wins have come by double digits, the lone exception a 23-21 Week 9 win over Class 7A semifinalist Mount Carmel. Nicholas Arogundade had 138 receiving yards and two TDs against St. Ignatius, QB Ryan Fitzgerald threw for 207 yards and rushed for 51 and Drew MacPherson rushed for two TDs. Arogundade leads the team with 34 receptions and 454 receiving yards, but six Ramblers have at least 10 catches this season and nine have caught a touchdown pass. Few programs statewide have the pedigree of Loyola, three state titles since 2015 with seven championship-game appearances since 2011.
Up next: The winner faces either No. 3 Barrington (12-0) or No. 2 Lincoln-Way East (12-0).
No. 1 Normal Community (12-0) at No. 13 Downers Grove North (10-2)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
About Normal: The Ironmen are in the state semifinals for the first time since 2007. Normal outscored Glenbard East 31-0 in the second half of last week's quarterfinal to erase a 14-point halftime deficit in a 45-28 win. Tommy Davis, an honorable mention All-State pick, rushed for 100 of his 164 yards in the second half, with a 65-yard touchdown on Normal's first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Junior QB Kyle Beaty threw for 1,502 yards and 20 TDs with five rushing scores during the 9-0 regular season. Junior WR Mar'Quan Gary had 15 TDs during the regular season. Senior DL/TE Dexter Niekamp, a Class 7A All-State pick, is committed to Illinois State. Normal has outscored opponents 570-130 with six shutouts.
About Downers Grove North: The Trojans are in the state semifinals for the first time since the 2004 Class 8A state championship team, and hosting a semifinal for the first time since 2003. Downers Grove North appears to be peaking at the right time. It erased an early deficit in a 24-21 win over previously unbeaten Hersey, then routed Lincoln-Way West 34-6 in the quarterfinals last Saturday. Sophomore QB Owen Lansu threw for 259 yards and four TDs, Noah Battle ran for 177 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries and Charlie Cruse finished with seven catches for 109 yards and a score. Downers Grove North's only two losses, to York and Lyons Township, came when Battle was sidelined with an injury. Leading the defense is senior linebacker Cael Brezina, an Iowa State recruit and a Class 7A All-State pick.
Up next: The winner faces either No. 6 Mount Carmel (11-1) or No. 7 Batavia (11-1).
No. 8 St. Francis (10-2) at No. 15 Nazareth (7-5)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
About St. Francis: The Spartans are back in the semifinals for the second straight season -- they lost to Providence 17-14 in last year's Class 4A semifinals. St. Francis seeks its first finals appearance since winning the 2008 Class 5A title. St. Francis beat Nazareth 35-17 win Week 9. Alessio Milivojevic threw for 273 yards and two TDs to Ian Willis, who had 133 receiving yards, and TyVonn Ransom ran for 113 yards. St. Francis has ripped off eight straight wins since a 2-2 start, with wins over Joliet Catholic and IC Catholic along the way. Milivojevic on the season has completed 74.4% of his passes for 3,102 yards with 36 TDs and just four interceptions. Ransom has rushed for 1,327 yards and 10 TDs and Willis has 73 catches for 941 yards and 15 TDs. Defensively, senior LB Dom Beres has 164 tackles.
About Nazareth: The Roadrunners have put an 0-4 start and a 4-5 regular season in the rearview mirror, like last year finding another gear and new life in the playoffs. Now they're a win away from an improbable return to state to defend their Class 5A title. Nazareth kept its run going in dramatic fashion in last week's quarterfinals, rallying at Carmel 21-17 on Logan Malachuk's 27-yard TD pass to James Penley on third-and-15 with 46 seconds left. Malachuk threw for 309 yards in the win. Penley finished with 106 yards on seven receptions, while sophomore Trenton Walker had nine catches for 140 yards. Anchoring the defense is junior lineman Gabe Kaminski, a Class 5A All-State pick.
Up next: The winner faces either No. 12 Joliet Catholic (9-3) or No. 15 Providence (8-4).
No. 4 Wheaton Academy (11-1) at No. 11 St. Laurence (9-3)
When: 3 p.m. Saturday.
About the Warriors: Wheaton Academy enters its first state semifinal contest on a serious roll, having won 8 consecutive games since a 30-29 loss to Hope Academy in mid-September. During that time, the Warriors have topped the 40-point mark on 6 occasions, including last weekend's 42-7 home quarterfinal triumph over Sandwich. "It means a lot," Warriors coach Jim Johanik said of his team's school record-breaking season. "We've had good teams for the past three years, in some ways very comparable, but this year, we've seen it manifest in a deep playoff run. Playing eventual state champ Joliet Catholic in the second round two years ago ended that good season. Playing runner-up Providence last year to a 17-3 first-round loss, after three offensive stalls inside their 5-yard line, left a sour taste in our mouths that is only now beginning to go away. A season like this, we long felt, was going to eventually happen." Against Sandwich, the Warriors executed on both sides of the ball, scoring touchdowns on their first 4 opening half possessions behind a pair of Brett Kasper touchdown passes and his touchdown keeper, while the defense, anchored by Robert Grant (13 tackles) and Jeremy Johanik, kept Sandwich off the scoreboard. "We needed to instill several things to handle Sandwich's wishbone offense and we executed," said Johanik. Now, the Warriors set their sights on a St. Laurence team fresh from a 24-20 come-from-behind quarterfinal victory over defending 3A state champion IC Catholic Prep. "When you watch the film, you can see St. Laurence is playing with passion and purpose," said Johanik. "Add to that they have some great athletes running the ball behind a solid line. St. Laurence overcame IC's dynamism by being true to who they are -- a tough, physical team. We'll have to match that toughness this week." If the game is tight down the stretch, the Warriors possess a not-so-secret weapon in kicker/punter Ethan Head, who was 6 of 6 on PAT attempts, averaged 46.5 yards per punt, and booted 5 of 6 kickoffs for touchbacks. "When your opponent has to begin on the 20-yard line after every kickoff, it's difficult to sustain 80-yard drives," said Johanik. "Ethan is as much a contributor to the success of the defense as he is on offense when we can salvage 3 points for a drive that comes up short. He's number 2 in the nation in kickoff yardage and number 2 in the state in kick scoring. He's a big reason we're in the place we are as a team."
About the Vikings: Nearly a month ago, the Vikings were reeling a bit following back-to-back losses to St. Rita and Montini to finish the regular season. Since then, however, they have regrouped with 3 consecutive postseason victories, highlighted by a 31-21 second-round win over Dixon two weeks ago, followed by a 24-20 quarterfinal road win over perennial postseason powerhouse IC Catholic Prep last weekend. Trailing 20-17, Vikings senior quarterback Evan Les directed an 11-play, 77-yard drive in the final 3-plus minutes, capped by Aaron Ball's go-ahead, 2-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds remaining to pull off the comeback triumph. Les and Ball combined for 181 rushing yards, as the Vikings advanced to the semifinals for the first time since back-to-back appearances in 2015 (lost to eventual champion Nazareth) and 2016 (lost to Sacred Heart-Griffin). St. Laurence, which captured the 5A state title in 1976 and placed second in 1979, appears to be relishing the underdog role. "From Week 1, we've been doubted," Vikings coach Adam Nissen told Shaw Local News Network reporter Scott Schmid following the IC game. "We never get picked to win games." The winner will face either No. 1 Rochester (12-0) or No. 2 Murphysboro (11-1) for the 4A state championship at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 at Illinois State University's Hancock Stadium in Normal.
No. 1 Byron (12-0) at No. 6 Montini (9-3)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
About Byron: The Tigers, 2021 state champions and runners-up in 2018 and 2019, are making their sixth straight semifinal appearance with perhaps their best team yet. Byron has outscored its first 12 opponents by a 728-67 margin and with a possible two games left could break the state record of 805 points in a season set by Peoria in 805. The Tigers, who last lost to IC Catholic Prep in last year's semifinals, beat the Du-Pec Co-op 63-15 in the quarterfinals. And the Tigers have hardly done it in high-flying fashion, relying on precise and numbingly efficient wing-T rushing attack. Sophomore RB/LB Caden Considine leads Byron in rushing and tackles. His dad, Sean, is an assistant on the team and was the star of Byron's first state team in 1999 before playing collegiately at Iowa and in the NFL. Anchoring the line is All-Starer Jared Claunch, a 5-foot-11, 240-pound junior. Remarkably, Byron has put up those numbers with a sophomore as its leading rusher and a freshman, Andrew Talbert, at quarterback.
About Montini: The Broncos' resurgent season has rolled on into the playoffs. Now Montini is a win away from the program's first championship game appearance since the 2018 Class 5A runner-up -- although a huge challenge awaits with Byron. Alex Marre rushed for 174 yards and three TDs in last week's 27-9 quarterfinal win over Princeton, a game in which the Broncos trailed 3-0 at halftime. Marre has rushed for 1,399 yards and 16 TDs on the season. Gaetano Carbonara has thrown for 1,892 yards and 16 TDs, George Asay has a team-best 36 catches for 516 yards and Santino Florio has eight TD catches. Defensively, Isaac Alexander leads the way with 98 tackles.
Up next: The winner faces either No. 4 Mt. Carmel (11-1) or No. 3 Roxana (12-0).