Three teams from the Southwest Prairie Conference have made the IHSA State Prep Football Playoffs; the Oswego Panthers (7-2-0), Minooka Indians (6-3-0) and the Plainfield South Cougars (5-4-0). Congratulations to all! Before this season began, I had thought that we could lan at least four, if not five, teams into the playoffs. And had it not been for a dramatic come-from-behind season-ending shootout in Romeoville, the Plainfield Central Wildcats (5-4-0) would have qualified. Instead, the Romeoville Spartans (3-6-0) ended their dream with a 49-46 victory. Funny thing though, I had written in my preview that an upset was possible given that Head Coach Jeff Kuna had had his team playing more competitively the last three weeks of the season. As it is - Romeoville finished the season winning two of their last three contests. Congratulations are in order for the Spartans!
As for Plainfield Central, well, one must feel badly for them and Head Coach Jackson, especially since they had positioned themselves so nicely into a playoff eligible position with a better than expected season. They did, however, know that they would need a precious 6th win because they had not earned enough opposition playoff points to qualify at 5-4. Ironically, Plainfield South did as their 5-4 Record was based on playing tougher competition. For those who may have forgotten, the Wildcats defeated the Cougars 26-19 in a Week 6 stunner and it appeared that South would be done for. Still, the Cougars rebounded and in the process amassed more than enough playoff points to qualify (thanks in large part to an season opening loss to Bolingbrook who finished at 8-1-0). Still, it came down to the final game of the season versus a team that had ended their chance at a perfect season the year before.
Naturally, any game between the Plainfield South Cougars and the Plainfield North Tigers (4-5-0) is certain to be hotly contested. These two teams have a good rivalry, although not as fierce as the one between Minooka and South. Either way, that final game figured to be a dandy just the same. Both teams had their share of ups and downs this season, but they both probably figured that this was going to be a game that either could win to salvage the season. Plainfield South had a slight advantage because they were playing at home, although I am a bit surprised at the lighter than normal crowd given the magnitude of the game and some exceptional late season weather. As it turned out - the Plainfield South Cougars were prepared for this game and did not take long to take control while coasting to an 27-7 win. The stage, as they say, was set for the announcement of their playoff opponent the following day.
Before we go any further, I just want to say how proud I am of this Cougar team and the entire coaching staff. As you know, this is my "home team' and I have this teeny bias towards them (ha-ha). In spite of their ups and downs this season this team never gave up on themselves and pushed themselves to get better each week. As a result, the Cougars not only improved but they are peaking at just the right time. And IF they play at the same level they have over their last three games, then they can compete with any team in their bracket. Hopefully, though, teams will look beyond them and see them for what they were, as opposed to what they have become. I guess you can tell I am pulling for an upset this week, huh? But hey, I have also said all along that this was a team that was loaded when it came to talent. As a matter of fact, they are so loaded that the coaches have yet still to figure out how to get more of those players onto the field. Hopefully they will use as much of their talent as possible in their up-coming game versus Lincoln-Way East. Let's face it - it is awful hard to duplicate game speed in practice and in spite of wanting to do well this season - we must still be looking at next season too. As they say, it is a process you know?
Naturally the Lincoln-Way East Griffins (9-0-0) have to be considered, and respected, as the prohibitive favorite in this Class 7A match-up. If, however, the Plainfield South Cougars play up to their capabilities then the possibility of an upset does exist. And upsets aren't all that uncommon when it comes to the IHSA State Playoffs, are they? Naturally I will root for "my team" - but I also genuinely believe that they can win too. The Cougars have been playing very well and if they duplicate their effort versus Plainfield North - then what Bolingbrook Head Coach Ivlow had said after our Week 1 game could be something of a portent. I was told that Coach Ivlow said: " I am glad we played ths team early on as I wouldn't want to meet them later on down the line." I can only assume that he saw something that night? One thing is certain, though - the Cougars are peaking right now. Even though the Lincoln-Way Griffins are a potent team offensively, maybe the one area that can be exploited by QB Austin Howarth or QB/WR Ricky Luna is their defense. It won't be easy - but you gotta believe!
Besides, I have to believe that all the pressure would be on the Griffins, as every single prep handicapper have already given LWE a free pass into the 2nd Round to meet the winner of the Wheaton-Warrenville South / Providence Catholic game. Okay - maybe that will be indeed be the case, but the burden to win, and big, is on them. After all LWE, is expected to vie for the Class 7A Championship. As for the Plainfield South Cougars? Well my suggestion is simple - just go out there and play your game and let the chips fall where they may. Anything is possible and the Cougars have the talent pool to compete in a game like this.
As for the the other two Southwest Prairie Conference playoff participants, well they should both have a better than average chance at winning their 1st Round Contests. Unlike Plainfield South, Oswego and Minooka will also be hosting their contests and there will be positive energy coming out of those Home Team Stands. Minooka and Oswego both have a legion of loyal fans and one can expect an overflow crowd to be present to spur them on. Although Oswego defeated Minooka 21-7 in their Winner-Take-All SPC Championship Showdown last week, both teams are ready to begin their playoff runs.
The Oswego Panthers (7-2-0) and their MVP QB Ryan West will meet Harvey's Thornton Wildcats (6-3), the Southwest Suburban (Red) 3rd Place finisher on Saturday Evening at 6PM and I have to like their chances in this game. The Minooka Indians (6-3-0), meanwhile, have been bumped up to Class 8A and will face the Naperville Central Redhawks (6-3), the 3rd Place finsher in a very, very tough DuPage Valley Conference. It should be pointed-out that the Redhawks come from a conference that is arguably one the toughest in the Western Suburbs. Meeting teams like Wheaton-Warrenville South, Wheaton North, Glenbard North and Naperville North on a regular basis can only make a team better, you know? Although I like Minooka's chance here, I am a little concerned because Naperville Central is a grinder team and could wear down the Indians. Part of those concerns are also due to some comments my friend and observer from Minooka shared with me as we texted each other to give game updates last week. Apparently, Minooka's Offensive and Defensive Lines didn't play their usual game and looked flat. Well, all I can say about that is that if Minooka wants to win this contest - then they better unflatten themselves for this match-up. These are two really good teams and they stack up well against each other.
Players To Watch:
Plainfield South at Lincoln-Way East
The Plainfield South Cougars have multiple offensive threats, but they also have two of the best offensive game-changers in the conference in Dantrell Wright and Joshua Harris. It should be evident by now that Senior ATH Dantrell Wright has the abilty to single-handedly beat almost any team, at any time. However, Wright must also be pleased that Sophomore RB /WR Joshua Harris and even Junior RB / WR Jason Ochoa have come into their own in recent weeks. These three players can get into any opponents secondary quickly thanks to an Offensive Line that has come up big with great blocks and traps. In addition to those three players, there are perhaps another six offensive threats that could be inserted and that must be respected. As for QB Austin Howarth, he definitely has the live arm that can not only beat you deep - but can hit outlet receivers like Senior WR Ryan Turk if he gets into a jam. The way I see it, that should at least help to keep Griffins' Defensive Backs honest. In addition to having a dangerous offense that is peaking, the Cougars also have a stellar defense. Inspired play by Angelo Cervantes, Ciffton Garrett, Jacob Meeder, Steven Harris and Brandon Davis have bolstered and tightened up the entire squad.
As for the Griffins of Lincoln-Way East, well, you just can't say enough about these guys. Led by their exceptional Division I Prospect QB Blake Winkler they too have some fine offensive threats in WR's J.J. Robertston and Jay Yancy. Both have shown an uncany ability to find the open seams and then proceed to burn up the turf with their speed. RB Tyler Starke is a threat every time he touches the ball and they have a compliment of other ball handlers like Nick Colangelo and Kevin Duffin. Of course nothing happens offensively without having a stellar Offensive Line and that is exactly what the Griffins have in Al Hern, Frank Toland, Josh Bottoms and Dan Patteson. Defensively, the Griffins are led by DT Matt Solner, LB Jake Aleck and DB's Kevin Slawkowski and Joe Tomasik.
Lincoln-Way East deserves every accolade they get as a powerhouse. They are potent and will be the best team outside of Bolingbrook that the Cougars will have faced thus far. Head Coach Zvonar has now guided the team to their third undefeated regular season in 11 years and we shouldn't forget that they have shown themselves to be a model of consistency in the tough Southwest Suburban Blue.
Still. let's look at this game carefully. Yes, LWE should win this game as they are an extremely tight unit and one that is basically intact from last season. They have also won by an average of score of 39-10 thus far. So far as our common opponents go - LWE defeated Bolingbrook 20-14 and Joliet West 42-7. Although PSH lost to Bolingbrook 40-16, they did play a tight and physical game for a quarter and one-half before mistakes gave the Raiders a good win. However, that loss also came in a season-opening game under a new system installed by new Head Coach Ken Bublitz and they were adjusting to a new lineup. PSH defeated JW 26-8 in Week 2 while still adjusting. Now that the Cougars have adapted to their game plan and played extremely well over their last three games - I can actually see this game as a possible upset candidate. However, they must bring the same AAA effort of the past 3 weeks and even a little more into New Lenox for a realistic chance at an upset. I have faith - Go Cougars!
Harvey Thorton at Oswego:
Wow, what can you say about the Oswego Panthers that hasn't already been said before? My conference MVP has to be QB Ryan West and I would rank him right up there with LWE's QB Blake Winkler. Besides, I met the kid last year during the Minooka / Quincy Playoff Game and think he is a just terrific guy to boot. West has as many offensive threats as Plainfield South does and he uses them all as he spreads the action around the field. However, WR's Brett Wainwright and Jack Kwiatkowski have been extremely dangerous this season. In addition to those WR's, they also have Elliot McGaughy and Freddy Miller. Of course, if those guys somehow don't get things rolling - one can be assured that WR/RB Josh Mapalo, RB's Mickeel Stewart and Alain Dixon will have something to say about things before it's over. Offensively they are stacked! But as the old saying goes - you need an Offensive Line too, well they have one of the best in John Malatia, C Ken Koulback, Ryan Polito, Nick Obradovic and Zach Delmore. Oswegos' Defensive Line features players such as DL Mickey Stewart, LB Justin Best and DB Jay Bodine. There are others too. However, if there is a weakness on the defense, then I would have to say that the Cornerbacks and Safety's might be vulnerable.
The Thorton Wildcats (6-3-0), meanwhile, are led by Sophomore QB Jowahn Brown and RB Jamal Towns, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Defensively, LB's Jaumarl Clark, Dominick Bryant, Mike Morris and Willard Cotton have wreaked havoc all season and must be respected by the Panthers. The Defensive Line is anchored by Malcom Majors.
But I have to take Oswego in this one just the same.
Naperville Central at Minooka
Minooka QB Joe Carnagio has done a fantastic job for the Indians. However, it really has nothing to do with his arm as this kid looks like old time Chicago Bears QB Bobby Douglass. Douglass, to those old enough to remember, just missed rushing for 1, 000 yards in a 14 game schedule for the Chicago Bears. Of course that had a lot to do with the fact that the Bears had one of the worst Offensive Lines and Douglass was running for his life! Joe Carnagio, though, doesn't have those worries as the Indian O-Line is more than formidable with the likes of Blake King, Jordan Brod, Dean Lavell and OL MVP Demetri Sparagis protecting him. Minooka's Defense is exceptional and is anchored by Alex Hamilton, Jake Residori, Walter Vesper and Dane Colvin.
Minooka RB Kalvin Hill did not miss a step this season either as he tore up the SPC as its leading rusher with about 1,300 yards and 20+ TD's ( I am still looking for the final stats though). For as much as Hill can be considered the heart and soul of this team, there are plenty of other good athletes to compliment him; i.e. Joe Carnagio, Josh Pullara, Nate McGuire, Luke Stovall and Max Brozovich. Still, the team plays best when Hill is at his best and they will need his best to defeat Naperville Central.
The Naperville Central Redhawks (6-3-0), meanwhile, have a prolific runner of their own in Senior RB Matt Randolph. Randolph has rushed for 1,151 yards and 17 TD's. And just like Kalvin Hill, Matt Randolph likes to get TD's in bunches such as a 5 TD game over district rivals, Naperville North. By the way, the Redhawks racked up 300+ yards on the ground in that game, so they like to run the ball! However, Naperville Central is not as one-dimensional as Minooka even though they play a similar style. If Minooka keys on Matt Randolph they will likely get burned by a host of players. One week after shredding Naperville North, eight different players combined for 200+ yards on the ground in their win over West Chicago. Minooka might very well be busy Friday Night chasing someone like Senior RB Brain Baids, if you know what I mean? As for Redhawks QB Ian Lewandowski, well, I think he rates an edge over Joe Carnagio because he passes to set up the run and like Minooka, the Redhawks thrive on controlling the ball and the game clock.
In so much that the Redhawks will present Minooka a balanced offensive game plan, if they do win this match up then it will come down to their defense. The Redhawks are BIG and FAST and will give the Indians a hard time. This is a defense that will play a very physical game. For instance, in their game versus Wheaton-Warrenville South, they knocked out both WWS Panther QB's - Junior Starter Brian Murphy and his Senior Backup Tremel Smith enroute to a 10-6 Upset home victory. Senior DL Zach Borta, Gannon Davis, Rob Girgus and Senior LB John Dulleck anchor a defense that enjoys blitzing and forcing opposing QB's into making mistakes and allowing DE's like Junior Cody Campbell to concentrate on stripping the ball or forcing fumbles.
This figures to be a close good old-fashioned kind of game. It's a toss up.
As always - Play Hard - Play Safe!
Good Luck to all the teams.
Tags: IHSA Prep Football, IHSA Prep Football State Playoffs, Lincoln-Way East Griffins vs. Plainfield South Cougars, Minooka Indians vs Naperville Central Redhawks, Oswego Panthers vs. Thornton Wildcats, Prep Football