2023 IHSA playoffs: Steve Soucie’s Class 8A first-round analysis

Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.com
Barrington’s Calvin Jackson carries the ball with Palatine’s Ethan Hunt in pursuit during Friday’s game at Barrington.

While there is a real possibility of a rematch of last year’s Class 8A state championship game between Loyola and Lincoln-Way East, there’s plenty of teams capable of making things interesting for the two stalwarts.

First-round matchups

Loyola vs. Plainfield North: Loyola won the regular season capper showdown with Mount Carmel and now looks to have loads of momentum heading into the playoffs as it enters as the favorite to hoist the hardware in Normal. Plainfield North was one of six teams that were able to qualify for the playoff field with just four wins and will look to its very staunch defense to try to manufacture a major upset.

Pick: Loyola

Neuqua Valley vs. Palatine: A heck of a No. 16 vs. No. 17 seed matchup here as Neuqua Valley capped an uneven season with a victory a solid Naperville Central team. Palatine started the season 2-1, but closed strong and its three losses (Maine South, Barrington and St. Charles North) came to teams that combined to go 23-4 in the regular season.

Pick: Palatine

Huntley vs. Niles West: Huntley enters the postseason riding a five game winning streak and its ability to post points has not been an issue for the Red Raiders. Niles West didn’t beat any teams with more than three wins on the season and lost all three contests it played against playoff bound opponents.

Pick: Huntley

Joliet West vs. St. Ignatius: Joliet West earned its first ever playoff home game with its eight-win season, the first time the Tigers program reached that win level since a 9-0 campaign in 1968. St. Ignatius, anchored by Ohio State defensive line recruit Justin Scott who popped up in the backfield in the Wolfpack’s Week 9 win over Joliet Catholic, looks to do damage in 8A after being multiplied up from Class 6A.

Pick: St. Ignatius

Edwardsville vs. West Aurora: Edwardsville bounced back from its lone loss to East St. Louis in Week 8 with an impressive win over one of Missouri’s top teams, De Smet Jesuit. The Tigers also ran together a string of six straight games midseason where it scored 40-plus points. West Aurora started the season 5-0, but dropped its final four regular season games.

Pick: Edwardsville

Glenbard West vs. Naperville North: The season started rocky for Glenbard West. A 1-2 start was further marred by a season-ending injury to All-State running back Julius Ellens. But the Hilltoppers kept grinding and have now run together six straight victories and has momentum on its side. Naperville North also enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak smoothing out a season where it started with wins followed immediately by losses.

Pick: Glenbard West

York vs. Homewood-Flossmoor: York followed up the program’s first-ever 9-0 regular season by winning the first six games of the year. It’s lone misstep came in a loss to Glenbard West, but an offense that has averaged nearly 40 points in its eight victories won’t be easy to contain. Homewood-Flossmoor punched its way into the field with a win over Lockport in Week 9 and will need some explosive plays to pull of an upset.

Pick: York

Stevenson vs. Lyons: Stevenson settled nicely into third position in the North Suburban Conference behind stalwarts Lake Zurich and Warren, but had to grind out some wins to secure that place. The Patriots defense has given up a few more points than one might like, but they’ve been able to compensate with five games with 35-plus points of their own. Lyons has leaned on its defense this season, holding five of its nine opponents to a touchdown or less.

Pick: Lyons

Lincoln-Way East vs. Taft: Probably one of the larger mismatches of the first round, Lincoln-Way East has found balance in its offense and when coupled with its outstanding defensive unit that has allowed no more than 14 points per game, that’s logically going to be a problem for Taft. The Eagles played six teams that won at least six games this season but the Eagles only beat one of them.

Pick: Lincoln-Way East

Minooka vs. Sandburg: Minooka has performed solidily all season but has separated itself from many opponents on the backs of a very good defensive unit. Minooka has allowed 17 points or less to every team on its schedule but its secondary will be put to the test by a Sandburg offense that has been very prolific throwing the football.

Pick: Minooka

South Elgin vs. Lane: South Elgin is back at it lighting up scoreboards having put more than 50 points on the board in four different games this season. The Storm are looking to make a bit of a run in the bracket after advancing to the third round last season and look to be in good position to move along against Lane, who recorded just one of its six wins over a team with a winning record.

Pick: South Elgin

Warren vs. Oswego: Warren was one of the biggest early season stories of struggle as it dropped its first two contests and gave up 68 points in those losses. Since that 0-2 start though, Warren has ripped off seven straight wins and allowed just 48 points during that stretch. Oswego hasn’t exactly been a slouch on defense either having not allowed more than 17 points in any game this year.

Pick: Warren

Barrington vs. Glenbrook South: Barrington finished with just five wins in 2022, but announced its presence with authority early in the year with a win over Warren and then rattled through the regular season without a loss. One of those wins, in Week 3, came over the same Glenbrook South game it faces here. It was a competitive game though (27-19) so the Broncos better not get caught looking ahead.

Pick: Barrington

Naperville Central vs. Downers Grove South: Naperville Central appeared to be riding a wave of momentum as the regular season wrapped up, but the RedHawks hit a speed bump in Week 9, losing to a Neuqua Valley team they defeated four weeks before. They will have to regroup quickly and stop the momentum of Downers Grove South who has rattled off six straight wins themselves.

Pick: Naperville Central

Maine South vs. Lockport: These two teams met for the Class 8A title in 2021 with Lockport coming out on top, but the Porters will have to cancel out some inconsistencies if they want to maintain the upper hand in this series. Maine South has been dangerous all year after losing its season opener and seems to be in a better place, particularly on defense, than Lockport is right now.

Pick: Maine South

Belleville East vs. East Aurora: It’s a long road trip for East Aurora whose biggest victory has already come as it is in the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Belleville East has been steady this season, scoring mountains of points in eight of their nine games. They were only bottled up by East St. Louis while pushing Edwardsville to the hilt.

Pick: Belleville East