Scouting Fox semifinal playoff football games
Batavia (11-1) at Mt. Carmel (11-1)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Last matchup: 44-20 Mt. Carmel in the 2022 7A state title game.
About the Bulldogs: Batavia is clicking on all cylinders at this point with its highflying offense and a defense that makes life difficult. Isiah Brown is heating up in the postseason, while the offensive line cannot be ignored for the job it's doing protecting Ryan Boe and paving lanes for Chalie Whelpley, Zach Granberg and company. Boe, a Class 7A all-state selection, threw five TDs last week in a blowout win over Hononegah. Defensively, keep an eye on the secondary with Chase Osborne, Josh Kahley and Luke Alwin with the double-duty. Linebackers Ben Fiegel and Ben Brown are top-end players for a front-seven that teams have difficulty running on. This is the third matchup in three postseasons between these teams with the Caravan winning the first two.
About the Caravan: Their only loss is to 8A powerhouse Loyola Academy by two points. Mt. Carmel, the defending 7A state champion, is again loaded. Running back Darrion Dupree, a University of Wisconsin commit, is one of the best running backs in Illinois. QB Jack Elliott was 6 for 10 for 152 yards and four touchdowns in their big win over Quincy in the quarterfinals. The Caravan haven't scored less than 21 points this season and have won all playoff games in blowout fashion.
Up next: The winner plays either Downers Grove North or Normal Community for the 7A state title next weekend.
Cary-Grove (10-2) at Lake Zurich (11-1)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Seeds: Lake Zurich is the No. 1 seed in the top half of the 6A bracket; Cary-Grove is the No. 3 seed
Outlook: Two programs that have a history with each other from Lake Zurich's time in the Fox Valley Conference. Lake Zurich is in the state semifinals for the second year in a row and 11th time since the late 1980s. "Cary has been the kings of the north bracket in 6A for a long time," Bears coach Ron Planz said. "They are an aggressive, physical team that plays sound football in all three phases. They will try to overpower you in the run game and then hit you for a big pass play. Defensively, they like to stunt and blitz and try and confuse your blocking and protection schemes. This is a game that will come down to who is more physical and who makes the least number of mistakes." Planz tipped his cap to the call-ups and scout-team players in the Lake Zurich program. "The biggest unsung heroes on our team are all of our call-ups and scout-team guys that help prepare us for each playoff game," he said. "We have guys, that for the last three weeks, haven't taken a rep in our offense or defense. They have worked hard on becoming our opponent's offense, defense or special teams. Without that buy-in and selflessness, we wouldn't have the success we have had." Planz pointed out the Bears have but five returning starters from last year's semifinal team: Bryce Sanders (OL), Trevor Schuetz (OL), Lincoln Adams (LB, 131 total tackles), Chris Pirrone (RB, 1,233 rushing yards, 17 TDs) and Jackson Piggott (17.7 yards per catch, 3 receiving TDs). "We are a young team that continues to find a way to win," he said. "We have dealt with a ton of injuries and other adversities, but have always found a way to overcome them. Our resilience has been tremendous. We have won so many close games. Our guys have found a way time and time again. I don't really know how to quantify that, but it is something special that makes for special seasons like the one we are having now." Lake Zurich's defense has held 10 of 12 opponents to 16 points or less and seven foes to 10 or less points. In last week's 4-point win over Belvidere North (Lake Zurich trailed 10-0 in the first quarter and was outgained from a total-yardage standpoint in the game), Pirrone ran for 133 yards on 31 carries with 2 touchdowns, while Adams had 19 total tackles and 1 tackle for loss to lead the defense, while Coplan Oettinger (12 tackles) and George Dicanio (10 tackles) also were key. Cary-Grove, as Planz alluded to earlier, is a perennial state power, playing out of the FVC. The Trojans are in the semifinals for the ninth time and have state titles to their credit in 2021, 2018 and 2009. Coach Brad Seaburg, a Marengo High School and Loras College alum, has two state championships and two runner-up finishes on his coaching resume (now in his 13th season as head coach and 23rd in the program). "We used to know a lot about Lake Zurich. We played them for a long time," Seaburg said. "They have a lot of tradition and playoff success. They were a 7A semifinalist last year. They have won a lot of games this year and have been able to win a lot of close games as well. We have to do what we have been doing in the playoffs, especially getting key stops on defense and key turnovers and taking advantage of opportunities with the ball, mix it up with big plays and have longer drives. Lake Zurich wants to possess the ball and run the ball similar to us. We have to try and get them into some situations where they have to run plays on the defense's terms and not necessarily on their terms." Defensively, senior outside backer Connor Anderson leads the Trojans in tackles. "Connor has been one of our leaders on defense," Seaburg said. "He's all over the place. He's a guy everybody on the team looks up to and knows is giving it his all." Seaburg labeled the Trojans' offense, which features their traditional inside veer/option look, as "very explosive at times," with Andrew Prio (930 yards rushing, 14.8 yards per carry, 10 TD through 10 games) and sophomore Logan Abrams (1,144 yards, 15 TD through 10 games) being key parts to that success, along with quarterback Peyton Seaburg (427 rushing yards, 4 rushing TD, 9 passing TD through 10 games). "We've had some very good blocking with our offensive line, tight end and running backs," the coach said. "We try to run and execute our option game plan and try to possess the ball and minimize mistakes, grind off the tough yards and break out some long ones." Seaburg (123-28 at the school) is thrilled Cary-Grove is back to this point after a very un-Trojan-like 3-6 season a year ago (first losing season under Seaburg -- the previous worst record was a pair of 7-4 marks that both included second-round playoff appearances). "We have a great group of seniors who really stepped it up in the offseason and got us back on track," he said. "We're definitely very happy to be where we are at. We took our lumps last year and lost close games. We are very young, but the kids have never wavered and always have believed and stuck with us as coaches and we have stuck with them. We've had a really good year and are looking forward to this game Saturday." Cary-Grove's losses came within the FVC to league champion Prairie Ridge and Huntley -- both by a single point.
Up next: Winner gets No. 4 East St. Louis (10-2) or No. 2 Washington (11-1) in the 6A championship game Nov. 25 at 1 p.m. at Hancock Stadium on the grounds of Illinois State University in Normal.
-- Mike Miazga