First impressions of the IHSA football playoffs for DuPage County teams

11 minute read

Dave Oberhelman
Kevin Schmit

Class 8A qualifiers

No. 8 Glenbard West (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 25 Bloom (6-3)

The resume: Maybe the biggest question in the entire playoff field was answered when Glenbard West landed as the smallest team in Class 8A. The Hilltoppers' offense is powered by running backs Ryan Diver, Dre Thomas and Tyquan Cox, plus receiver Alec Pierce. The Hilltoppers made tremendous defensive improvements since allowing 62 points to Maine South in their lone loss in Week 1.

The draw: Considering they just missed joining smaller schools in Class 7A, it's not bad. If Glenbard West beats Bloom, the defense must step up against the Naperville North-Oswego winner. The Hilltoppers made it to the 8A semis last year. For that to happen again, they likely need to beat Lincoln-Way East in the quarters.

Advancement: Winner plays the Naperville North at Oswego winner.

No. 24 Naperville North (6-3)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 9 Oswego (8-1)

The resume: The Huskies found their identity in the opener when they rallied from a 42-0 deficit to beat Edwardsville. Since then they've made a habit of staging comeback victories behind quarterback Drake Davis, a transfer from Bureau Valley. With receivers Nick Calcagno and Ryan Laurenzo, it's as good a passing attack as you'll find in the Class 8A bracket.

The draw: This will be a great first-round matchup between Naperville North's offense and Oswego's defense. The Panthers notched their third shutout on Friday, and they haven't allowed more than 14 points in a game behind Iowa-bound lineman Noah Shannon. Tough opener, and a tough draw for the Huskies.

Advancement: Winner plays the Bloom at Glenbard West winner.

No. 29 Lake Park (5-4)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 4 Homewood-Flossmoor (8-1)

The resume: First, the good news. Congrats to the Lancers for qualifying for the first time since 2009. They answered a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak, sealing the berth in Week 8. With Jackson Behles behind center, Lake Park has a proven leader and a dual-threat talent. The defense has been solid, but especially since getting healthy on the line.

The draw: Now the bad news. Homewood-Flossmoor is one of the favorites to reach the 8A final. The Vikings boast Northern Illinois University-bound running back Justin Hall and a whole lot more. They averaged 40 points a game in the regular season. Survive that and the Lancers might get a rematch with Naperville Central.

Advancement: Winner plays the West Aurora at Naperville Central winner.

No. 13 Naperville Central (7-2)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 20 West Aurora (7-2)

The resume: The Redhawks make a triumphant postseason return as the outright DuPage Valley Conference champions. With quarterback Payton Thorne and receiver Jayden Reed transferring from Metea Valley, the offense turned explosive. Add a healthy running back in A.J. Deinhart and watch out. Defensively, the Redhawks have game-changers in Braden Lindmark and Jack Jopes.

The draw: Every discussion regarding West Aurora began with graduation losses from last year's playoff team, but what the Blackhawks returned was an offensive line that coach Nate Eimer called the best he's coached. The Blackhawks have lost only (but convincingly) to South Elgin and Huntley, teams a combined 16-2.

Advancement: Winner plays the Lake Park at Homewood-Flossmoor winner.

No. 11 Hinsdale Central (7-2)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 22 Stevenson (6-3)

The resume: Starting quarterback Matt Rush was lost to injury, but the Red Devils' offense hasn't sputtered too much with backup Connor Bauer thanks to a bit of Wildcat with Garrett Oakey, and a terrific running tandem of Luke Skokna and Oakey. Being tested in the West Suburban Silver always helps. Hinsdale Central's defense is extremely underrated.

The draw: Usual suspect Stevenson has a 29-year playoff streak, the longest in 8A. The Patriots lost to 6-3 Warren 21-14 on Friday. Safety Michael Marchese has committed to Illinois, and his twin brother and receiver Henry to Iowa. A possible second-rounder at No. 6 seed Loyola gives the Red Devils no break.

Advancement: Winner plays the New Trier at Loyola winner.

Class 7A qualifiers

No. 17 Benet (6-3)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 16 Maine West (7-2)

The resume: Benet survived the rigors of the East Suburban Catholic Conference, but not without losing starting quarterback Matt Boyle to a season-ending injury. Sophomore Colin Gillespie has stepped up as the Redwings have tried to lean on the run game. And the defense. Linebacker Devin Petersen is a savvy veteran and the secondary is loaded with ballhawks.

The draw: This is the first Week 10 for Maine West since 2002. Though Deerfield knocked the Warriors out of sole possession of the Central Suburban North title, it at least earned a share for the first time since 1979 when coach Jason Kradman was 1 year old. Unbeaten No. 1 seed Hononegah could await this game's winner.

Advancement: Winner plays the Harlem at Hononegah winner.

No. 29 Glenbard North (5-4)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 4 Batavia (8-1)

The resume: The Panthers beat Neuqua Valley 24-14 to squeeze into the playoffs for the 11th time in coach Ryan Wilkens' 12 seasons. Both the second-lowest scoring offense and the second-best scoring defense in the DuPage Valley Conference, Glenbard North has gotten it done behind running backs Mark Finley and Jayleen Fitzpatrick and 10 players who have made interceptions.

The draw: Batavia, the 2013 Class 6A champion, had not allowed more than 10 points in any game until Friday when St. Charles North won 35-28 to take the Upstate Eight River title. Coach Dennis Piron, a Bulldogs grad, has this program rolling. Between 2012-14 Batavia went 3-0 in nonconference games against the Panthers.

Advancement: Winner plays the Fenwick at Wheaton North winner.

No. 13 Wheaton North (7-2)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 20 Fenwick (6-3)

The resume: For years the Falcons wanted to add a rushing game to their pass threat, and running back Sam Singleton has been the answer. Strong on both lines, Wheaton North may have been the most physical team in the DuPage Valley Conference. Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Falcons could have staying power thanks to a defense led by linebacker Bo Neidballa.

The draw: Physical Fenwick won't lack motivation after a controversial decision cost the Friars a berth in last season's 7A championship. Coach Gene Nudo has the savvy and experience, getting the championship ball rolling at Driscoll Catholic. All-state receiver Michael O'Laughlin will challenge the Falcons' secondary.

Advancement: Winner plays the Glenbard North at Batavia winner.

No. 31 Downers Grove North (5-4)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 2 Normal Community (9-0)

The resume: Just get in. That's always the motto with the Trojans, who seem to thrive in the playoff underdog role. Downers North made it through the West Suburban Silver gauntlet, staging an epic comeback victory over Oak Park that wound up sealing a playoff berth. Drew Shelly is the key to the ground game, but quarterback Jack Carr can provide pop with his arm.

The draw: Normal is one of three unbeaten teams in 7A, joining No. 1 seed Hononegah and No. 3 Lake Zurich. Bounced by Benet in the second round in 2016, this season Normal has an average victory margin of more than 32 points, the best in the entire class. The Ironmen headed five playoff teams in the Big Twelve.

Advancement: Winner plays the Mt. Carmel at Moline winner.

Class 6A qualifiers

No. 4 Willowbrook (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 13 Deerfield (5-4)

The resume: You'd have to consider Willowbrook a dark horse in the bracket. First-time champion in the West Suburban Gold, it has a diverse offense and a defense that's solid up front and a turnover machine in the secondary. It all revolves around two-way dynamo Jack Jessen, who's rushed for 1,600 yards and leads the team in tackles at linebacker.

The draw: Deerfield didn't beat a team that finished over .500 until Week 8, then got two of them -- Glenbrook North and Maine West -- to earn a Central Suburban North title share. Willowbrook may be tantalized by a potential second-round game with Montini, but Steve Winiecki's Deerfield squad has been tested by five playoff teams.

Advancement: Winner plays the Montini at DeKalb winner.

No. 12 Montini (5-4)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 5 DeKalb (5-2)

The resume: Mike Bukovsky's head coaching debut produced a 25th straight playoff spot. It hasn't been all roses for the Chicago Catholic League Green co-champs, miscues spoiling losses to Marmion and Mt. Carmel. Still, quarterback Nick Orlando and linebacker Jackson Bruscianelli have helped outscore foes nearly 2-to-1. Montini's 2015 6A title run included a quarterfinal at DeKalb.

The draw: DeKalb enjoyed only sporadic success for the bulk of two decades until coach Matt Weckler arrived to spearhead the Barbs' current streak of five straight playoff berths. That included last season's 6A quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Prairie Ridge -- which beat Montini in the second round.

Advancement: Winner plays the Deerfield at Willowbrook winner.

No. 4 16 Hinsdale South (5-4)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 1 Crete-Monee (8-1)

The resume: Phew. After losing to Hinsdale Central, the Hornets were the last team to qualify in the field of 256. The Hornets have a habit of causing postseason havoc when they start facing teams closer to their size. They reached the 6A semifinals in 2015 and the quarterfinals in 2014. Receiver Destin Talbert is a flat-out touchdown machine when combining with quarterback Justin Kolzow.

The draw: Star quarterback Isaiah Rucker goes 6-6 and 220 pounds and continued the Warriors' dominance of the Southland Conference for a ninth straight season. Crete-Monee averages 46 points. The 2012 6A champ -- which lost to Montini in the 2015 final -- lost only its opener to Lincoln-Way East, No. 1 seed in 8A.

Advancement: Winner plays the Quincy at St. Laurence winner.

Class 5A qualifiers

No. 11 Glenbard South (5-4)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 6 Payton (8-1)

The resume: It's a seventh straight playoff berth for the Raiders, whose battles against Metro Suburban Blue toughies IC Catholic and Riverside-Brookfield should serve them well in this first-rounder. Quarterback Jack Crouch, linebacker Nick D'Ambra and defensive lineman Adam Haushahn are a load. While Crouch carries the mail running the ball, the Raiders' passing game has improved.

The draw: Good, initially. Payton is one of seven Chicago Public School programs seeded in the 5A northern bracket, headed by No. 1 seed and defending champion Phillips. Payton averages 34 points to Glenbard South's 22.8, but the Grizzlies have made the playoffs each of the last six seasons and are 0-6.

Advancement: Winner plays the Marian Central at Antioch winner.

Class 3A qualifiers

No. 5 IC Catholic Prep (8-1)

First-round opponent: vs. No. 12 Watseka (7-2)

The resume: The defending Class 3A champion and a favorite to repeat, ICCP shrugged off starting quarterback Luke Ricobene's Week 2 season-ending knee injury. In a tribute to coaching, program consistency and depth, C.J. West has stepped into the quarterback spot fully capable of heading a passing attack that complements running back Lazerick Eatman and killer defense.

The draw: Watseka, 4-16 historically in the postseason, placed third in the Sangamon Valley Conference, one of its losses to conference mate Paxton-Buckley-Loda. Should ICCP advance there is the chance it'll face Interstate Eight Conference Small squad Peotone, a ground-based group that lost only to Wilmington.

Advancement: Winner plays the Paxton-Buckley-Loda at Peotone winner.