The Times second-round playoff preview: FCW, Seneca, Sandwich all hit the road Saturday

Falcons, Irish, Indians face tough second-round matchups

Sandwich running back Simeion Harris (1) speeds past the Ridgewood defense for another touchdown during a varsity football game at Sandwich High School on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.


Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland (8-2) at Amboy-LaMoille-Ohio (10-0)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

About the Falcons: While the Amboy co-op is undefeated, it’s been quite a while since Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland has lost a game as well. The Falcons suffered back-to-back defeats in Week 2 [20-17 to St. Thomas More, now the top seed in the Illinois 8-Man Football Association playoffs] and Week 3 [54-40 to Milford/Cissna Park, who was upset last week by Pawnee]. Since then, all the Falcons have done is win, usually by lopsided margins as they’ve outscored their opponents 284-64 since those defeats. That includes Friday’s first-round, 52-0 handling of South Beloit, a game that saw FCW outgain the SoBos 435-66 in yards from scrimmage, with all of the Falcons’ yards coming on the ground led by dual 1,000-yard rushers Kesler Collins (266 last week) and Payton Quaintance (84). QB Seth Jones can pass when needed, however, and has athletic receivers to target. The biggest question is, can FCW’s defense rise to the challenge of stopping eight-man’s most powerful offense?

About the Clippers: The Amboy co-op has steamrolled opponents for the most part this year, going undefeated while outscoring its opponents by an average final score of 49.1-10.2. That includes last Saturday’s 54-6 demolishing of Kirkland Hiawatha in the I8FA playoffs’ first round. Sixty-two of the Clippers’ 102 points surrendered this season came in back-to-back games – really the only two competitive games put up by Amboy opponents – in Week 5 [48-42 over Ridgewood] and Week 6 [a 32-20 win over Milledgeville]. Ridgewood and Milledgeville are also I8FA playoff teams and also still alive in the second round. QB Eddie Jones only needed to throw the ball five times in last week’s blowout win, completing four of them for 63 yards and two touchdowns. RBs Landon Whelchel [115 yards last Saturday] and Quinn Leffelman (101) do the majority of the offensive work for the Clippers, who are the No. 2 seed in the I8FA playoffs and have posted a 20-3 record since moving to the eight-man game in 2022.

Friday Night Drive pick: Amboy-LaMoille-Ohio

Class 2A

Seneca (10-0) at Rockridge (9-1)

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

About the Fighting Irish: Seneca is averaging 48.3 points per game played [two of its wins in the regular season came via forfeit] and has held half of its eight on-field opponents to zero or one touchdown, making Friday’s 45-0, opening-round blanking of Chicagoland Prairie League rival Dwight/Gardner-South Wilmington right on brand. While this is Rockridge’s third straight trip to the Class 2A playoffs, and the Rockets won two postseason games a year ago, it is Seneca’s first year in Class 2A since 1993. The Fighting Irish have made nine appearances in 3A since, including last year, when they posted a 9-0 regular season and won their 3A opener but fell in the second round. Seneca’s defense and its power-T rushing game features dual-threat QB Paxton Giertz and RBs Asher Hamby [190 yards, three TDs rushing in last week’s shutout of Dwight/GSW] and Nathen Neal [104 yards last Friday] behind a physical offensive line anchored by all-stater Chris Peura. The Fighting Irish rushed for 363 yards last week while holding the Trojans to 47 yards on the ground and 57 total.

About the Rockets: The champions of the Three Rivers Conference’s Rock Division, Rockridge fell in a close season opener 12-7 to Sterling Newman and has done nothing but win since. While Rockridge’s nine wins during the streak have had their fair share of blowouts, the Rockets also have shown the ability to win close games – such as Week 2′s 39-32 decision over Ridgeview/Lexington, Week 4′s 31-28 edging of Sherrard, Week 7′s 14-7 upset of previously undefeated Morrison and, to a lesser degree, last week’s opening-round, 37-21 triumph at Westville after Rockridge nearly squandered a 20-0 halftime lead. The Rockets come into Saturday’s game with a 3-1 record against fellow playoff teams. OL/LB Landon Bull recorded an interception and a fumble recovery in last week’s win. QB Cullen Schwigen and RB Alex Zarabtanes are the Rockets’ top weapons, and Austin VandeGeest is a capable field-goal/extra-point kicker for an offense averaging 34.7 points per game.

FND pick: Seneca

Class 4A

Sandwich (7-3) at Chicago Dyett (9-1)

When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Gately Stadium in Chicago

About the Indians: Sandwich advanced to Class 4A’s Sweet Sixteen via a hard-fought, 15-point win over Ridgewood Friday, 49-34. The Indians’ wing-T churned out 416 rushing yards, led by Simieon Harris’ career-best 208 with three touchdowns as well as Nick Michalek’s 158 yards. Cole Lepper (kickoff) and Caleb Jones (pick-six) added touchdown returns in a game Sandwich led 19-7 at halftime before the wild finish. It was Sandwich’s highest point total of the season and also the Indians’ first win over a team that ended up with a winning record since Weeks 2 and 3′s victories over Peotone and Plano. In a less encouraging trend, it was the third game in its past four and fourth time this season that the Sandwich defense surrendered 34 or more points. A better showing on that side of the ball against a Dyett offense averaging 28.6 points per game will almost certainly be needed for the Indians to make it to the quarterfinals.

About the Eagles: Dyett, coming out of the Chicago Public League White’s South Central Division, opened the season with seven straight wins before Week 8′s 15-12 loss to Chicago Vocational. The Eagles rebounded nicely, however, with a 28-20 win at Hubbard followed by last week’s 28-14, opening-round 4A playoff win over Chicago Ag Science. Dyett has been led offensively [statistics through the end of the regular season] by RBs Kyrell Nesbit [550 yards, 13.8 per-carry average] and Justin Macklin [475 yards, 11.3 per carry], WRs Lavonte Sims [16 receptions for 435 yards] and Isiah Thomas Jr. [14 catches for 385 yards] and QB Lamontae Nimox [61-of-91 passing for 1,620 yards, 20 TDs and one INT; 365 yards rushing with a 15.2 per-carry average]. Dyett’s defense has put together a fine season, holding opponents to single-digit points six times and to 20 or fewer points in all 10 of its games. Public League teams historically don’t have a ton of success in the postseason once they venture to competition outside of the city, although the Eagles definitely look like a dangerous team.

FND pick: Sandwich

The Seneca Fighting Irish take to the field as meet Dwight /Gardner-South Wilmington in Regional play Friday at Seneca.