Class 8A first round: (11) St. Charles East (6-3) at (6) Stevenson (7-2), 3 p.m. Saturday
Last week: St. Charles East beat Larkin, 55-12; Stevenson beat Lake Zurich, 24-17.
The skinny: The Saints will deal with a legitimate, large-school power as their welcome to Class 8A. Stevenson (enrollment of almost 4,000) started the season with two narrow losses but has been one of the elite teams in the north suburbs since, rattling off seven straight wins including recent triumphs over playoff teams such as Lake Zurich and Lake Forest. In the Lake Zurich game, Stevenson rallied from a 17-0 hole to win, 24-17. East coach Mike Fields said the Patriots’ composure in that game was highly impressive, as is the Patriots’ overall talent level. “Athletically, they’re going to be up there with anybody we’ve played this year –Neuqua, Batavia, Geneva,” Fields said. “They have athletes, and they might have some better athletes than we’ve seen, actually.” Junior Parker Vidmich – the Saints’ projected starting middle linebacker entering the season – is expected to return after missing the past seven weeks with injury. East quarterback Jimmy Mitchell and a passing game highlighted by recent Illinois State commit Brannon Barry (644 receiving yards), Mo Flanigan (403) and Mitch Munroe (383) will look to build off last week’s offensive outburst at Larkin. Some big special teams returns from Barry and Munroe might also be needed to keep East competitive in what Fields knows will be a difficult assignment. “We’ve been fortunate to win six games this year,” Fields said. “We believe in what we we do. We just have to stay true to ourselves. If we do, if we execute, we think we can do some really good things.”
Extra point: Michigan State-bound Stevenson receiver/safety Matt Morrissey – 6-foot-3, 180 pounds – will be a tough cover for East’s secondary.
Playoff trivia: The Saints are making their third playoff trip in five years under Fields but are searching for their first postseason win during that span. East fell to Rockton Hononegah in 2009 and to Wheaton North last year, both in Class 7A.
Class 6A first round: (15) DeKalb (5-4) at (2) Batavia (8-1), 7 p.m. today
Last week: DeKalb beat Rochelle, 46-41; Batavia beat Elgin, 62-14.
The skinny: Batavia coach Dennis Piron acknowledged that playing some of the struggling UEC River teams late in the season – especially winless Elgin last week – didn’t make for an ideal build-up to the playoffs. Still, there’s no arguing with the Bulldogs’ dominance since a Week 2 loss to Richards, a fellow 8-1 team in the Class 6A draw. The Bulldogs have scored 44 or more points each of the past seven weeks, and led 42-0 over Elgin early in the second quarter. “I thought we did a good job of doing what we were supposed to do,” Piron said. “Honestly last week, senior night, it was nice to give kids a shot to do some fun stuff, but that really wasn’t great preparation for the playoffs. Hopefully in practice, we scrimmage and do 1-on-1 work against ourselves, hopefully our whole body of work the whole season, including how well we did against [the top teams on our schedule] bodes well for this first playoff game.” DeKalb’s high-scoring, Week 9 win against Rochelle put the Barbs in the field. The Barbs run lots of option out of shotgun, with explosive back Dre Brown (1,284 rushing yards) and quarterback Jack Sauter (881 rushing yards) each capable of puncturing the defense. The last two teams to eliminate Batavia in the postseason – Prairie Ridge in 2011 and Downers Grove North last year – have featured option, but Piron said DeKalb poses distinct wrinkles in its attack. The Rochelle win last week was DeKalb’s first against a team with a winning record. “I would say that the top half of their league is considered to be some of top teams in 5A or 6A,” Piron said of the Northern Illinois Big 12. “It’s a good football league. All those schools really care about football, and they have competed well all year long.”
Extra point: As the weather turns in late October and into November, Piron said the Bulldogs’ offensive versatility should be a postseason asset, allowing offensive coordinator Mike Gaspari to have plenty of options regardless of field conditions.
Playoff trivia: DeKalb has made five playoff appearances in program history compared to 17 for Batavia. The Barbs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Class 6A first round: (12) Fenton (6-3) at (5) Marmion (7-2), 7 p.m. today
Last week: Fenton beat Riverside-Brookfield, 43-14; Marmion beat Walther Lutheran, 43-0.
The skinny: Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said he’s not sure the Cadets have seen a running back as fast as Fenton’s Alex Cowan. Naturally, the starting point for comparisons when it comes to elite backs Marmion has seen this year is St. Francis’ James Butler. “We got to Butler, but he ran through tackles, he was so physical,” Thorpe said. “We’re hoping we can get to Cowan and surround him with our speed, but he’s so shifty, you don’t get a good, clean shot at him.” The Bison also have a capable air attack behind quarterback Willie Wassmann, while defensively, Thorpe said Fenton brings a multitude of blitzes from various angles that will keep seasoned Cadets quarterback Brock Krueger on his toes. “We’ve got to see it,” Thorpe said. “And we’ve been working on it all week, blocking-wise.” Thorpe has been delighted with the play of free safety Jake Gallaher, a senior who had two interceptions – one returned 70 yards for a touchdown – last week at Walther Lutheran.
Extra point: Marmion finished in a tie for second place in the Suburban Christian Conference Blue with Marian Central at 5-2; Montini (7-0) won the final edition of the SCC Blue.
Playoff trivia: Fenton is just 2-11 all-time in the playoffs, compared to 12-12 for Marmion.
Class 5A first round: (12) Hampshire (6-3) at (5) Kaneland (8-1), 7 p.m. today
Last week: Hampshire lost to Cary-Grove, 33-13; Kaneland beat Morris, 49-14.
The skinny: Playing with emotion is almost a given when it comes to the playoffs, but Kaneland knows that Hampshire might have a leg up in that department considering this is the final season for 25-year Whip Purs coach Dan Cavanaugh, who led Hampshire to a Class 2A state title in 1995. Additionally, this is Hampshire’s first playoff berth since 2008. The Knights’ defense will be tested by Hampshire receiver Tim Jansen (636 receiving yards), the go-to target for quarterback Nick Mohlman, as well as standout running back Nick Kielbasa (1,189 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns). Kaneland’s own running game returned to form in last week’s win at Morris as Isaac Swithers ran for 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns. DeKalb is the teams’ lone common opponent this season; Hampshire edged DeKalb, 35-34, Week 2, while Kaneland handled the Barbs, 35-12, on Oct. 4.
Extra point: This is the fifth straight year Kaneland will host a first-round playoff game. The Knights dropped a Round 1, home game with Sycamore in 2009 but have moved on each of the past three years.
Playoff trivia: The state title Cavanaugh guided the Whip-Purs to was the third in program history, with the first two coming in the 1970s.
Class 5A first round: (14) St. Francis (5-4) at (3) Glenbard South (9-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week: St. Francis beat St. Edward, 50-8; Glenbard South beat Bloom, 29-13.
The skinny: After losing four straight games, imperiling its playoff chances, St. Francis demonstrated resoundingly it is a playoff-caliber team in last week’s must-win rout over St. Edward. But the Spartans had to pay the price for their conference tailspin in drawing an undefeated, first-round foe. Glenbard South, though, has played a relatively soft scheduling, with 6-3 Fenton the top opponent, record-wise, it has defeated. “We can’t really see too many flaws that they have,” St. Francis coach Greg Purnell said. “I think the competition that we’ve played in our league might be a little bit stronger, but nevertheless, if you can go nine Fridays without losing, I’ve only been around three or four of those in about 46 years, so you’ve got to be darn good, so my hat goes off to them.” While running back James Butler is St. Francis’ marquee player, Purnell praised the progress quarterback Zach Prociuk has shown this season. “Zach had a wonderful game last Friday night,” Purnell said. “He’s actually played really well the last three games, so he’s improving. We’re kind of where we want to be at this point of the season.”
Extra point: The Raiders’ only close shave this season came back in Week 2, a 23-22 road win at 5-4 Antioch.
Playoff trivia: Since winning the 5A state championship in 2008, St. Francis has won only one playoff game, in 2011.
Class 4A first round: (10) Aurora Central Catholic (6-3) at (7) King (7-2), 12 p.m. Saturday at Gately Stadium
Last week: ACC lost to Montini, 47-0; King beat Curie, 22-21.
The skinny: Aurora Central Catholic broke its 15-year playoff drought last season but lost in the first round of the 3A draw to St. Joseph-Ogden. The next step for coach Brian Casey’s program, the Chargers hope, is what would be their first playoff win since 1996. A huge Week 8 win over Marmion should provide ACC plenty of confidence it can do that despite last week’s unsightly result against unbeaten Montini. King is coached by 41-year veteran coach Lonnie Williams. “Playing Bogan earlier this season (a 42-7 win) will give us a good idea on what we can expect from an athletic standpoint,” Casey said on the Chargers program’s website. “We can spend hours comparing scores and what not, and we do not have time to do that. What we do know is that King will be fired up to play us on their home field, and they will do everything they can to present us with a lot of things that will challenge us.”
Extra point: King has beaten only one team with a winning record this season, defeating 6-3 Phillips, 28-26, on Oct. 4. For a west suburban reference point, the Jaguars opened their season winning at West Chicago (1-8), 20-16.
Playoff trivia: A bleak piece of postseason trivia, but perhaps emboldening for ACC – the Jaguars are 0-8 all-time in the state playoffs.
Class 3A first round: (10) Aurora Christian (6-3) at (7) IC Catholic Prep (6-3), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Aurora Christian beat Guerin, 48-7; IC Catholic Prep beat Chicago Christian, 56-20.
The skinny: Typically transparent Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe declined to specify which of his many injured starters will return for Saturday’s game. Beebe is clinging to any potential game-planning advantage the Eagles can get, reflecting the seriousness of the Round 1 challenge that awaits the two-time defending, Class 3A state champions. IC Catholic Prep trounced Aurora Christian, 48-6, on Oct. 12 in Elmhurst on a day in which the majority of Aurora Christian’s typical starters – including quarterback Austin Bray – were sidelined. The Eagles had a flurry of doctor appointments this week that could loom large in the game’s outcome. “There are going to be guys who still don’t get to play in this game, and I feel horrible for them because they’re seniors,” Beebe said. “Hopefully we can pull out this victory just for them to maybe give them one more week [to recover].” It’s been quite a while since the Eagles have been a decided underdog in a playoff game. “I’ve always enjoyed that role, and I thrive in that role,” Beebe said of being an underdog. “And I think our players thrive in that role. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for us.”
Extra point: The Eagles will try to do a better job of reining in IC Catholic’s Clark Brinkman this time. He returned the game’s opening kick 95 yards for a touchdown and had a 74-yard TD reception in the first quarter of the teams’ Suburban Christian Conference meeting earlier this month.
Playoff trivia: Aurora Christian has made the playoffs 12 straight years, while IC Catholic is on a four-year string of playoff berths.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com