Lockport (12-1) vs. Maine South (12-1)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday at Northern Illinois University
Last matchup: Lockport 48, Maine South 27 (2003 Class 8A State Championship)
About the Porters: Lockport continues to use a powerful combination of offensive explosiveness and defensive fury and opponents don’t seem to have a way to slow down either right now. Quarterback Hayden Timosciek has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and almost never puts his throws where opponents can get their hands on them and he has thrown only one interception on the season. And while Timosciek provides a steady hand engineering the attack, it is getting its power from running back Ty Schultz who has been an absolute monster in the postseason. Schultz just surpassed the 1,000 yard mark despite a late start to the season and has been stacking touchdowns, now with 20, once the calendar turned to November. The one constant all season has been Lockport’s defensive effort, the Porters don’t allow many points and seem to take umbrage to allowing any yardage. But quite possibly be the most troubling thing for opponents is Lockport’s ability to rein in opposing players behind the line of scrimmage. Three different players have more than 10 tackles for a loss this season, which means foes often find themselves in low percentage situations with down and distance.
About the Hawks: Maine South has been playing a high-wire act over the past three weeks of the postseason but it is doing what it has to in order to survive. The Hawks trailed all three of their previous opponents in the fourth quarter before edging out Plainfield North (21-18), Neuqua Valley (14-13) and Marist (35-33). And if Maine South is close in this final game in the final quarter one could easily rationalize that the Hawks are right where they want to be. Most of Maine South’s postseason success can be pinned on the leadership and ability of RB Mike Sajenko, who has posted enormous numbers, particularly in the postseason, including a five touchdown performance in the semifinals against Marist. Although Sajenko has stolen headlines in the postseason, and rightfully so, the Maine South passing attack should not be ignored. QB Rowan Keefe has thrown for more than 2,200 yards and has 22 touchdowns this season, spreading the ball around to multiple receivers. Sajenko also factors into that mix and has 1,700 yards of total offense with 30 touchdowns.
Friday Night Drive pick: Lockport
Joliet Catholic (13-0) vs. Sacred Heart Griffin (12-1)
When: 7 p.m. Friday at Northern Illinois University
Last matchup: Joliet Catholic 49, Sacred Heart Griffin 7 (2011 Class 5A semifinals)
About the Hilltoppers: It’s difficult to find many holes to poke on the Joliet Catholic resume right now. The Hilltoppers dominated their first three playoff opponents before running into a determined Richmond-Burton team, but they eventually did what they’ve done to each opponent by running away for a victory. Right now, it feels like Joliet Catholic’s offense can only be stopped by its own mistakes as opposing defenses have served as little impediment. JCA’s offensive line is a big reason for that as the Hilltoppers often own a substantial size and strength advantage over opponents, which also holds true this week. That should provide plenty of options for JCA to move the football, primarily through its pair of 1,000-yard plus rushers in Vinny Iannantone and Jordan Anderson. Save possibly Brother Rice, Sacred Heart Griffin will offer the most imposing challenge for the Hilltopper defense and the secondary had better be prepared for a workout. Sacred Heart Griffin runs an up-tempo attack and its quarterback Ty Lott is capable as a runner and is an extremely precise thrower. At times, Joliet Catholic’s secondary has been caught in a pinch, and there’s a lot of weapons that it will be responsible to rein in.
About the Griffins: Sacred Heart Griffin is one of the few teams around that can boast an offensive attack that might be just as potent as Joliet Catholic’s. The Cyclones play at a rapid pace and that leads to points in bunches. Sacred Heart Griffin is the only program in the state that has scored more than 650 points this season and has cracked the 50 point barrier in more than half of its games. QB Ty Lott is a huge part of why that has happened. Lott has completed 75% of his passes for just under 3,000 yards with an astonishing 42 to 2 touchdown to interception ratio. He also doesn’t lock in one receiver as a trio of Cyclone pass catchers have at least 600 yards receiving in Jake Hamilton, Madixx Morris and Keshon Singleton. And while the Sacred Heart Griffin attack does lean heavily to the aerial game, they can move the ball on the ground as well if someone does manage to throw them off their usual stride. The common thought on Sacred Heart Griffin is that it finds itself in high-scoring shootouts from week to week and that may have been the case in previous seasons, but for the most part, Sacred Heart’s defense has been staunch. Excluding two games against Rochester where the Rockets posted 87 points, Sacred Heart Griffin only allowed 100 points in its other 11 games this season, which factors out to allowing about nine points a game to opponents not named Rochester.
FND pick: Joliet Catholic
Wilmington (13-0) vs. Nashville (12-1)
When: 1 p.m. Friday at Northern Illinois University
Last matchup: First meeting
About the Wildcats: Wilmington’s double wing offensive attack is as potent as it has ever been right now, and that’s really saying something considering the way this program has flourished running it in years past. Right now, it isn’t a matter if Wilmington can be stopped sometimes on offense, it is whether they can be stopped at all. The Wildcats punt team is seriously out of practice, and they’d like to keep it that way. RB’s Colin James and Jacob Friddle are both well past 1,000 yards on the season and working in tandem with one another along with a steady sprinkling of carries for FB Karsen Hansen gives Wilmington just enough unpredictability that it can’t be easily keyed upon. Wilmington’s defense should not go without notice. It truly set the tone in the Wildcats semifinal victory over Tri-Valley by recording a safety on Tri-Valley’s first possession and then hemming in the Vikings for the entire game making them look nothing like the team that had not prolific offensive numbers all season long.
About the Hornets: On paper, Nashville looks like a frightening proposition to deal with. The Hornets have stacked up points and yardage at a heavy rate and seem to have the one thing that has at least given Wilmington a little bit of problems at times in that they can throw the football effectively and use it as the focal piece of their offensive attack. On the few times where Wilmington has given up points to foes it has more often than not been through the air. WR Issac Turner will likely be a huge point of emphasis for Wilmington as his explosive capabilities have allowed him to net about 1,300 yards receiving and 19 touchdowns. However, the Hornets offensive attack is far from limited to just moving the ball through the air, they also have a near 1,600-yard rusher in Connor Gladson and a quarterback who is a dual threat that has accounted for about 3,000 total yards and had a hand in 38 touchdowns. Nashville has given up points on defense, but it seems like the Hornets are more than willing to trade touchdowns with opponents if they are so inclined. Defensive stops of any kind, and for either side, look as if they will be regarded with a high premium in this contest.
FND pick: Wilmington