2023 IHSA playoffs: Steve Soucie’s Class 4A first-round analysis

Richmond-Burton's Braxtin Nellessen tries to run away from Rochelle's Brock Metzger during a Kishwaukee River Conference football game on Friday, Oct.20, 2023, at Richmond-Burton High School.

Whatever happens at the end of the road of the Class 4A bracket, the teams hitting the field in Normal are guaranteed to be different than they were a year ago.

Sacred Heart Griffin was hit with the IHSA’s success formula after trophying two consecutive years in 4A, forcing a move to 5A. The other finalist, Providence, was not multiplied in 2022. But its recent success restored the multiplier and boosted the Celtics to Class 5A.

That does not mean this class lacks thunder. Starting with the Class 3A champion of a year ago, IC Catholic, there’s plenty of teams that make this field very intriguing.

First-round matchups

Dyett vs. Agricultural Science: Dyett bested Agricultural Science 34-6 in Week 4. It was one of six contests where the Dyett defense held opponents to a touchdown or less. Agricultural Science hasn’t defeated a team that has amassed more than three wins all season.

Pick: Dyett

Sandwich vs. Ridgewood: It was a banner return to varsity football for Sandwich who sat out the season last year at the varsity level due to numbers concerns. The Indians stormed out of the gates with a 5-1 record before the back end of their schedule got to them a bit. Ridgewood beat no playoff bound teams in collecting its five wins.

Pick: Sandwich

Wheaton Academy vs. Phoenix: A young Wheaton Academy squad jelled quickly and earned itself a share of the inaugural Chicagoland Christian Conference crown. The Warriors defense bottled up six of its nine opponents to a touchdown or less. None of the Phoenix victories came over playoff bound teams but two of its losses were by less than a touchdown.

Pick: Wheaton Academy

Richmond-Burton vs. St. Viator: Richmond-Burton finds itself with two regular season losses something the Rockets hadn’t experienced since 2018 as such they fall a little bit lower on the seed chart and face an interesting opponent in young St. Viator team. Three of its four losses came to CCL/ESCC strongholds in St. Ignatius, Carmel and Brother Rice while the Lions also earned a signature win by topping Montini.

Pick: Richmond-Burton

Boylan vs. Phillips: Boylan looks like an immediate threat in 4A after spending recent postseason in the Class 5A and Class 6A field. Boylan made those postseason fields but didn’t fare quite well enough to keep the multiplier status on itself. A young Phillips team looked a bit overwhelmed early in the season but has solidified in the second half of the season.

Pick: Boylan

IC Catholic vs. Geneseo: The Class 3A State Champions from last year, IC Catholic’s multiplier status was return pushing the Knights into Class 4A. IC Catholic played up from to 3A last season with its non-multiplied number placing it in the 2A field. Geneseo started the season with five consecutive wins but the second half of the season has not been nearly as kind as the Maple Leafs went 1-3 in its final four games.

Pick: IC Catholic

Dixon vs. Plano: Enrollment wise, Dixon is a big fish in the small pond in the Big Northern Conference and they flexed that muscle routinely in winning eight games. Plano, which is almost exactly the same size of school, swam in deeper waters and survived a showdown game with Marengo just to get into the playoffs.

Pick: Dixon

Vocational vs. St. Laurence: Vocational seemed to find itself embroiled in a close game every week playing in five games decided by a touchdown or less, winning four of them. St. Laurence powered its way to a 6-1 start before dropping its final two games of the season, but you certainly can’t dismiss St. Laurence of capable of making a run in 4A because of those losses as they came at the hands of two strong teams in St. Rita and Montini.

Pick: St. Laurence

Rochester vs. Lincoln: Rochester pummeled Lincoln 55-0 in a Week 7 encounter between the two teams as Rochester had its way with most of the teams in the the Central State Eight. There’s no disputing that the offense is ready to roll as its 31-point effort against Sacred Heart Griffin in Week 9 was a season low output and the offense surpassed 50 six times. Lincoln is back in the playoffs for the first time since 1984.

Pick: Rochester

Coal City vs. Normal University: Coal City was dominant in its seven victories and overwhelmed in its two losses to a pair of teams (Wilmington and Morris) that combined to go 17-1 this season. Normal University is back in the postseason for the first time since 2015, taking advantage of a schedule quirk that had them avoiding playing the top team in its conference or one of the top teams in its crossover contest with the Big Twelve.

Pick: Coal City

Breese Central vs. Cahokia: Breese Central went 3-2 against playoff bound teams but were handled rather roughly in those two losses to Roxana and Highland. Cahokia, due to an incident in Granite City game in Week 3 actually only played seven games with two forfeits. It’s two losses came to a pair of 7A and 8A playoff qualifiers, Collinsville and Edwardsville.

Pick: Cahokia

Mount Zion vs. Effingham: Effingham surprised Mount Zion in Week 8 a win that essentially got Effingham into the playoffs as it started the season 3 and 4. Mount Zion roared through the first five weeks of the season, but its high octane offense was slowed down a little bit in its final four games, all against playoff teams, splitting those four games.

Pick: Mount Zion

Murphysboro vs. Taylorville: Murphysboro rambled through its first seven games, but Carterville gave them a little push in Week 8 before DuQuoin knocked them down in Week 9. That loss aside, any opponent that faces Murphysboro will have to bring its best defensive effort. No one Taylorville defeated this season had more than three wins on the year and they went 0-4 and were outscored 186-25 in games against playoff bound teams.

Pick: Murphysboro

Charleston vs. Freeburg: Charleston’s strong 5-1 start carried them into the playoff field and after a bit of a midseason hiccup, the Trojans got back on track in the season’s final two weeks. Freeburg muddled through the first six weeks of the season but in crunch time the Midgets put it all together going 3-0 and outscoring those opponents 122-14.

Pick: Charleston

Kewanee vs. Peoria Notre Dame: Kewanee has scored points in bunches this season and its defense has also tossed four shutouts. It remains to be seen if the Three Rivers Conference schedule Kewanee has played will prepare it for a Peoria Notre Dame team that has played almost exclusively Class 5A and Class 6A opponents all season. The Irish do need to bounce back from a three-game losing slide it went on to finish the campaign.

Pick: Peoria Notre Dame

Carterville vs. Harrisburg: Despite being seeded lower, Harrisburg handed Carterville a one-point loss back in Week 6 that accounted for Carterville’s first loss at the time. Both teams have had their fair share of problems since that encounter with Carterville allowing 88 points over its final two games while Harrisburg dropped two of its final three games.

Pick: Harrisburg