Lincoln-Way East's AJ Henning catches a tipped ball for a touchdown against Homewood-Flossmoor during a semifinal playoff game on Saturday at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort.
Lincoln-Way East's AJ Henning catches a tipped ball for a touchdown against Homewood-Flossmoor during a semifinal playoff game on Saturday at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort. — Geoff Stellfox for Shaw Media

One of the many motivators for the Lincoln-Way East football team when the Class 8A bracket was released four weeks ago was the possibility that the Griffins would get a chance to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss to Loyola.

And until Saturday afternoon, that still had a chance of happening.

But as the Griffins were on the verge of wrapping up another impressive win over a good Homewood-Flossmoor team, word filtered out that someone else had slayed the Griffins’ dragon, as Marist toppled Loyola for the second time this season.

So, the Griffins won’t get the chance to travel back to Wilmette and avenge that loss.

No one seemed to care.

The Griffins were more than content to have secured their third consecutive berth in the state semifinals and easily will shift focus to a Marist team that, despite being one of two teams remaining in the playoffs that had four regular-season losses, is a significant hurdle in Lincoln-Way East’s road to getting back to DeKalb.

Coal City’s defense loomed large in its win over Wheaton St. Francis, but it didn’t look like that was going to be the case early on.

The Spartans notched a quick touchdown on the opening drive, but all that seemed to do to Coal City was fuel the fire, as the Coalers allowed next to nothing the rest of the way.

It was nothing out of the ordinary for the Coalers’ defense, which routinely dominates its opponents. I caught wind of an online discussion Saturday night about what year’s Coal City defensive unit was the best, and it easily could have turned into a lengthy and varied debate.

For my money, the 1993 Coal City defense that played a big part in the school capturing the Class 2A state championship is the best I’ve seen. But this group, at the very least, is making a strong case of sharing the throne.

It will get another massive test this weekend against Richmond-Burton. The Rockets are rolling, and also were responsible for ousting the Coalers in last year’s quarterfinals.

Beyond those two success stories, the rest of the area’s quarterfinal teams’ days ended in disappointment.

Bolingbrook played Gurnee Warren, and although the Blue Devils likely have not gotten the attention that they’ve deserved up by the northern border of Illinois, they well might possess the best defensive unit in the state. They flexed that muscle once again against Bolingbrook, which wasn’t exactly a slouch in that area.

But it is hard to beat a team that hasn’t allowed more than seven points to any opponent this season. It doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error.

Minooka picked the wrong time to dig a hole and dug it against the wrong team. The other four-loss team still alive in the playoffs, Brother Rice, took full advantage of some early Minooka miscues and kept the Indians on the futile chase for the entire game.

A week after they got one of the more explosive individual offensive performances from Aaron Vaughn, Providence found out what it’s like when an opponent has an amazing individual effort posted against it.

Chatham Glenwood’s Luke Lehnen, a returning All-State player, ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and then proceeded to make play after play to end the Celtics’ season.

In Class 3A, Wilmington likes to grind out games and force opponents to submit to their will, and they simply ran into a version of a Byron team that likes to do the same, and at least for this year, did it better.

On my way into Saturday night’s Class 5A quarterfinal game between Mascoutah and Joliet Catholic, I spied an older gentleman wearing a purple 1979 State Champion hat. My ability to recall that Mascoutah had indeed won the Class 3A title that year had eluded me, but my ability to be impressed with what a gritty effort the Indians put forth did not.

The Hilltoppers didn’t turn in their best performance Saturday night, but you had to admire the relentlessness effort of the Indians, who had multiple players contributing on both sides of the football. The defense continued to send everything short of the kitchen sink at the Hilltopper’s running game, and other than a few isolated plays, JCA never really seemed to get its footing.

Mascoutah, which had to travel more than 250 miles to get to Joliet Stadium, still brought quite a healthy fan base along for the long trip, and a large group of fans rushed the field afterward. Bedlam ensued for a few minutes, and it was a reminder of why we play the games.

The Indians now will face Rochester, and they’ll be a massive underdog once again.

But you can’t help but think maybe they’ve got two more wins in them, and they finally can get that guy a new hat.