Warren (10-1) at Lincoln-Way East (11-0)
When: Saturday, 1 p.m.
Seeds: Warren is the No. 8 seed in the 32-team Class 8A bracket; Lincoln-Way East is the No. 1 seed.
About the Blue Devils: Warren heads south to Frankfort to square off against the top seed in the 32-team 8A field. “Lincoln-Way East is an outstanding opponent with a long history of success deep in the playoffs,” Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. “In order to be successful against them, we will need to do what we do best. We look forward to the challenge.” McNulty said a team-first concept has helped propel the Blue Devils to the quarters. “We are playing together as seven units strong,” he said. “We are at our best when we are all aligned.” McNulty has also been pleased with the Blue Devils’ kicking efforts. “Our kicking game does not get enough credit,” he said. “We put a lot of time into our kicking game and it pays off.” Two continual difference-makers for Warren this season have been Cassius Callahan and Taylen Curry. “Cassius has been huge in all three phases all year,” McNulty said. “Taylen also is huge in all three phases.” McNulty also is thrilled with the play of defensive lineman Colby Kachurik. “Colby has been outstanding all year,” he said. “He doesn’t get noticed a lot, but he is our most consistent defender.”
About the Griffins: Lincoln-Way East handled Conant 42-7 in the first round but then was challenged by DuPage Valley Conference-champion Neuqua Valley in the second round, winning by 3 points (17-14). The Griffins played seven teams that made the playoffs during the regular season with Crete-Monee and Batavia still alive in the quarterfinals and Andrew making it to the second round. Lincoln-Way East bat Crete 41-15 and Batavia 31-16. The winner of this game gets either No. 5 seed Glenbard West (10-1) or No. 13 seed Maine South (9-2) in the semifinals.
Lake Zurich (10-1) at Pekin (11-0)
When: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.
Seeds: Lake Zurich is the No. 11 seed in the 32-team Class 7A bracket; Pekin is the No. 3 seed.
About the Bears: Lake Zurich will make the nearly 140-mile trip southwest to take on Pekin. “Pekin has a great team with tons of tradition,” Lake Zurich coach Ron Planz said. “They are big, fast and physical. They are undefeated and may go down as being considered the best team in school history. We have to play our game our way. This will be a difficult trip with a lot of distractions along the way. Focus is paramount to our success. We can’t allow the situation to create unnecessary adversity.” Planz said there hasn’t been anything that has changed considerably for the Bears in the postseason. “We have been getting better at doing what we do,” he said. “Our defense has been lights out and the offense has been smart with the football. We have done a good job of no self-inflicted errors. I love how our team believes in each other and plays for each other.” Planz said handling pressure situations also has been a big plus. “Our composure in big moments doesn’t get enough credit,” he said. “Our team doesn’t panic. Our coaches and players stay relentless in doing our job the way we need to do it. Our process is consistent and everyone believes in it and how we need to attack it.” Lake Zurich has outgained opponents 2,789-1,921 in total yardage this season, including a huge 1,717-744 advantage rushing the football (22-6 advantage in rushing touchdowns). Lake Zurich is also plus-12 in the takeaways department (20 takeways against 8 turnovers). Planz has nothing but great things to say about senior outside linebacker John Degustino. “John has been steady all year,” he said. “He’s not overly flashy, but in our two playoff games he has been really solid. In Wheaton North’s two fourth-quarter drives after we took the lead, John had a pass breakup on fourth down that stopped their first drive and had a tackle for loss to end their final drive.” Degustino has 11 tackles and 2 tackles for loss in the two playoff games. Sophomore defensive lineman Nate Snep also has played an integral role this season for the Bears. “Nate doesn’t have a ton of stats, but he has been a force in the middle of our defense,” Planz pointed out. “He demands double teams and has opened up playmaking opportunities for our linebackers.” Snep has a sack and a tackle for loss in the two playoff games. Tyler Erkman also was key last week, ripping off a 56-yard touchdown run to ice the game, Planz pointed out. The Bears are looking to get back to the semifinals for the first time since 2017.
About the Dragons: Pekin, out of the Mid-Illini Conference, beat Plainfield Central 51-14 in the first round and then edged Normal Community 32-31 last week to make it to the semifinals. The Dragons played four playoff teams during the regular season and had the lowest playoff point total (sum of opponents’ regular-season victories) of any team in their conference (34). The winner of this game faces either No. 7 Yorkville (10-1) or No. 18 Batavia (8-3) in the semifinals next week.