Previewing this weekend’s high school state championship games
The IHSA State Football Finals game will be played over two days this week on Friday (Class 1A thru Class 4A) and Saturday (Class 5A thru Class 8A) at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign.
Frankfort (Lincoln-Way East) (13-0) vs. Wilmette (Loyola Academy) (12-1) at Champaign (Memorial Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 26, 7:00 pm
This game is a rematch from the 2021 Class 8A quarterfinal game as Loyola narrowly defeated Lincoln Way East 3-0. Lincoln Way East and veteran head coach Rob Zvonar welcomed back an impressive 18 returning starters from that 2021 squad and that team used the loss in 2021 to Loyola as a motivational starting point for off-season workouts and eventually the 2022 season. Lincoln Way East will look to establish the running game led by senior RB James Kwiecinski (1,498 yards rushing, 26 TD’s) who runs behind a big, strong and experienced offensive line (averages 6-foot-2, 254 pounds). The Griffins play action passing game has been a nice surprise this season led by junior QB Braden Tischer (2,104 yards passing, 21 TD’s) who is also a threat running with the football. The Griffins defense has tremendous speed and keep an eye on senior ILB Jake Scianna along with junior LB Conner Durkin, senior S DJ Ritter and sophomore DE Caden O’Rourke.
Loyola Academy and veteran head coach John Holecek has the Ramblers back into the Class 8A state title game for the ninth time in school history and the 7th time since 2011. The Loyola Academy offense is led by senior QB Jake Stearney (Colgate) who has thrown for 2,149 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. Stearney’s main targets in the passing game have been senior WR Declan Forde (40 catches for 766 yards, 13 TD’s) and senior WR Spencer Leadbetter (38 catches for 492 yards 8 TD’s). The Loyola running game has been productive this season (2,506 yards), but this position group has also had its share of injuries and the yards and carries have been spread across several different running backs. The Ramblers defense remains the Loyola program’s calling card and is closely watched and led by head coach John Holecek. Keep an eye on senior DL Brooks Bahr (Michigan) along with senior S John McGuire on Saturday and the Ramblers defense is seldom caught not prepared or out of position.
Can Lincoln Way East run the football against the Loyola defense? Can the Lincoln Way East defense pressure the Loyola passing game? I’m looking for a relatively lower scoring game and a turnover or special teams play could be the difference on Saturday night.
Pick: Lincoln Way East
Chicago (Mt. Carmel) (13-0) vs. Batavia (10-3) at Champaign (Memorial Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 26, 4:00 pm
This is another rematch game from the 2021 IHSA Class 7A second round as Mount Carmel defeated Batavia 16-14 in a game that included a handful of controversial calls which Batavia felt went against them. Mount Carmel and head coach Jordan Lynch has the Caravan playing impressive football all season long. The Mount Carmel offense starts with senior QB Blaine Dowling (2,719 yards passing 39 TD’s) who has several top targets including senior WR Denny Furlong (50 catches 965 yards 11 TD’s) along with senior WR Jimmy Deacy (31 catches 426 yards 4 TD’s) while the Caravan have a stable loaded with quality backs and receivers this season. The Caravan offensive line averages a robust 6-foot-2, 275 pounds and senior OL/DL Asher Tomaszewski (Kansas State) is a name to watch and one of the senior leaders on a very experienced and well schooled Caravan offensive line. Mount Carmel’s defense is also talented and playing tremendous football this fall, and the linebacker position is a strength for Mount Carmel led by senior Danny Novickas (Ohio), senior Nick Naujokas (WIU) plus leading tacklers junior ILB Parker Startz and senior LB/WR Damarion Arrington.
Batavia head coach Dennis Piron has the Bulldogs program seeking its third IHSA Football state title on Saturday after winning the 2017 Class 7A state title and the 2013 Class 6A state title. The Bulldogs got off to a 1-2 start this season but were able to right the ship and get into the 7A state playoff field as an 18-seed. The Batavia offense looks to get the running game on track while then adding in a solid play action passing game to great effect. The Bulldogs offense is led by junior QB Ryan Boe (1,505 yards, 15 TD’s) who’s top targets include senior WR Charlie Whelpley (44 passes 511 yards, 3 TD’s) and senior WR Drew Gerke (17 passes for 434 yards, 7 TD’s). The Bulldogs running game is anchored by senior RB Ryan Whitwell (1,318 yards, 21 TD’s) and two-way standout and captain RB/LB Tyler Jansey (631 yards, 8 TD’s). The Batavia defense is also a strength of this program in 2022 and the Bulldogs also feature some terrific linebacker play led by Tyler Jansey (Wisconsin) along with senior LB Jack Sadowsky (Iowa State) plus senior Brody Osborne.
Can the Batavia offense run the football consistently against the Mount Carmel defense? Can the Mount Carmel offense get some big plays off against the Batavia defense?
Pick: Mount Carmel
Crystal Lake (Prairie Ridge) (12-1) vs. East St. Louis (Sr.) (11-2) at Champaign (Memorial Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 26, 1:00 pm
The Class 6A showdown is a rematch from the 2019 Class 6A state title as East St. Louis defeated Prairie Ridge 43-21. Prairie Ridge and head coach Chris Schremp are seeking the program’s 4th state title on Saturday after winning the Class 6A state title in 2011, 2016 and in 2017. The Wolves will rely heavily on its power option running game as senior QB Tyler Vasey has already set the IHSA single season rushing record this season and currently sits with 3,780 yards on the season. Vasey also is a threat returning kicks and punts this season and opposing teams have been purposely kicking away from him for most of the season. The Wolves will also look towards senior FB Nathan Greetham as a key ball carrier. The Wolves won’t throw the football much, yet they are highly effective when they do decide to pass this season. The Prairie Ridge offense is a young group with seven underclassmen starters that had its growing pains early in the season but this unit has also improved each week, especially in the postseason. The Prairie Ridge 3-5-3 defense relies on a very speedy group of linebackers and keep an eye on senior Ryan Koelblinger and senior LB Jeffrey North.
East St. Louis and veteran head coach Darren Sunkett have the Flyers back into the Class 6A state title game for the third straight season (2020 COVID spring season did not have playoffs) and have been one of the more dominant teams in the State of Illinois in 2022. The Flyers offense is an impressive balance of running game along with a play action passing attack and a starting lineup loaded with potential playmakers. East St. Louis junior QB Robert Pops Battle (1,917 yards passing 21 TD’s) leads an offense loaded with playmakers and is also balanced between run and pass. The Flyers boast one of the biggest and most talented high school offensive lines in the state, if not the nation, this fall. The Flyers offensive line, which averages 6-foot-3, 295 pounds, includes senior 4-star ranked OT Miles McVay (Alabama), senior OL Paris Patterson (Tennessee) and senior OL Brandon Henderson (Illinois) and will open up holes for sophomore RB Taryan Martin (1,382 yards rushing, 21 TD’s). The Flyers defense also is talented heavy and keep an eye out for senior DE Keshawn Hayden (Central Michigan) along with senior LB Antwon Hayden (Illinois), junior LB Dominic Dixon (153 tackles 11 sacks) plus two highly sought after underclassmen defensive backs in junior Leontre Bradford (106 tackles, 3 sacks) and sophomore Sael Reyes.
Can the East St. Louis defense limit the big play ability of Prairie Ridge QB Tyler Vasey? Can the Prairie Ridge defense force some turnovers and limit the Flyers big play ability?
Pick: East St. Louis
LaGrange Park (Nazareth Academy) (9-4) vs. Peoria (H.S.) (12-1) at Champaign (Memorial Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 26, 10:00 am
Nazareth Academy and veteran head coach Tim Racki got off to a slow start and at one point this season were 2-4, but the Road Runners young lineup found their sea legs and have never looked back in the postseason. The Road Runners offense starts with sophomore QB Logan Malachuk who has been the starter since his freshman year and a receiver corps that has both experience in senior WR/S Justin Taylor (Wisconsin) and senior WR Zach Hayes, plus youth in sophomore WR/S Jaden Fauske and sophomore WR/DB James Penley. Nazareth Academy also has gotten strong play from an offensive line that averages 6-foot-1, 253 pounds and senior OL William Beargie (Princeton) is a leader on the line. The Road Runners defense also has youth with seven underclassmen starters led by sophomore DL Gabe Kaminski who is already holding Power 5 offers from Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Peoria and head coach Tim Thornton are seeking the school’s second IHSA state football title on Saturday after winning the 2016 Class 5A state championship. The Lions have been a much more run friendly offense this season led by senior RB Malachi Washington (3,073 yards rushing, 47 TD’s) who operates behind a gigantic offensive line that averages 6-foot-3, 311 pounds. Peoria also will onside kick often and will also seldom punt the football, as Tim Thornton no question rolls the dice at times and seems to have more success than not. The Lions defense has been more of the bend but not break variety and has speed and keep an eye on junior LB Gary Rutherford (91 tackles) along with senior DL Landon Newby-Holesome and senior DB/WR Ricky Hearn.
Can the Nazareth Academy defense slow down and limit the big plays from the Peoria running game and RB Malachi Washington? Can the Peoria defense slow down the big play ability of the Nazareth Academy offense on Saturday?
Pick: Nazareth Academy
New Lenox (Providence Catholic) (9-4) vs. Springfield (Sacred Heart-Griffin) (13-0) at Champaign (Memorial Stadium)
Fri., Nov. 25, 7:00 pm
Both Providence Catholic and Sacred Heart Griffin are unique stories this season. Providence Catholic and first year head coach Tyler Plantz have gotten the Celtics to buy in and believe in his message and his vision for the football program. The Celtics have been able to win games behind a steady, balanced offensive attack along with just performing well in all three phases of the game. Providence Catholic has gotten a big season from senior QB Lucas Proudfoot who was one of a handful of returning starters along with junior RB Jamari Tribett who will run behind a big and strong offensive line this season. The Providence Catholic defense swarms to the football at all times and truly operates as one single unit. Keep an eye on senior LB/RB Mason Santiago along with senior LB Billy Jones and the Celtics defense will be asked to step up on Saturday and try to cover and contain a very skilled and talented Cyclones receiver group.
Sacred Heart-Griffin and Hall of Fame head coach Ken Leonard will retire after this state title game and is the IHSA winningest coach of all time with a career coaching record of 418-80. The 2022 SHG Cyclones expected to be deep in the 2022 Class 4A postseason this fall after losing to Joliet Catholic in the 2021 Class 4A state title game as SHG returned 18 returning starters from the 2021 squad. The Cyclones offense is as explosive and any team in Champion this weekend and is led by senior QB Tyaire Lott (2,537 yards passing, 36 TD’s) along with an experienced core of skill players led by senior WR Keshon Singleton (Air Force), senior WR Jake Hamilton (27 catches 447 yards, 3 TD’s) and senior WR Madixx Morris (44 catches 756 yards, 10 TD’s). The Cyclones defense has been solid all season long and will rely on senior LB Corey West (177 tackles) along with senior LB Hudson McMann (124 tackles).
Can the Providence Catholic defense slow down and limit the Cyclones big play ability for four quarters? Can the SHG contain the Providence running game and play action passing attack on Friday night?
Pick: Sacred Heart Griffin
Elmhurst (IC Catholic) (12-1) vs. Williamsville (12-1) at Champaign (Memorial Stadium)
Fri., Nov. 25, 4:00 pm
IC Catholic Prep is seeking its sixth IHSA state football titles on Friday afternoon as the Knights are back in the state title games for the first time since it’s run of three straight state championships from 2016 thru 2018. The Knights offense is led by junior QB Dennis Mandala (2,451 yards passing 33 TD’s) who will go to several top receivers led by junior WR/DB KJ Parker plus senior Kaleb Ellis while the running game is getting a big postseason from junior RB Joey Gliatta who operates behind an offensive line which averages 6-foot-1, 257 pounds this season. The IC Catholic Prep defense has also been a key this season. Keep an eye on IC Catholic Prep senior LB Jesse Smith (94 tackles) plus junior LB JP Schmidt (76 tackles) while the Knights secondary with senior DB/RB Denzell Gibson along with KJ Parker, senior Kaleb Ellis and junior Joey Gliatta is also a strength for the Knights in 2022.
Williamsville and head coach Aaron Kunz are seeking the programs second IHSA state title on Friday as the Bullets feature an explosive and high scoring offense along with a defense that has been consistently strong all season long. Keep an eye on Williamsville All-State senior QB Jake Seman who has 3,328 yards of total offense (2500 yards passing 828 yards rushing) and a combined 48 touchdowns (33 passing TD’s, 15 rushing TD’s) along with WR Ethan Hinds (61 catches 823 yards 13 TD’s) and WR Jackson Workman (39 catches 675 yards, 8 TD’s). The Bullets defense will look towards senior LB Colin Ripperda (129 tackles) along with senior DB Nolan Bates (108 tackles) and junior LB Colin Burge (99 tackles).
Can the Williamsville defense slow down the IC Catholic Prep offensive weapons and big play potential on Friday? Can the IC Catholic prep defense contain and limit Williamsville QB Jake Seman on Friday?
Pick: IC Catholic Prep