High school football: Breaking down the top state semifinals

Class 8A: No. 2 Loyola at No. 4 York, 1 p.m. Saturday

Loyola (11-1) has lost lead back Will Nimesheim to a knee injury but still has one of the state’s premier quarterbacks in Holy Cross recruit Jake Stearney (2,347 total yards, 36 touchdowns) and a deep receiving corps. Michigan-bound defensive end Brooks Bahr leads the defense for the Ramblers, who are seeking their first trip to state since 2018. York (12-0), in the semifinals for the second time in program history, has never played for a state title. But coach Mike Fitzgerald has taken the Dukes to the top of the rugged West Suburban Silver and beyond. York also has a savvy senior quarterback in Matt Vezza, a capable group of pass catchers and a proven senior back in Kelly Watson.

8A: No. 5 Glenbard West at No. 3 Lincoln-Way East, 1 p.m. Saturday

After four straight second-round playoff exits, Glenbard West (11-1) came into this season with a mission and a motto: Return to Glory. The Hilltoppers have done that by relying on a familiar formula, with dependable backs Julius Ellens and Joey Pope running behind a big, experienced offensive line anchored by Wisconsin-bound tackle Chris Terek. Lincoln-Way East (12-0) likely will be on alert for onside kicks after the Hilltoppers successfully pulled off a couple in last week’s 37-34 win over Maine South. The Griffins have an added dimension this season with a more prominent passing game led by quarterback Braden Tischer and receiver Jimmy Curtin. Jake Scianna and Caden O’Rourke lead a defense that has rarely been tested.

Class 7A: No. 1 Mount Carmel at No. 6 St. Rita, 4 p.m. Saturday

It’s the second meeting of the season for the South Side archrivals. Mount Carmel (12-0) won 35-3 in the season opener, and St. Rita’s only other loss was 34-14 to Loyola in Week 3. The Caravan have looked every bit the best team in the area with an offense that’s been rolling along behind senior quarterback Blainey Dowling, who has been especially good in big games. Last week against Brother Rice, he threw for five touchdowns. The Mustangs (10-2) are one win away from sending retiring coach Todd Kuska to state for the third straight postseason (the playoffs were canceled because of the pandemic two years ago). Keep an eye on St. Rita’s special teams: kicker Conor Talty is an Alabama recruit and the Mustangs blocked three kicks last week against St. Charles North.

7A: No. 9 Batavia at No, 10 Lake Zurich, 4 p.m. Saturday

Batavia’s two Power Five linebacker recruits, Tyler Jansey (Wisconsin) and Jack Sadowsky (Iowa State), also made their presence felt on special teams by blocking kicks in last week’s win over Yorkville. And Charlie Whelpley showed some impressive versatility with his punting, running and halfback option pass. The Bulldogs are in the semifinals for the fifth time since 2011 and are seeking their third trip to state since 2013. Lake Zurich (11-1) has won 10 straight since losing to St. Charles North and has held 10 opponents to 10 points or fewer. Ron Planz is the fourth coach to lead the Bears to the semifinals since 2011.

Class 6A: No. 21 St. Ignatius at No. 8 Prairie Ridge, 2 p.m. Saturday

Prairie Ridge quarterback Tyler Vasey broke the IHSA single-season rushing record last week when he ran for a remarkable 481 yards and eight touchdowns against Harlem, pushing his season totals to 3,609 yards and 50 TDs. And he’s not the only 1,000-yard rusher for the Wolves (11-1): fullback Nathan Greetham has 1,332 yards and 14 touchdowns. St. Ignatius (10-2), which hadn’t won an IHSA playoff game till last season, is in its first semifinal. The Wolfpack has the state’s top junior prospect, two-way lineman Justin Scott, and program career rushing leader Vinny Rugai, who has run for 485 yards and 10 TDs in three playoff games.

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