High school football: Breaking down the top first-round playoff games


Class 8A: Bolingbrook at No. 13 Maine South, 7 p.m.

There aren’t a lot of programs that go into most seasons expecting to contend for a state title — especially in the biggest class — but these are two in that select group. Bolingbrook (6-3) had a quarterback competition in the preseason and freshman Jonas Williams emerged as the starter. He has been nothing short of spectacular, starting with a remarkable seven-touchdown effort in Week 1 against eventual playoff qualifier Minooka. The Raiders have other playmakers as well, including junior receiver I’Marion Stewart, who has 19 offers; and defensive back Damon Walters, a Northwestern recruit. Maine South (7-2) graduated 19 starters from last year’s 8A runner-up team, but its only two losses were by a combined three points to Warren and Prospect, who are both 8-1.

8A: No. 20 Naperville North at No. 10 Marist, 7 p.m.

Naperville North (7-2) has the state’s top senior quarterback prospect in Northwestern-bound Aidan Gray, who has completed 66% of his passes for 1,380 yards and 13 touchdowns. Junior Luke Williams, who has 13 offers, is his favorite target. Gray is also one of four Huskies who have rushed for at least 380 yards; Cole Arl, Danny Eloe and Nathan Jacobs are the others. Marist’s losses came to three top-six teams who are a combined 25-2: Mount Carmel, Loyola and Glenbard West. Converted receiver Dermot Smyth has been excellent for the RedHawks (6-3) at quarterback, throwing for 1,605 yards and 11 TDs with four interceptions. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Miami (Ohio)-bound receiver Ryan Sims is a tough matchup for opposing defensive backs. Big Ten recruits John Nestor, a defensive back committed to Iowa, and Jamel Howard, a lineman committed to Wisconsin, lead the Marist defense.

Class 7A: No. 23 Brother Rice at Jacobs, 7 p.m.

Brother Rice is one of the more dangerous 5-4 teams in any bracket, toughened by playing in the CCL/ESCC Blue and owning a win over defending 4A champ Joliet Catholic. The Crusaders have one of the deeper receiver groups around with Owen Lyons, Rickey Taylor, Marty O’Keeffe and Michael Bos. Wisconsin-bound lineman Roderick Pierce III leads the defense. Jacobs (8-1) shared the Fox Valley title with Prairie Ridge and Huntley after reaching the 7A quarterfinals last season. Four-star tight end Grant Stec has 15 offers and is the consensus No. 4 junior in Illinois.

7A: Geneva at No. 11 St. Rita, 7 p.m.

St. Rita (7-2) has gone to state the past two postseasons, finishing second in 5A in 2019 and second in 7A last season (the playoffs were canceled because of the pandemic in 2020-21). Can the Mustangs make it three in a row for coach Todd Kuska, who is retiring after 25 seasons? St. Rita has won six straight after starting off 1-2 with losses to Mount Carmel and Loyola. DJ Stewart and Ethan Middleton are productive backs for the Mustangs. Geneva (6-3) is one of four playoff qualifiers from the DuKane. Junior quarterback Nate Stempowski has passed for 1,332 yards and 17 TDs, and also has rushed for five scores.

Class 5A: Nazareth at Glenbard South, 7 p.m.

Don’t be fooled by Nazareth’s 5-4 record. The Roadrunners’ schedule featured six playoff qualifiers, including 2021 state runners-up Kankakee — a 2-0 Nazareth win in the season opener — and St. Rita. Quarterback Logan Malachuk and multitalented receiver Justin Taylor are an effective pass-and-catch combo. Glenbard South (7-2) also has a potent passing game led by quarterback Michael Champagne (1,703 yards, 26 TDs) and receiver Cam Williams (44 catches, 882 yards, 13 touchdowns), a Notre Dame recruit.


Class 8A: Lockport at No. 6 Glenbard West, 1 p.m.

As its 5-4 record indicates, it’s been an up-and-down season for defending 8A champ Lockport. The Porters lost 34-3 to 3-6 Sandburg but also beat Bolingbrook 34-33. Hyatt Timosciek, a 6-6 tight end, committed to Northern Illinois this week. Glenbard West (8-1), whose only loss was to unbeaten West Suburban Silver champ York, is built to go deep into the playoffs with a big, experienced offensive line led by Wisconsin commit Chris Terek, some productive backs and a typically stingy defense.

Class 6A: No. 15 Prairie Ridge at Crystal Lake South, 1 p.m.

Two weeks after Prairie Ridge (8-1) escaped with a 48-41 win, the neighborhood rivals meet again. Prairie Ridge quarterback Tyler Vasey had 301 of his 334 rushing yards and all five of his touchdowns after halftime in that game. Nathan Greatham is another proven runner for the Wolves. Caden Casimino passed for 296 yards for Crystal Lake South (5-4), which has scored at least 30 points six times this season.

6A: Kenwood at Perspectives, 1 p.m.

Kenwood (6-3) has plenty of talent, especially on the defensive side. Senior defensive backs Kahlil Tate and Kiwaun Davis are committed to Iowa and Western Michigan respectively, edge rusher Marquise Lightfoot’s 24 offers include Notre Dame and five from the SEC, and linebacker K’Vion Thunderbird has 17 offers, four from the SEC. Perspectives (8-1), which finished second behind Hyde Park in the Red South-Central, is in the IHSA playoffs for the first time since 2012 and the second time in program history.

Class 5A: Morgan Park vs. Fenwick at Gately, 5 p.m.

Morgan Park (8-1) has lost only to unbeaten Simeon and has been pointing toward this season as its best chance in years to make a deep state playoff run. Junior Tysean Griffin is a dynamic talent on offense, defense and special teams who has 14 offers from the likes of Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. Sophomore Jovan Clark has 10 offers, including Maryland and Syracuse. Fenwick (5-4) graduated 16 starters from last year’s 5A championship team, including most of its offensive firepower. One player to watch is sophomore edge rusher Nathaniel Marshall, who picked up his first offer this week from Kent State.

Class 4A, Hyde Park vs. Johnsburg at Gately, 1 p.m.

Hyde Park (9-0) qualified for the IHSA field for the fourth straight season and is seeking its first state playoff victory. The Thunderbirds mostly run behind a pair of sturdy two-way linemen: 6-foot, 330-pound senior Aaron Matthews and 6-2, 325-pound junior Sedrick Washington. When Hyde Park does throw the ball, keep an eye on 6-6 tight end Maasai Gibson. Johnsburg (5-4), in the state playoffs for the first time since 2018, averages more than 35 points a game and allows more than 31 points a game. Sophomore quarterback AJ Bravieri has passed for 2,023 yards and 22 touchdowns.

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