The team to beat in loaded Class 8A playoff bracket? No. 1 Lincoln-Way East

4 minute read

Mike Clark

Not long ago, conventional wisdom held there was little difference between the two biggest classes in the football playoffs.

Some went so far as to say Class 7A was better than 8A. A good case could be made for that when programs like Glenbard West, Mount Carmel and Wheaton Warrenville South were at their peak.

No disrespect to the current crop of 7A teams, but you won't be hearing that argument this fall. Class 8A is clearly the heavyweight division now, with powers up and down the 32-team bracket and the possibility for some epic matchups as soon as Week 10.

Consider this one from the bottom bracket: 22nd-seeded Stevenson (6-3) at 11th-seeded Hinsdale Central (7-2).

Both play in deep conferences and against great competition. Stevenson's nonconference games were a win over fellow 8A qualifier Palatine and a loss to Muskegon, Mich., which features one offensive lineman committed to Penn State and another with an offer from Alabama. Hinsdale Central's only losses were to nationally ranked Cincinnati St. Xavier and by five points to Glenbard West.

That's a game worthy of the state quarterfinals or beyond, but one of those teams will be one and done. And the winner? It just faces a likely second-round game against Loyola, which is as healthy as it's been all season and riding an eight-game winning streak. That survivor then is looking at unbeaten Marist in the quarterfinals. If that sounds like a tough road, well, the top bracket is even more stacked.

Lincoln-Way East is the consensus No. 1 team in the state regardless of class. The Griffins are 9-0, and four of their wins are over teams that haven't lost to anyone else: Maine South. Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way Central and Crete-Monee.

This might be the fastest, deepest team coach Rob Zvonar has had in a remarkable 17-season run highlighted by the 8A state title in 2005. These Griffins have it all: a savvy dual-threat quarterback (Brendan Morrissey), a running back capable of grinding out tough yards (Ryan Scianna), speedsters who can stretch the field (A.J. Henning and Shane Pedersen) and an Under Armour All-American Game defender (Devin O'Rourke). But it will be anything but easy to navigate the top of the 8A bracket to advance to the state finals Nov. 25 in DeKalb.

Zvonar knows that.

"There's soft 9-0's and there's (legitimate) 9-0's," he said after Friday's 18-14 comeback win over Bolingbrook. "To go through and play a whole bunch of teams that only have one loss and are ranked in the state — it's a 9-0 we can be proud of."

But with the quality throughout the top half of the 8A bracket, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The Griffins aren't looking ahead. But if they were, they'd see Glenbard West looming in the quarterfinals and a possible rematch against — take your pick — Maine South, H-F or Bolingbrook in the semis. Or a date there with Naperville Central, which only won the state's best conference top to bottom, the DuPage Valley.

Morrissey knew the importance of getting to 9-0 and making a tough playoff road at least slightly more navigable.

"We definitely looked at it like a six-week playoff instead of the (usual) five," Morrissey said Friday. "There's a lot on the line with seedings for 8A."

The Griffins have set themselves up as well as possible for what could be a memorable November.

Will they get to spend Thanksgiving weekend at Northern Illinois? Hard to say.

What is clear: Whoever reaches the 8A championship game will have earned it.

Twitter @mikeclarkpreps

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