KCChronicle.com/preps Game of the Week Breakdown: Class 5A second round, (5) Kaneland (9-1) at (4) Joliet Catholic (9-1), 7 p.m. Saturday at Joliet Memorial Stadium
The buzz in the stands
They meet, at last.
As much success as Joliet Catholic and Kaneland have enjoyed in recent years – the Hilltoppers have won six state championships and finished second twice under coach Dan Sharp, while Kaneland has been an elite 5A program under coach Tom Fedderly, including consecutive state semifinal berths in 2010-11 – the teams have not met in recent vintage.
Sharp – JCA's coach since 1997 – said the last time he faced Kaneland came when he coached at Minooka and the Knights were led by Joe Thorgesen.
Sharp said Kaneland nonetheless has been on Joliet Catholic's radar.
"We know of Kaneland's reputation," Sharp said. "Believe me, they're as good as any football team we've played against the last couple years. Without a doubt, they could play I think with any level of competition in Illinois."
Both coaches zeroed in on line-play as each other's strengths. Sharp said Kaneland's lines are as formidable as any the Hilltoppers have played this year. Joliet Catholic is accustomed to having its way up front to power the team's double-wing rushing attack.
"We think we match up, up front, pretty well," Fedderly said. " … We're really excited to see what we can do against such a good program."
On Week 5 of the season, a pair of key Joliet Catholic performers – senior quarterback Nick Morrison and senior offensive guard J.B. Butler, a Division I prospect – suffered ankle injuries.
Morrison returned in Joliet Catholic's Round 1 blowout over Chicago Urban Prep on Saturday, but is splitting time with sophomore Cade Earl, who distinguished himself in Morrison's absence.
"I think, one, we're keeping a close eye on the injury to [Morrison], and then our sophomore has played so well, we feel he would get a chance to maybe take a little pressure off [Morrison], and also get him continued game experience," Sharp said.
Meanwhile, Butler's status for a potential return was unclear as of Thursday afternoon. The same applies for Kaneland senior receiver Brandon Bishop, who exited the Knights' 35-0 win over Hampshire last week via ambulance, but is doing fine and attended school all week, Fedderly said.
Best-case scenario for the Knights
The defensive formula Kaneland has refined playing Rochelle over the years translates to dealing with Joliet Catholic. The Hubs are the closest reference point, schematically, for what Kaneland will see against JCA, though the Knights recognize the Hilltoppers' prowess up front and the presence of dynamic lead back Mike Ivlow make JCA a beastly matchup.
"It's going to be, I think, a different thing, seeing that scheme with as big of a line as they have, and as accomplished as they are running," Fedderly said. "I mean, Rochelle does a great job so we have some familiarity with it, but it's just something that I can't wait to see how our kids handle going there and playing this great team that they have."
The Knights' defense has allowed more than 20 points only once, a Week 8 loss to Sycamore. Outside linebacker Ty Carlson should be plenty confident coming off his two-interception outing against Hampshire.
"Ty has had an unbelievable season," Fedderly said. "We thought he'd be good there because he's a good athlete, he's another really smart kid and he's 6-2, 190 on the outside there. It makes it hard to throw over a kid that's that lanky."
Best-case scenario for the Hilltoppers
JCA forces Kaneland into turnovers and penalties, which proved a lethal combination in the Knights' loss to Sycamore.
Kaneland quarterback Drew David is an accomplished, dynamic leader, but the Hilltoppers have the personnel defensively – led by safeties Brandon Bolek and Jackson Shanklin, middle linebacker Mike Gruben and defensive end Xavier Hernandez – to put David and Co. into high-pressure spots, especially if the Knights can't establish balance with their running game.
Joliet Catholic is battle-hardened, already having beaten eight teams with winning records. The Hilltoppers' lone loss was 22-21 on Oct. 4 against St. Patrick, the team that eliminated Geneva from the 7A playoffs last week.
Jay Schwab's prediction: Joliet Catholic 27, Kaneland 24.
Kaneland is rugged, well-coached and skilled enough to take the field expecting to beat anybody, so this game is not out of the Knights' reach. But Joliet Catholic has home field, as much pedigree as any program in the state and a back in Ivlow that likely is the biggest individual difference-maker in a game stacked with quality players.
ROUND TWO PREVIEW CAPSULES
Class 6A second round: (2) Batavia (9-1) at (10) Rolling Meadows (7-3), 6 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Batavia beat DeKalb, 48-6; Rolling Meadows beat Grayslake North, 49-20.
The skinny: Batavia placed a whopping 14 members on the Upstate Eight Conference River all-conference team that was released this week – including conference offensive player of the year Anthony Scaccia and conference defensive player of the year Michael Moffatt. "And honestly, I'm still disappointed," Batavia coach Dennis Piron said. "There are some kids on our team well deserving of being on that football team. … I just feel we have an awful lot of kids playing at a very high level." Piron emphasized that individual accolades are peripheral for the team-oriented Bulldogs, many of whom have sacrificed potentially huge statistical seasons because of the team's unusual depth and balance. In Rolling Meadows, Piron said the Bulldogs must contend with a more high-powered passing game than anything the Bulldogs have seen to date. Quarterback Bobby Suchecki has come on strong for a Mustangs team that was tremendous offensively in pulling off a first-round, road win last week. "We feel very good about our ability to cover the pass, rush the passer and do those sorts of things," Piron said. "It's going to be very very difficult to deal with an attack that does exactly what they do. We haven't seen anything quite like that all year long." The Mustangs finished in a three-way tie for first place in the Mid-Suburban East with Hersey and Elk Grove, both of which were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The Mustangs were the conference's highest scoring team, but their defense has been less impressive, though Rolling Meadows has made defensive strides since ugly early losses to Fremd (54-21) and Barrington (48-28). Bulldogs linebacker Anthony Thielk had 14 tackles – two for a loss – to go with a sack, a blocked punt and a forced fumble in the Bulldogs' Round 1 rout against DeKalb.
Extra point: Scaccia (1,262 rushing yards, 19 rushing touchdowns) has been especially dazzling on turf this season, and he'll have another shot at an artificial surface Saturday in Rolling Meadows. Piron was appreciative of Mooseheart allowing the Bulldogs to practice on turf this week.
Playoff trivia: Rolling Meadows is 7-13 overall in the playoffs, and last won a postseason game in 2007 under former coach Doug Millsaps.
Class 6A second round: (5) Marmion (8-2) at (13) Prairie Ridge (6-4), 1 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Prairie Ridge beat Lakes, 21-14; Marmion beat Fenton, 39-0.
The skinny: Cadets coach Dan Thorpe has plenty of respect for Prairie Ridge's program, with the Wolves having dealt the Cadets playoff losses in 2007, 2009 and 2011. "We're not going to out-coach them, we're not going to out-scheme them or anything like that," Thorpe said. "It's going to really come down to our kids defending their power and then slash, option football, and us offensively moving the ball against their defense." Much is made of the difficulty of preparing for the Wolves' triple option offense come playoff time, but Thorpe turned that premise around, noting Prairie Ridge doesn't see Suburban Christian Conference Blue-caliber passing attacks during the season. "The same could be said, we should have the advantage throwing the ball. … We should be able to take advantage of their lack of seeing the spread throughout the season, and that's one of the approaches I am taking," Thorpe said. The Wolves have three guys who have rushed for more than 600 yards – quarterback Brett Covalt (735 yards), Zack Greenberg (668 yards) and Brent Anderson (617 yards). The Cadets' health outlook for the game is "not good at all," as Thorpe put it, with key contributors such as linebacker/running back Mike Montalbano (team-high 62 tackles), defensive lineman Joe Talbot, linebacker/receiver Enzo Olabi and running back/defensive end Jordan Glasgow all banged up. Of that quartet, Thorpe said Glasgow – who sprained the opposite ankle in the regular season finale from the one that dogged him early in the season – is most likely to play. Thorpe said junior running back Sean Campbell and junior linebackers Kyle Jordan and Rory Arnold could be forced into larger roles, with fullback/linebacker Lucas Warren likely to play more two-way ball than usual.
Extra point: Prairie Ridge's triple-option offense commands plenty of attention but it was the Wolves' defense that came up with a huge stand at the end of last week's 21-14 upset – by seed, at least – over Lakes. "Over the years, our defense has often got overlooked," Wolves coach Chris Schremp told the Northwest Herald. "We do tend in some games to score a lot of points, and people like those big offensive numbers. But they forget about the other end of it."
Playoff trivia: Last week marked the Cadets' first playoff win since Marmion advanced to the 6A state championship game in 2010.
Class 3A second round: (15) Oregon (6-4) at (10) Aurora Christian (7-3), 6 p.m. Saturday
Last week: Oregon beat Wilmington, 22-21; Aurora Christian beat IC Catholic Prep, 24-3.
The skinny: Aurora Christian's health outlook remain fluid, but a semblance of normalcy was restored last week as the Eagles resembled their dominant selves in a first-round win at IC Catholic Prep. Most of the Eagles' long list of injured starters returned, though senior Chase Tomney is likely out for the year, and two-way threats Noah Roberts and Jackson Carpenter re-injured themselves during the win. Eagles coach Don Beebe said those two might be in a similar role this week to last week's plan for standout lineman Jonah Walker, who only played the second half, and made a major impact upon entering. Beebe said junior quarterback Austin Bray is back to 100 percent after returning last week at less than full strength. Recalibrating timing with his receivers remains a work in progress after the quarterback missed three-plus games to close the regular season. "Passing is a different deal, and that was really the one area I thought we've got to improve on," Beebe said. "And we will." This will be the third time in four years Aurora Christian encounters the hard-nosed, Wing-T-running Oregon program in the playoffs, with the Eagles prevailing 38-0 in 2010 and 34-21 in 2011. This year's Hawks were 3-4 before winning three straight, including last week's Round 1 upset at Wilmington.
Extra point: Upon further review, Aurora Christian do-it-all senior Brandon Walgren's performance in the IC Catholic win was as brilliant as Beebe originally figured – maybe moreso. "He graded out the highest of any player in 10 years, so he did have arguably the best game ever [at Aurora Christian], defensively," Beebe said.
Playoff trivia: Veteran Oregon coach John Bothe has taken the Hawks to the playoffs in 11 of his 16 seasons, though the Hawks missed the postseason last year, finishing 2-7.
– Jay Schwab, firstname.lastname@example.org
ROUND TWO CHECK-DOWNS
Kaneland fans traveling to Joliet on Saturday night figure to have a pleasant viewing experience.
Joliet Catholic plays in the 10,000-seat Joliet Memorial Stadium, a turf, park district venue that Joliet Catholic shares with several other programs, including the University of St. Francis football team.
"It's a great facility to watch a game so Kaneland fans should have no trouble getting in and out and finding good seats," Joliet Catholic coach Dan Sharp said.
Remember when …
Marmion is trying to buck a trend of odd-year, postseason heartbreak against Prairie Ridge, having been ousted from the playoffs by the Wolves in 2007, 2009 and 2011. Cadets coach Dan Thorpe acknowledged that, by this point, it's personal with Prairie Ridge.
"If you're a competitor … we have an opportunity for a do-over, and that doesn't happen too many times in life," Thorpe said. "We talked about that to the kids, about playing for Marmion teams in the past. Especially the '09 team, we were pretty good, and we went up there and didn't play well."
Sleeper game of the week
Marmion at Prairie Ridge. While Marmion is a substantial seeding favorite, between the Cadets' injury concerns at linebacker, the Wolves' past postseason dominance over the Cadets and the fact that the game is being played in Crystal Lake, Saturday's lone matinee among the area teams has the makings of a hotly contested game.
Nobody's accused Aurora Christian's Don Beebe of being a cookie-cutter coach, and he proved it again last week at IC Catholic.
Beebe held out dynamic defensive lineman Jonah Walker – on the mend from an injury – for the entire first half at IC Catholic Prep, only to insert him in the second half to give his team a major jolt.
"If you watch the film … he took over the game," said Beebe, who might reprise the tactic Saturday with a couple of other hobbled Eagles standouts.
If the seeds hold the next couple weeks, an area team will head to Rockford Boylan in both the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of the Class 6A playoffs.
If fifth-seeded Marmion wins at 13th seeded Prairie Ridge and top-seeded Boylan wins at ninth-seeded Cary-Grove on Saturday, the Cadets would visit the Titans in the 6A quarterfinals next week in a rematch of the 2010, 6A state title game.
Going a step further, if Boylan and Batavia are both still around for the state semifinals, the second-seeded Bulldogs would also pay the Titans a visit.
– Jay Schwab, email@example.com.