It all starts in 1A with Maroa-Forsyth, home of Jack Hockaday. Hockaday, who holds offers from Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, and Duke is one of the top athletes in the state regardless of IHSA classification, and the junior is out to prove this postseason that he's worthy of his acclaim no matter what level he's playing at. Maroa's first round matchup is against a familiar opponent in Tuscola, who the Trojans have faced several times in conference play the last few years.
Going for 5 in 5A:
All eyes will be on top-seeded Montini as they go for an impressive fifth-straight state championship. Led by senior DL Dylan Thompson (Ohio State) and LB Nile Sykes (undeclared), the Broncos will be tested the whole way. The first round matchup is against what's sure to be a scrappy and upset-minded 5-4 Morgan Park team, and Montini needs to be careful not to overlook the Mustangs with a potential 2nd round matchup against Joliet Catholic hanging in the balance. And for those of you who saw last year's state final, you know what happens when those two meet.
Whirlwind Season for Cyclones:
So.. Sacred Heart-Griffin was 8-1 at the end of the season, and now they're 9-0 and have a 1-seed. Regardless of how they got to 9-0, SHG proved all season that they're out for a championship and that they have a lot of the pieces to do that. Illinois commit Malik Turner has burned corners all season and is dangerous in the red zone. Junior offensive lineman Quinn Oseland has really emerged as a force on the offensive line this season and just recently earned his first offer from Illinois.
Continuing the Central Illinois Theme...:
Jacksonville is another team from the Central State 8 conference that has put together a solid season. If Jacksonville has one area they can lean on, it's their offensive line, which is led by Northwestern commit Blake Hance and junior tackle Gabe Megginson, who holds an offer from Illinois. They have a relatively even matchup with a 7-2 Marion team, so it's possible that they make it through to week 2 and a potential matchup with a high-flying Normal University High.
You're In, now win:
DeKalb has been struggling the past few seasons, and with their third coach in as many years, the Barbs clinched a spot in the playoffs with a week 9 win. Playoffs have been the goal for this season, and it was an uphill battle the whole way. But the Barbs aren't going to be content with just arriving. Running back Dre Brown has been the spark this year for DeKalb, shouldering a heavy load, toting the rock all year. The Illinois recruit will get a healthy diet of the football when they head to play 8-1 Batavia in the opening round.
Not a Holiday Inn, but..
Book me a room at the Hylton. No that's not a typo. Running back Julian Hylton has been the go-to guy for Lincoln-Way North all year, carrying more than 30 times in several games this year. Hylton may not even end up as a running back when he arrives at Illinois, but his legs will be key to the success of the Phoenix through the playoffs. At 8-1, North will look to make a deep run, but they'll need to avoid trap games along the way.
A 5-4 finish wasn't quite what Providence Catholic wanted, but a playoff berth is a playoff berth, and they know that everyone is 0-0 now and that it's win or go home. Providence's Miles Boykin has flashed his ability throughout the season. Boykin is a dominant receiver that's a mismatch for almost any defense. Crete-Monee has all-american linebacker Nyles Morgan leading the charge. He's joined by defensive lineman Chris Slayton and junior Omari Stringer. Based on matchups alone, Stringer might be on Boykin more often than not when the two teams meet up in the opening round.
No time for Downers to be a downer:
Downers Grove North knows what it's like to come into the playoffs as an underdog. Last year the Trojans came in at 6-3 and came a Jack Beneventi buzzer-beating touchdown away from beating Benet and making the state semifinals. With most of their key players back, Downers North expected better than a 5-4 season, but they've struggled to click at times this year and dropped some games they should have won. Still, playing in one of the best conferences in the state prepares them for a difficult run. Senior David Edwards mans the quarterback position in their triple option, and his legs will be vital to North's success.
Wait, This is a first round matchup??:
Yep, Mount Carmel and Benet are playing in the first round. Two teams that were at one point 6-0 and projecting to both be high seeds are meeting up in opening-round action. Benet's offense was rolling early in the year behind quarterback Jack Beneventi, but their passing attack has recently sputtered a bit as teams have keyed away from the run and are selling out against the pass. Mount Carmel has continued to do what they do best: run the football. Senior running back and Illinois commit Matt Domer is the feature back this year and he'll need to break a few big runs to give Mount Carmel a sure advantage. Of course, Benet will also need to deal with Michigan State commit Enoch Smith at the line of scrimmage.
90 degrees the other Lincoln-Way:
We already talked about Lincoln-Way North, now we're going to change directions and talk about Lincoln-Way East. Frankfort has some good football teams this year, and Lincoln-Way East, led by All-American Nick Allegretti has been impressive this season. I doubt that the Griffins will let a late season loss to 9-0 Bolingbrook bother them too much, and without a shot at revenge, East will put it behind them and march on to take another crack at a state title.
Can the Irish get Lucky?:
The Dons of Niles Notre Dame have faced some tough competition this season, but typically the more battle-tested you are during the year, the more prepared you are for the playoffs. Running back Chris James is a workout warrior, and his physicality could be dangerous as teams have now played 9 games this year and defenses won't be as fresh as they once were. If James can pound the ball 25 times a game, he should find himself getting some longer runs and breaking some bigger plays.
And then there was one..:
Who would have thought that the lone 9-0 in 8A would be Bolingbrook, especially in the post-Aaron Bailey era? But credit Bolingbrook for getting the job done and running the table through the regular season. Parrker Westphal is still Parrker Westphal, but the future generations at Bolingbrook are stepping up fast, including junior DE Micah Dew-Treadway and a promising sophomore linebacker in Tuf Borland. Assuming Bolingbrook gets past Bloom in the first round, they either get a red hot Marist team or a rival in Plainfield South and Clifton Garrett.
Speaking of Marist & Plainfield South..:
Plainfield South stepped up their game bigtime this year, landing a berth in the playoffs and putting together a 6-3 record. Marist also landed at 6-3, but they're coming into the playoffs on a hot streak. Part of the spark for Marist was putting their two best receivers on defense at safety as well, and it's paid off. Nic Weishar (Notre Dame) and junior Flynn Nagel have changed the landscape of the Marist D. And since we're on the topic of defense, All-American Clifton Garrett is always around the football, and I know he's looking forward to the matchup against Weishar. The Plainfield South run game has been on point as of late, so this one could be high scoring, regardless of the playmakers on defense.
The Neuqua Valley Wildcats host the O'Fallon Panthers in opening round action. Playmakers all over the field in this one. Neuqua Valley has the usual suspects, primarily Mike Dudek, who is electric with the ball in his hands. TJ Scruggs and Ryan Kuhl also make plays for Neuqua on the offensive side of the ball. O'Fallon may be young on offense but sophomore RB Kentrail Moran is one of the top backs in the 2016 class and is getting better in a hurry. Recent Tennessee commit Dewayne Hendrix is going to be the disruptive force for O'Fallon on defense, but Neuqua will have to gameplan knowing that.
If a Wolverine and a Lion got in a fight..
Hopefully no fight but a good battle on the way between Simeon and Lyons Township. Simeon comes in at 6-3 and Lyons comes in at 5-4. Junior running back Leonard Ross is an integral part of Lyons' balanced offensive attack. Quarterback Tom Fiedler is the other main offensive threat for Lyons. Simeon is the only team that was able to knock off Crete-Monee this year, and their open offense might be tough for Lyons' defense to handle.
Make sure you stay tuned in here at IlliniPlaybook and the rest of FOXSportsNEXT throughout the playoffs for all the latest coverage!