The 22-10 mark in the quarterfinals isn't exactly something to swoon over, especially considering I dropped a number of the 50/50 games in the round.
Still, 183-41 over three rounds isn't too shabby.
The semifinal round doesn't exactly look easy though.
Gurnee Warren over Brother Rice: It's been an impressive run for the Crusaders through the top side of the bracket including the recent defeat of top-seeded Minooka. The Crusaders dropped three of their last four regular season contests, but a switch to sophomore quarterback Jack Lausch seems to have helped Brother Rice cure most of what ailed them offensively.
Willie Shaw gives Brother Rice a gamebreaker as well and they are going to need all the firepower they can muster to run into an incredible defensive unit on the opposite sideline. Gurnee Warren has surrendered no more than seven points to any opponent this season (Plainfield East, Week 1 of the playoffs) and tossed five shutouts this season. Points are hard to come by and yards are even more difficult. Warren's offense is also productive enough to not put all the responsibilities on the defense tossing a dominant effort, even though they likely will.
Lincoln-Way East over Marist: Marist's run through the 8A playoffs actually started in Week 9 when with their backs against the wall they managed to beat Loyola just to secure a spot in the 256-team field. Most doubted they'd be able to turn that trick again in the quarterfinal round against the playoff stalwart Ramblers, but that's exactly what they did.
Marist enters the game on a serious roll, but they may find the sledding a lot hard against a Lincoln-Way East defensive unit that seems to be thriving on shutting down offenses that were previously firing on all cylinders. Offensively, Lincoln-Way East may not be as explosive as previous incarnations, but opponents still have to deal with the incredible skill set of A.J. Henning and with the added bonus of a field goal kicker capable of tacking on points from good distance in Dominic Dzioban, the Griffins don't need to be stellar on offense with the defense capable of shutting things off for opposition.
Mount Carmel over Willowbrook: Mount Carmel hasn't been dismantling its opponents this season by lopsided margins, but they've been beating them nonetheless, and that's all that really matters, especially at this time of the year. They'll look to take that precision attack at yet another foe and don't really appear to care if the margin is one point or 40 points as long as the score ends in their favor.
Justin Lynch, younger brother of head coach Jordan Lynch, has specialized in being a dual threat quarterback that keeps the Caravan moving in the right direction. There's some similarities with Willowbrook to Mount Carmel, as they've grinded out a few playoff wins of their own. The one thing that has been fairly constant for Willowbrook is a very productive offensive attack that has scored at least four touchdowns in every game this season, excluding two games. Willowbrook's offense might be hard pressed to keep those numbers up against a solid Caravan defense, but Sam Tumilty has proven he's an offensive weapon that must be accounted for.
Nazareth over Rolling Meadows: Rolling Meadows is in the semifinals for the first time since 2004 and still hasn't seemed to garner the level of respect that would usually be earned with that accomplishment. Rolling Meadows has run up gaudy regular season numbers before and then bowing out in the postseason relatively early, but this group qualifies as different primarily because of the capabilities of its defense.
The unit led by Ball State-bound Nate Pedraza spent much of the day tormenting the Wheaton-Warrenville South backfield. They'll need that defense to bring it from the first snap against Nazareth who has been posting video game level offensive numbers for much of the season. The offense is keyed by Michigan recruit J.J McCarthy at the quarterback position, but by no means is that the only weapon capable of erupting for a big day for the Roadrunners. Often overlooked is a pretty solid Nazareth defensive unit that has held six opponents to 10 points or less this season.
Prairie Ridge over Deerfield: Prairie Ridge is a regular at this stage, having now qualified for the semifinals in four of the past five seasons. But getting there was not the breeze that a lot expected. The Wolves trampled quarterfinal opponent Cary-Grove 49-7 during the regular season but had to scratch out a 14-13 victory over that same team on Saturday. Rivalry wars are funny that way.
Prairie Ridge's option attack can be problematic for most opposing teams to try to stop, especially those that don't see it often. Deerfield also squeaked out its quarterfinal win over Lake Forest and unlike Prairie Ridge this is rarefied air for the Warriors as they are seeking to make their first title game since 1984. Deerfield isn't flashy and its offense just does enough behind quarterback Ryan Nagelbach to allow its staunch defense to turn the game into a battle for every inch.
East St. Louis over Chatham Glenwood: East St. Louis is punishing each of its foes in the Class 6A field to date including an astonishingly powerful first half in Saturday's win over Richards. Flyers quarterback Tyler Macon was 15-for-16 with four touchdowns in the first half of that game that East St. Louis went on to win 60-0. The only thing right now that the Flyers are doing negatively is hurting themselves with penalties but it's arguable how much it is really hurting them two offensive pass interference penalties washed away touchdowns, only to have the Flyers get the score back on the next play.
Few teams might think it is a good idea to try to get into a shootout with East St. Louis, but Glenwood might be obliged to try. The Titans average over 50 points a game and if running back Narkel Leflore is healthy enough to provide the 1-2 punch the offense has had all season with standout quarterback Luke Lehnen, Glenwood might just fire it up an see what happens.
St. Rita over Rockford Boylan: St. Rita continues to show the value of playing an extremely difficult schedule. The Mustangs have had little difficulty moving through the 5A field in reaching the semifinals as these games haven't been as pressing as most of the regular season battles St. Rita faces. It certainly doesn't hurt to have sophomore sensation Kaleb Brown on your side either. He notched two more scores in the quarterfinal win over Hillcrest and seems primed to pile up some more obnoxious stats over the next few weeks.
Boylan's run to the semifinals has been a perplexing one in some respects and the quarterfinal win over Sycamore indicated that Boylan's really got its mojo in the right place right now. Boylan did not possess the football in the fourth quarter, was outgained by over 200 yards after the break and leaned on two long fumble returns by the same player, Xavier Bryant, to emerge with the win. Expecting that blueprint to repeat itself seems illogical.
Rochester over Mascoutah: Rochester continues to power its way through the bracket, beating Sacred Heart Griffin for the second time this season on Saturday in a game that featured a over 1,000 yards of total offense combined from both teams. The Rockets don't make any secret that they want to get you into a shootout because most don't have the firepower to match them.
The Rockets have historically been a pass-dominated team and they very much still enjoy putting the ball in the air with quarterback Clay Bruno, but the Rockets can run it to with Jacob DuRocher providing a more than viable option in the ground game. Mascoutah continues to surprise teams with what they bring to the table. A gritty bunch that has multiple players that are expected to contribute on both sides of the football its the defensive unit that makes the Indians intriguing. Mascoutah sold out to stop the run on almost every play in its win over Joliet Catholic, it will be interesting to see how the Indians adjust to an opponent that can pass and run with equal effectiveness.
Coal City over Richmond-Burton: There's not too much to dislike about either one of these two teams, making it one of the more even matchups on the board for the semifinals. They locked horns in last year's quarterfinal matchup as well with Richmond-Burton escaping Coal City with a 17-14 win before R-B was toppled in the semifinals by IC Catholic, who R-B downed Saturday to reach this point.
Coal City's and Richmond-Burton's blueprints to success look somewhat similar as well. Both teams have splendid defensive units. Coal City has tossed six shutouts and allowing just 41 points over its last 10 games. Richmond-Burton limited IC Catholic standout running back Kyle Franklin to just 47 yards rushing last week. Both teams also feature top-notch running backs. Daniel Jezik has been in beast mode for Coal City all season, while Richmond-Burton's Dalton Wood has 30 touchdowns on the season.
Effingham over Murphysboro: Effingham has been the picture of not flashy, but effective this season. It has scored a number of comfortable wins this season, but many of its victories have been by somewhat narrow margins including last week's quarterfinal win over Prairie Central where they broke free from a 14-all halftime tie to record a 28-14 win. They will look to continue that grinder mentality against a Murphysboro team that has proven to be resilient.
One of Murphysboro's two losses was not incurred on the field as they took a forfeit loss due to a teacher's strike. On the field its proven to be a team that's set to do what it has to in order to keep advancing. Murphysboro's conference didn't provide many tests as eight conference foes managed just 28 points against them. Since then, the competition has strengthened but each time the Red Devils have found a way to survive and advance.
Byron over Princeton: This could be a fast one. Both teams are extremely inclined toward running the football and both do so with great efficiency and at times great dominance. Byron used brute force to get past Wilmington in the quarterfinals. Needing just 41 plays and gaining nearly 11 yards per play in a dominating shutout win over Wilmington, Byron uses a two-pronged rushing attack of Issac Stickler and Drake Snodgrass to lead the way. The Tigers don't pass much either but when they do it tends to be lethal. Byron completed only one pass on Saturday, but it went for a 73-yard touchdown.
Princeton's offense is keyed around one player, but it is a pretty good one to build around in Ronde Worrels. The Tigers have leaned heavily on the standout as the Tigers are back in the semifinals for the first time since 2002.
Williamsville over Quincy Notre Dame: Williamsville abilities on offense are matched by few regardless of class. Conor McCormick has thrown for 27 touchdown passes, while the Bullets ground game has scored 54 touchdowns on the ground. The Bullets have averaged 50 points a game in the playoffs and they've scored at least 27 points in every contest this year. Only Maroa-Forysth was within two touchdowns of upending the Bullets.
Quincy Notre Dame has been an interesting team to monitor this season. Essentially an independent, QND has played a hodge podge of a schedule that had them playing schools from larger classifications on the regular. That should prepare them well for this contest. But despite that, QND will likely have to turn the game into a real slog in order to have a realistic chance of pulling the upset.
Sterling Newman over Fieldcrest: Some questioned whether or not Sterling Newman might be struggling a little bit with a transition to a new coach after a midseason loss to Morrison and a couple of other narrow victories, but now it looks like the Comets were only suffering from a momentary blip. Sterling Newman's ousting of two-time defending state champions GCMS in the second round removed all doubt of this squad's ability to make a run to the the title game, but they'll have to find a way around yet another strong team from the Heart of Illinois Conference to make that happen.
Fieldcrest has anchored around a strong defense in pivotal games for most of the season, but the offense showed up strong in a quarterfinal win over Clifton Central, so this game could end up being anywhere on the spectrum between a low scoring grind to a high-scoring shootout.
Decatur St. Teresa over Nashville: The St. Teresa lineage of outstanding running backs carries on. Record breaking running back Jacardia Wright graduated and left in his stead was sophomore Denim Cook, who finds himself just short of 2,000 yards rushing on the season with 26 touchdowns.
But it isn't just Cook. St. Teresa has a pair of quarterbacks that they use regularly that have combined for over 2,000 passing yards and 27 scores. All told, the Bulldogs have a layered offense that is tough for opponents to rein in. Nashville's defense has been pretty stout this season and after a bit of a slow start solidified to shutdown a high-powered Pana offense in the quarterfinals. Nashville also has a strong leading man for their rushing attack in Julian Metcalf, as he scored four touchdowns in the Pana win.
Lena-Winslow over Kewanee Wethersfield: Another week another rout win for Lena-Winslow. At this point its become a question of not whether or not L-W can be defeated but rather whether or not anyone can get close. A powerful rushing attack has four different options for ball carriers that have rushed for over 500 yards led by Sean Ormiston who is approaching 2,000 yards rushing on the season.
Although Kewanee Wethersfield opens this contest as the underdog they might have the components they need to be in this football game. They completely shut off a solid Morrison rushing attack in the quarterfinals and while Lena-Winslow's attack is on a different level on the ground, maybe they can slow it down enough to give them a chance to stay in the game.
Moweaqua Central A&M over Athens: The Raiders have been bowling over opponents all season and the majority of those contests have seen them breaking away from foes at an alarmingly quick pace. That's easy to understand when you dig into the numbers and discover the Raiders are averaging about 500 yards of total offense per game and the margin on the scoreboard usually leads to them stepping off the accelerator really early in most games.
They do however, face an interesting challenge in an Athens team that certainly won't back away from the challenge. Playing as a 1A school in arguably the best small school league in the state in the Sangamo, Athens has seen multiple teams that bring plenty of firepower to the table. Athens will try to control tempo of the game by employing a pair of 1,000 yard rushers on the season in Nic Laird and Deyson Davis.