High school football: Breaking down the top state quarterfinals

Class 8A: No. 5 Glenbard West at No. 9 Maine South, 6 p.m. Saturday

Junior Julius Ellens has been a revelation for Glenbard West (10-1). Running behind a big, experienced line anchored by Wisconsin-bound tackle Chris Terek, he made a splash with 242 total yards and five touchdowns in a Week 1 victory at Marist. In a victory last week against Glenbrook South, Ellens ran for 312 yards and five more TDs. Maine South (9-2) has won seven in a row and has pitched playoff shutouts against Bolingbrook and South Elgin. The Hawks’ offense got a boost when quarterback Ryan Leyden returned from an injury layoff for the postseason.

8A: No. 8 Warren at No. 3 Lincoln-Way East, 1 p.m. Saturday

As usual, Warren (10-1) has a dominant defense, allowing less than 10 points per game. The Blue Devils also have a capable back in Charley Thompson and an effective quarterback in Adam Behrens. Thompson averaged 10 yards per carry and scored three TDs last week against Andrew. Behrens is an Arizona State baseball recruit who returned to the football team for his senior season. Lincoln-Way East (11-0) is in the quarterfinals for the ninth time in the last 10 postseasons, but it has a bigger goal: its third state title since 2017. Quarterback Braden Tischer and running back James Kwiecinski lead a diversified offense, and linebacker Jake Scianna and sophomore end Caden O’Rourke are playmakers on defense.

Class 7A: No. 15 Brother Rice at No. 1 Mount Carmel, 6 p.m. Saturday

It’s the second consecutive season these South Side and CCL/ESCC Blue teams will meet in the Class 7A quarterfinals. Rice won 41-28 last season, but most of the key pieces of that team — including quarterback and Sun-Times Player of the Year Jack Lausch — have graduated. But don’t underestimate these Crusaders (7-4), who lost 28-21 to Mount Carmel in Week 6. Mount Carmel (11-0) has one of the best big-game quarterbacks in the state in Blainey Dowling and a defense that has held eight opponents to single digits. Linemen Asher Tomaszewski and Danny Novickas are headliners on that unit.

7A: No. 6 St. Rita at No. 12 St. Charles North, 1 p.m. Saturday

St. Rita (9-2) has won eight in a row, and its only losses were to the top two teams in the area (Mount Carmel and Loyola). In coach Todd Kuska’s 25th and final season before retirement, the Mustangs are two victories away from their third consecutive trip to the state finals. Junior back DJ Stewart has emerged as a dependable leader for the offense. St. Charles North (10-1) won the DuKane, one of the deepest conferences in the state, and hasn’t lost since falling in Week 1 to Class 8A quarterfinalist Palatine. Two-way standout Drew Surges had more than 200 all-purpose yards, two TDs, an interception and a forced fumble last week against Hoffman Estates.

Class 5A: No. 23 Morgan Park at No. 24 Nazareth, 1 p.m. Saturday

Morgan Park (10-1), in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, has plenty of playmakers. Among them are two-way standout Tysean Griffin, quarterback Marcus Thaxton (1,656 yards, 21 TDs), receiver Chris Durr (11 TDs) and linebacker Jovan Clark (91 tackles, 12 tackles for loss). Nazareth (7-4) played one of the toughest schedules in the state and has gone 6-1 after a 1-3 start. Two-way star Justin Taylor, a Wisconsin recruit, and sophomore quarterback Logan Malachuk are players to watch.

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