Warren (10-1) at Lincoln-Way East (11-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Last matchup: Lincoln-Way East 12, Warren 0 (2019 8A state championship game)
About the Blue Devils: Warren remains a program anchored around its ability to squelch opponents on the defensive side of the football. Seven of its 10 opponents this season have been limited to single-digit scoring, including a comfortable 41-7 win over Andrew in the second round of the playoffs. Lincoln-Way East beat Andrew 42-0 back in Week 4. Although the Blue Devils are definitely defensively oriented, they don’t lack for viable offensive threats as RB Charley Thompson might be the most dangerous backfield weapon Lincoln-Way East has squared off against this season. Thompson is coming off a 215-yard rushing effort in the win over Andrew.
About the Griffins: Lincoln-Way East seems to be in the right frame of mind to rekindle a replaying of the 2019 Class 8A state championship that turned into a defensive slugfest. The Griffins defense looks capable of being up to that task, hemming in a potentially dangerous Neuqua Valley to just one touchdown for most of the second-round matchup before Neuqua punched in a score in the final minute to tighten things. It is a balanced Griffins defensive attack, but its run defense had better be prepared to amp itself up, as that’s Warren’s preferred method of attack. Offensively, Lincoln-Way East doesn’t have a component to its offense that leads you to believe a score could be coming at any time. But what it does have is a consistently solid unit that simply strives to wear you down and force you to eventually break. RB James Kwiecinski tends to take on a heavy workload, but the moment you try to overcompensate to stop him, the Griffins seem to have a knack for switching gears at the right time.
Friday Night Drive Pick: Lincoln-Way East
Kenwood (8-3) at Lemont (11-0)
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Last matchup: First meeting
About the Broncos: Kenwood is a bit of a hard read. There’s plenty of obvious talent on the Broncos roster, but the only declared Division I recruit, Logan Lester (Western Michigan), is a wide receiver despite the fact that Kenwood doesn’t throw the ball all that much. Instead, Kenwood leans extremely heavily on the skills of its sizable offensive line and stable of running backs to keep opponents’ defensive fronts from keying on any one player. Kenwood’s defensive front has also cranked up its level of play once the calendar reached the postseason, holding its first two playoff opponents combined to just 13 points. Obviously, the level of competition here is ramped up considerably though.
About Lemont: It looked as if Lemont would have to tamp down some of its offensive explosiveness due to the windy conditions in Round 2, but in reality the plan of attack just had to be altered a bit, and the team still posted eye-popping numbers against Quincy. Lemont managed 400-plus yards of total offense by leaning heavily on RB Nathan Wrublik, who stacked up 221 yards rushing on 35 carries. Lemont had to wait until the second quarter, when it had the wind, to unleash its potent passing attack, and as is his custom, QB Payton Salomon was highly efficient, completing 75% of his passes (12 for 16) for a pair of scores. The defense also continued its stellar play and picked off three Quincy passes.
FND pick: Lemont
Mahomet-Seymour (11-0) at Morris (9-2)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Last matchup: Morris 35, Mahomet-Seymour 23 (2014 Class 5A playoffs)
About the Bulldogs: Mahomet-Seymour’s season has had some similarities with Morris’, as it has had a number of runaway games that allowed the starters to have ample time off. That ended in Round 2. It took until the second half for M-S to gain control in its win against Metamora. Some of that might have to do with the fact that the team’s leading rusher, Luke Jackson (129 carries, 976 yards, 10 touchdowns), sat out for the second consecutive week. His status for this game is unknown. The Bulldogs compensated well with an active passing game, as QB Wyatt Bohm has tossed 33 touchdown passes this season and lead WR Quenton Rogers has accounted for over 1,100 yards receiving and 18 scores. Rogers also chipped into Mahomet’s backfield attack with Rogers sidelined.
About Morris: Morris continues to fuel its success with fast starts, jumping out to a quick lead and carrying it through to a comfortable victory. Sam Reddinger led the way with three touchdowns in the win over Centralia, but Morris also continues to get consistent performance out of its backfield from Ashton Yard. The defense shined as well, holding Centralia to under 100 total yards and notching its fourth shutout of the season. They can’t rest on their laurels, though, as a Mahomet-Seymour offense comes to town averaging nearly 48 points per game.
FND pick: Morris
Richmond-Burton (11-0) at Providence (7-4)
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Last matchup: First meeting
About the Rockets: Richmond-Burton hasn’t had any problem dispatching its first two playoff opponents, winning by a combined score of 104-6. Granted the level of competition hasn’t been cranked up just yet, but the Rockets continue to do what they’ve done for a while now, having now won 42 of its last 43 games dating back to the beginning of the 2019 seasons. The Rockets rely heavily on their running attack, with Steven Siegel leading a potent rushing attack that frequently accounts for at least 300 rushing yards collectively. Siegel alone has accounted for 1,725 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns. As much as the Rockets prefer to keep the ball on the ground, they can throw if they need to. They just haven’t been pressed into situations that require that all that much.
About the Celtics: Providence continues to try to perfect a recipe that has been very effective thus far. The emphasis on what some might call the smaller things has turned into big advantages for Providence, who blocked both a field goal and a punt which either led directly or indirectly to touchdowns as it ousted the defending Class 4A champions, Joliet Catholic, in Round 2. Anchored by an offensive line that head coach Tyler Plantz routinely praised for its effort and hard work, Providence features a lunch bucket offense that simply finds ways to keep the chains moving. Junior RB Jamari Tribett continues to punish defenses that underestimate him, while Lucas Proudfoot seems to have a knack for getting the ball into the hands of the right people to make plays. On paper, the defense looks a bit undersized, but they continue to make plays on top of plays against one of the strongest schedules in the state.
FND pick: Richmond-Burton
Reed-Custer (11-0) at Byron (10-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Last matchup: Byron 28, Reed-Custer 24 (2021 Class 3A playoffs)
About the Comets: Reed-Custer has been waiting for this chance for basically a calendar year after allowing a touchdown in the waning seconds to Byron in last year’s quarterfinal round. They’ve been on a mission ever since and have stacked up more points than the program ever has as it rolled to 10 consecutive games where it enforced the running clock on opponents. That streak ended last week when Reed-Custer ran into a worthy opponent in Durand-Pecatonica, only breaking away late for a somewhat comfortable victory. The offense scored a season-low 24 points in the win, but luckily the Comets have a defensive unit that is deserving of considerably more acclaim than its gotten. It limited Durand-Pecatonica to next to nothing in the victory. That’s been a constant all year, particularly up front where even teams that engineer their offense around running games can’t get anything going. The biggest issue Reed-Custer may face heading into the game is it may be without the services of two-way standout Jace Christian, who was ejected from last week’s game. IHSA rules indicate that players ejected from a contest must sit out the next one, but Reed-Custer is appealing the ruling in hopes that the decision can be reversed.
About the Tigers: Byron’s running game has its moments where it looks like an absolute form of art, and the Tigers certainly seem to be in that mode right now. It racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense, all rushing, in a win over previously undefeated Seneca in Round 2 where defensive stops were not a part of the equation for an overwhelmed Fighting Irish defense. Byron brings a dizzying array of potential ballcarriers to the forefront in most games, making it almost nearly impossible for opposing defenses to key on anyone. Typically, freshman RB Caden Considine leads the attack, but one of any number of Byron players is more than capable of fitting into the lead role. QB Braden Smith engineers the offense with authority and called his own number three times on scores against Seneca. Smith doesn’t pass much, but when he does it is usually successful as they lull opponents to sleep on pass defense because those defenses need to expend so much energy and effort into trying to slow down Byron’s run game.
FND pick: Byron