Top 5 Chicagoland high school football games to watch: Championship Round
Edgy Tim” O’Halloran provides the Top 5 Chicagoland high school football games to watch in the championship round of the playoffs. Head to EdgyTim.Rivals.com for more coverage.
93rd annual Prep Bowl: Kenwood Academy vs St. Rita at Fritz Pollard Field at Lane Stadium
Friday 1PM Live TV: Marquee Sports Network
Sr. Rita and Kenwood Academy will square off for the second time this season as St Rita defeated Kenwood Academy 33-20 back in Week 2. St. Rita and first year head coach Martin Hopkins will rely on a strong running game led by senior big back DJ Stewart and junior RB Nick Herman while sophomore QB Steven Armbruster has stepped up to replace injured starting QB senior Jett Hilding during the Prep Bowl playoff run. The Mustangs defense has been a strength this season and keep an eye on senior DL Ramone Stafford along with junior DE JP Danaher plus junior ILB James Kingsbury on Friday for St Rita.
Kenwood Academy and head coach Sinque Turner have a roster loaded with talent and the offense will look towards senior QB Nacari MacFarland along with senior 4 star ranked WR/DB Imarion Stewart (Michigan) who remains one of the state’s most dangerous playmakers who is a key along with senior RB Ethan Middleton for the Broncos. The Kenwood Academy defense is led by 4 star ranked senior DE Marquise Lightfoot (Miami Fla.) along with senior DE Ivan Moore Jr. (NIU) and this defense can flat out play very fast and very physical.
Can St. Rita establish its running game against a very strong Kenwood defense for four quarters? Can the Kenwood offense get some quick scores and try to get St. Rita to chase points and play at a higher than wanted tempo on Friday?
Pick: St. Rita
IHSA Class 8A State Title Game
Wilmette (Loyola Academy) (13-0) vs. Frankfort (Lincoln-Way East) (13-0) at Normal (Hancock Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 25, 7:00 pm
The last game of the day on Saturday could very well be the best of all the IHSA state final games this weekend. The Class 8A showdown between Loyola Academy and Lincoln Way East is a rematch from last season as Loyola won 13-3 to capture the school’s fourth IHSA state football title (1993/2015/2018/2021). The Ramblers and first year head coach Beau Desherow has kept the machine rolling along and in many ways this team and coaching staff has remained the same in all three phases of the game to a 13-0 regular season record. The Loyola Academy offense this season is led by junior QB Ryan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, the soon of former Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald has amassed 2,298 yards of total offense (1,853 yards passing/545 yard rushing) and a combined 31 TDs this season. Loyola’s offense is also very balanced between run and pass and keep an eye on junior RB Drew McPherson (738 yards 8 TD’s) along with senior WR Nicholas Arogundade (671 yards 7 TD’s) plus senior WR/K Michael Baker and the Ramblers offensive line is always a strength, has impressive size upfront and is led by senior Kyle Baltazar (Army) and senior Colton Bendery. The Loyola defense, always the program’s calling card and Loyola will rely on a strong linebacker group headlined by senior Colin Scheid (78 tackles 2 sacks) plus senior Ethan Hogg and also keep an eye on senior DL Joe Kelly.
Lincoln Way East and veteran head coach Rob Zvonar (the only head coach in school history) has built one of the state’s most successful programs and the Griffins have never missed the IHSA football playoffs since beginning to play varsity football in 2001. The Griffins offense will look towards its run game led by senior RB Nuri Muhammad (1,307 yards rushing 20 TDs) along with junior RB Zion Gist (809 yards rushing 12 TDs who will operate behind a big and experienced offensive line led by senior OC Josh Janowski (Iowa). Lincoln Way East senior QB Braden Tischer is a two year varsity starter who is also a true dual threat for the Griffins (2,032 yards of total offense 20 TD’s) and is also coming off his best game of the season in Saturday’s 49-6 win over Barrington. Tischer’s main targets include senior WR Ryan Usher, WR DJ Richardson, WR Cade Serauskis and WR Stephan Gardner Gist. The Lincoln Way East defense, much like the Loyola defense is a strength and the Griffins calling card. Lincoln Way East junior DE Caden O’Rourke is already drawing Power 5 recruiting attention and keep an eye on senior LB Conner Durkin (122 tackles) plus S JT Poynton (112 tackles) and S Kade Fatland.
Can the Loyola defense lock down the Lincoln Way East running game and force the Griffins into unwanted down and distance? Can either team put together long, extended drives and control time of possession? I fully expect a potentially low scoring, highly physical game again in this rematch.
Pick: Lincoln Way East
IHSA Class 7A State Title Game
Downers Grove (North) (11-2) vs. Chicago (Mt. Carmel) (12-1) at Normal (Hancock Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 25, 4:00 pm
This Class 7A state title game is a rematch from the 2022 7A second round in which Mount Carmel rallied from a 6-3 halftime deficit to defeat Downers Grove North 24-6 as Mount Carmel went on to win the 2022 Class 7A state title. Mount Carmel once again this season has just reloaded and will lean heavily on a highly productive offense led by junior QB Jack Elliott (2.861 yards passing 32 TD’s) who is surrounded by an elite level group of offensive skills featuring 4 star ranked RB Darrion Dupree (Wisconsin) senior RB Alonzo Manning Jr. (Navy) along with senior WR Darrion Gilliam (Kent State) plus senior WR Maurice Densmore and the depth for the Caravan has never been better. The Mount Carmel defense is led by senior ILB Parker Startz (Ohio University) along with senior DL Tavon Rice along with senior 3 star ranked DB Charles Miles and junior DB Havy payne.
Downers Grove North and head coach Joe Horeni has continued to build up the Trojans program a a top team in the rugged West Suburban Silver. The Trojan on offense will look to establish the running game with senior RB Noah Battle (1,078 yards 17 TDs) while getting the play action passing game rolling led by sophomore QB Owen Lansu (145 of 261 passing for 1,929 yards and 25 TDs) who main targets are senior WR/DB Owen Thulin (44 catches for 571 yards and 7 TDs) his younger brother sophomore WR Oliver Thulin (35 catches for 492 yards 6 TDs) and junior WR Charlie Cruse (24 catches for 291 yards 3 TDs). The Trojans defense also has star power and keep an eye on senior 3 star ranked LB Cael Brezina (Iowa State) along with junior DL Joe Edwards (younger brother of former DGN/Wisconsin and current LA Rams OG David Edwards) along with junior LB Jake Gregorio (84 tackles, 10 TFL).
Can Downers Grove North avoid trailing early against a Mount Carmel offense that has been getting out of the gates very quickly all season long? Can the Mount Carmel defense slow down the DGN run game and get pressure on the passing game and sophomore QB Owen Lansu? Can Mount Carmel limit the overall penalties and turnovers on Saturday? Time of possession will need to be the Downers Grove North’s best friend on Saturday and the longer that Downers Grove North can hang around and stay close…the better.
Pick: Mount Carmel
IHSA Class 6A State Title Game
Cary (Grove) (11-2) vs. East St. Louis (Sr.) (11-2) at Normal (Hancock Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 25, 1:00 pm
The Class 6A state title game is also a rematch of the 2021 Class 6A state final as Cary Grove pulled off a stunning 37-36 upset win over then nationally ranked East St. Louis capping off a perfect 14-0 record and the Trojans third state football title in school history. The 2023 showdown will again match the Cary Grove Trojans vaunted triple option power running game against a more modern shotgun spread offensive attack from the always talent heavy East St. Louis Flyers. Cary Grove and veteran head coach Brad Seaburg’s team has lost two games this season by two points (a Week 5 21-20 loss to Prairie Ridge and a Week 7 29-28 loss to Huntley) and the Trojans, a team that features several underclassmen this season seems to be a year ahead of schedule. When Cary Grove has the football, keep an eye on sophomore FB Logan Abrams (226 carries for 1,493 yards and 24 TDs) while junior RB Andrew Piro (80 carries for 1,228 yards and 14 TDs) is the big play back for the Trojans (averaging 15.35 yards a carry) plus junior QB Peyton Seaburg (84 carries 683 yards and 6 TDs). The Trojans defense has speed and will rely on senior DB Connor Anderson (127 tackles) along with senior DL Kyle Jarecki (65 tackles) and senior DB Jack Rocen (63 tackles).
East St. Louis and veteran head coach Darren Sunkett has continued to raise the state’s winningest football program to a higher level during his tenure. The Flyers’ only two losses this season came to Class 7A top ranked Chicago Mount Carmel and Texas state power Humble High School in Altascocita Texas. The Flyers offense is led by four year starting QB Robert “Pops” Battle (Lindenwood) who has a combined 2,743 yards of total offense (2,029 passing 714 rushing) and 29 touchdowns. The Flyers are never short on offensive skills talent and keep an eye on junior RB Larevious Woods (781 yards, 17 TDs) along with senior 3 star ranked WR Leontre Bradford (Purdue) and speedster junior WR Christopher Bennett Jr. who’s also a demon on special teams for the Flyers. The East St. Louis offensive line doesn’t have the overall SEC caliber size this season but this is still a very strong position group led by senior Traveon Mayes (6-foot-1, 250 pounds), senior Aiden Taylor (6-foot-2, 280 pounds) and senior Marquell Robinson (6-foot-1, 290 pounds). The Flyers defense also has speed and some high level caliber recruits to watch in senior 3 star ranked DB Leontre Bradford (Purdue) along with junior 4 star ranked S Charles Bass and this defense has sixe upfront on the line and speed all over the field.
Can Cary Grove get the triple option game in gear from the opening drive and keep the Flyers back on its heels for four quarters? Can the East St Louis offense hit some big plays early and make Cary Grove chase points all game long? No question this game has the makings of being one of the more intriguing matchups on Saturday.
Pick: East St. Louis
IHSA Class 5A State Title Game
LaGrange Park (Nazareth Academy) (8-5) vs. Joliet (Catholic Academy) (10-3) at Normal (Hancock Stadium)
Sat., Nov. 25, 10:00 am
Nazareth Academy and veteran head coach Tim Racki are seeking to win back to back 5A state championship with a win over Joliet Catholic on Saturday. Nazareth Academy has again had quite a ride to the state title game starting the season, posting a 0-4 record to start the season before winning 4 straight games to get to 4-4. The Road Runners then lost to Wheaton St. Francis in Week 9 but caught a break on Playoff Pairings Night and became one of nine teams who posted a 4-5 regular season record to make the 2023 IHSA State Football playoff field. Nazareth Academy will rely on junior QB Logan Malachuk who has completed 229 of 379 passes for 3,062 yards and 29 touchdowns and has been a varsity starter for the Road Runner since his freshman season. The Road Runners defense is led by junior 4 star ranked OlB/DE Gabe Kaminski who leads the team in tackles and is another rare three year varsity starter for Nazareth Academy.
Joliet Catholic and head coach Jake Jaworski is looking to add another trophy this weekend to the school’s 15 state football titles. Joliet Catholic will rely on its power running game led by senior RB HJ Grigsby (1,490 yards rushing, 13 TDs) along with junior RB Keenan Farnaus (737 yards rushing, 10 TDs) and both will operate behind a big and physical offensive line led by senior OG Brady McKeon. Joliet Catholic senior QB Andres Munoz (1,490 yards passing, 17 TDs) has emerged late in the regular season and has brought a big play action passing game threat to the Hilltoppers in the postseason. The Joliet Catholic defense is led by senior 3 star ranked DT Dillon Johnson (Wisconsin) and the Hilltoppers defense has been the team’s biggest strength this season.
Can the Joliet Catholic defensive line get consistent pressure on the Nazareth Academy passing game? Can the Nazareth defense stuff the JCA power running game and force the Hilltoppers into throwing the football during unwanted down and distance?
Pick: Nazareth Academy