The Herald-News prep football capsules for Round 1 of the playoffs

Joliet Catholic defensive end Zach Pomatto looks in to the St. Ignatius ball carrier on Friday, Oct. 20 in Joliet.

Class 8A

Taft (4-5) at Lincoln-Way East (9-0)

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Lincoln-Way East 63, Taft 15 (2016)

About the Eagles: Taft was an unexpected four-win qualifier from the Chicago Public League. Its schedule featured five CPL playoff qualifiers, an undefeated team from Indiana and Stevenson, which gave them a lot of playoff points. It will be hard for Taft to make an impact in the field. The school is 0-9 in playoff appearances, and its roster features a number of players who play on both sides of the ball. RB Stephen Carrera has had a solid season for the Eagles, and when paired with Jaiden Padilla in the backfield they have had the most success.

About the Griffins: Lincoln-Way East has worked all season to achieve the offensive balance it strives for. RBs Zion Gist and Nuri Muhammad both cracked the 100-yard barrier last week in a win over Bolingbrook. QB Braden Tischer only completed three passes in the win, but the Griffins are capable of throwing the football at any time. Defensively, Lincoln-Way East was spectacular once again. LB Connor Durkin led the way for the Griffins in Week 9, but he’s just one of a number of players capable of leading a defense that has only surrendered 62 points all season.

Friday Night Drive Pick: Lincoln-Way East

Joliet West's Micah Mcnair (8) celebrates a pick six during football game between Joliet West at Plainfield Central.   Oct 20, 2023.

St. Ignatius (6-3) at Joliet West (8-1)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Wolfpack: St. Ignatius made its eighth consecutive playoff appearance last year, and its semifinal run in 2022 ultimately led to the program getting a multiplier placed on its enrollment, jumping it from Class 6A to 8A. The Wolfpack look good enough to make an impact in 8A, anchored on the defensive line by the top collegiate recruit in the state, defensive lineman Justin Scott. Scott is committed to Ohio State and scored a touchdown in the Wolfpack’s Week 9 win over St. Ignatius that gave them the outright CCL/ESCC Green title.

About the Tigers: Joliet West secured its first-ever home playoff game with eight victories, the first time that’s happened since 1968. But the Tigers aren’t content with just reaching those benchmarks. Joliet West has never won a playoff game in four attempts. Joliet Township’s consolidated program between Central and West won two postseason games in 1993 and 1994). Joliet West’s offense seems to have a different player step up every game. Joliet West’s defense has made some dynamic plays this season but will have to be disciplined to keep St. Ignatius’ triple-option in check.

FND Pick: St. Ignatius

Sandburg (6-3) at Minooka (7-2)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Eagles: Sandburg’s schedule was a gauntlet this season. QB Anthony Shelton leads a dynamic attack that keeps producing, as he threw four touchdown passes in Week 9 against Stagg. Defense has been Sandburg’s primary issue, having allowed at least 20 points to every opponent on its schedule but one. Sandburg probably can win most shootouts, but it’s not a sustainable plan.

About the Indians: Minooka’s defense is anchoring the team’s efforts. The Indians haven’t surrendered more than 17 points to any opponent this season and have reduced the burden on the offense. RB Joey Partridge routinely surpasses the 100-yard mark, and while the offense has slowed from an early-season pace of about 40 points per game, the stingy defense is doing such a good job the offense hasn’t needed to keep up.

FND Pick: Minooka

Lockport (5-4) at Maine South (8-1)

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Lockport 24, Maine South 6 (2021 8A state championship)

About the Porters: The Porters opened the season with three straight wins, lost three straight and then had two straight wins heading into a Week 9 game against Homewood-Flossmoor. The Porters dug themselves a hole and couldn’t come back. RB Jordan Kemp leads Lockport’s running game, but QB Drew Gallagher has proved to be the key offensive cog, accounting for more than 1,600 yards of total offense. Lockport’s defense needs to find a way to limit big plays.

About the Hawks: After a loss to Brother Rice in the season opener, Maine South has been rattling through opponents with purpose. Only Palatine (28-21) and Glenbrook South (45-36) provided any sort of deterrence. The dynamic combo of QB Constantine Coines and RB Michael Dellumo have proven difficult to stop, and if one falters the other typically picks up the slack. Maine South has held all but one opponent to three touchdowns or less.

FND Pick: Maine South

Plainfield North (4-5) at Loyola (9-0)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Tigers: It’s been a grind for Plainfield North, with its schedule and its play. Plainfield North played seven playoff teams this season, which helped it to qualify for the postseason despite winning only four games. Plainfield North’s defense has been spectacular, only allowing more than 17 points once (Minooka, 27 points in Week 7). The Tigers offense was actually outscored by opponents. Plainfield North’s hopes of an upset hinge on the Tigers’ ability to slow the Ramblers offense.

About the Ramblers: Loyola claimed the showdown victory over Mount Carmel in Week 9 in a game that paired what most believe to be the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the state. In that victory, the Ramblers showed they deserve top billing. Junior QB Ryan Fitzgerald had another strong game completing only seven passes, but those seven completions accounted for more than 200 yards. The Loyola defense might be the foundation of the team’s success. Brother Rice and Mount Carmel were the only two opponents that have scored more than single digits against the Ramblers.

FND Pick: Loyola

Class 7A

Jacobs (6-3) at Lincoln-Way Central (8-1)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Eagles: Jacobs rides a five-game winning streak into the postseason. The highest profile player for Jacobs is Wisconsin-bound tight end/defensive end Grant Stec, but the Eagles do not feature him prominently on offense, as he has only 17 receptions and two scores. FB Caden DuMelle easily surpassed the 1,000-yard barrier. Jacobs has allowed only 47 points over its past four games.

About the Knights: Lincoln-Way Central has thrived in David Woodburn’s first season at the helm, and it seems to know exactly what its identity is. The Knights survived a wild one with Bradley-Bourbonnais in Week 9, getting spectacular performances from QB Michael Kuehl and RB Anthony Noto. Kuehl missed on only one of his 16 passing attempts while throwing for four scores. Noto had 182 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Knights hope the 41 points it allowed was a blip, as the total nearly doubled the amount of points Lincoln-Way Central had allowed in the second half of the season.

FND Pick: Lincoln-Way Central

Hoffman Estates (6-3) at Lincoln-Way West (7-2)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Hawks: Hoffman Estates has only beaten one team with a winning record this season. Hoffman Estates has scored at least 28 points in every game, relying on a speedy core of players. Stephon Sellers is the Hawks’ biggest threat at wide receiver and can break things open on special teams. The Hawks also have the ability to run the football if the passing game stalls.

About the Warriors: Lincoln-Way West got a favorable draw in the Class 7A playoffs and a home opener. The Warriors have been involved in four one-score games this season and went 3-1 in those contests, including handing district rival Lincoln-Way Central its lone loss. The Warriors have a bit of a lunch bucket mentality on offense, especially after losing starter QB Cole Crafton to a season-ending injury. Chase Hetfleisch has done a solid job in Crafton’s sted, but the steading influence has been RB Joey Campagna, who’s stacking up 100-yard efforts with regularity.

FND Pick: Lincoln-Way West

Class 6A

Lemont (5-4) at East St. Louis (7-2)

When: 3 p.m. Saturday

Last matchup: East St. Louis 32, Lemont 29 (2022)

About Lemont: Lemont needed a win to get into the playoffs. The team delivered, scoring in the last minute to beat a T.F. North squad that entered the game 7-1. Injuries have been a persistent problem for Lemont, but ultimately it was able to win another conference title after Hillcrest was surprised by Bremen in Week 9. The draw, however, wasn’t kind to Lemont, pairing them with the same East St. Louis team that has ended its season each of the past two playoff seasons, including last year’s semifinal round.

About the Flyers: East St. Louis appears as dangerous as ever as it defends its Class 6A title from a year ago. The Flyers do have two losses, Mount Carmel in Week 1 and Atascocita, a team currently ranked second in the state of Texas. East St. Louis has talented, experienced players on both sides with QB Robert Battle providing stability and RB TaRyan Martin running behind a new offensive line that is performing at a high level.

FND Pick: East St. Louis

Class 5A

Tinley Park (5-4) at Morris (9-0)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Titans: Tinley Park’s five wins were against teams that won a total of nine games this season, and the Titans also experienced a four-game losing streak. But they won when they had to, including a Week 8 upset over playoff-bound Bremen to get to the postseason. Tinley Park could struggle but has improved since an 0-9 season in 2022.

About Morris: Morris showed it can still beat a quality opponent when it doesn’t play its best. Morris raced out to an early lead over previously undefeated Sycamore but was unable to put them away as it was bitten by the turnover bug. Morris hung on for a 22-14 win. It’s only the second time all season an opponent has been within 10 points of Morris. QB Carter Button (1,538 passing yards, 24 passing TD), RB Jacob Swartz (1,444 rushing yards, 17 rushing TDs) and WR AJ Zweeres (37 catches, 756 yards, 13 TD) are too much for Tinley Park to keep in check.

FND Pick: Morris

Joliet Catholic (6-3) at Peoria High (7-2)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Hilltoppers: Joliet Catholic fell to St. Ignatius in an effort marred by turnovers and ill-timed penalties. Hilltoppers coach Jake Jaworski recognized his team’s effort in those areas must improve in Week 10 or his team may exit early. RB HJ Grigsby had another 100-yard effort, and the connection between QB Andres Munoz and WR Adrian Washington had some success, but JCA will need more touchdowns than field goals in the red zone.

About the Lions: The Peoria offense is high-octane, having scored just under of 500 points this season. The Lions throw the ball more than they did a year ago. It will be a different type of challenge for the Joliet Catholic defensive front, and it will be interesting to see which one of the two units, Peoria’s offense or Joliet Catholic’s defense, can make the adjustments.

FND Pick: Joliet Catholic

Providence (5-4) at Morton (8-1)

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Celtics: Providence has gotten a surprising number of scores from its defense and special teams. That’s probably not sustainable for the long haul, but the offense seems to have gotten a bit of a boost from sophomore quarterback Leo Slepski. The Celtics are getting a substantial contributions from underclassmen right now. There’s few better proving grounds that a schedule full of CCL/ESCC behemoths.

About the Potters: Morton was energized by the addition of coach Adam O’Neill, a former Peoria assistant, and the Potters have literally taken the ball and run with it. Morton went through the first six games in the Mid-Illini Conference without a loss until Washington upended them in Week 9. QB Jude Hart and RB Seandon Buffington provide a majority of the offense, with Hart a run/pass threat. Morton brands itself with playing good defense, with Washington’s 42-points in Week 9 a rare deviation.

FND Pick: Providence

Class 4A

Normal U-High (7-2) at Coal City (7-2)

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Last matchup: Coal City 35, Normal University 7 (2003)

About the Pioneers: Normal University had one of its better showings since joining the Central State Eight, but a scheduling quirk might have had a little bit to do with that. The Central State Eight added an 11th member, Lincoln, for this season, which required the conference not play every member of the league and schedule one crossover game against a member of the Big 12. So U-High’s schedule didn’t include the best team from the Central State Eight (Rochester) and did have the last-place team from the Big Twelve (Urbana). U-High didn’t play a team that won more than six games, and of the three six-win teams U-High did play, it only beat one of them.

About the Coalers: Coal City has punished most opponents with a ground game spearheaded by Landin Benson, and the Coalers have shown a willingness to throw just enough to keep defenses honest. Teams have to figure out how to crack a solid Coalers defense. Excluding Coal City’s two losses, the Coalers allowed only 47 points over its other seven games.

FND Pick: Coal City

Class 3A

Peotone (6-3) at Chicago Crane (6-3)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday at Rockne Stadium

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Blue Devils: Peotone has run for about 2,600 yards, with Chase Rivera and Jayden Rodriguez accounting for more than 2,000 of those. That tandem will try to carry Peotone to its first playoff victory since 2017. Defensively, Peotone could use a bit of tightening up.

About the Cougars: Crane has only made four playoff appearances in school history, none since 2005. The Cougars beat only one team with a winning record, Phoenix Military by a point. CPL teams don’t historically fare well in the state playoffs.

FND Pick: Peotone

Class 2A

Mercer County (6-3) at Wilmington (8-1)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Last matchup: First meeting

About the Golden Eagles: Mercer County finally has started to get healthy, but has struggled against the better teams on its schedule and only defeated one 5-4 bound playoff team in St. Bede. The Golden Eagles will look to QB Colby Cox and RB Tannen Whitehall to help solve the Wilmington defense.

About the Wildcats: Wilmington has been overwhelming the opposition since a Week 1 loss to Seneca, with no opponent getting closer than 20 points. Wilmington’s ground game is firing on all cylinders, but the defense is also playing at a high level with few of the 63 points it has allowed over the past eight games coming against Wilmington’s first string defense.

FND Pick: Wilmington

Streator’s Jake Hagie looks for room to run after making a pass reception as the Wilmington defense closes in during 1st quarter Friday at Streator.