Scouting second round football playoff games in Lake County
No. 1 Cary-Grove (10-0) at No. 9 Grayslake Central (8-2)When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Last week: Cary-Grove 42, Rockford East 8; Grayslake Central 27, Belvidere North 22
Wins against playoff teams: Cary-Grove 6; Grayslake Central 2
Winner gets: Deerfield (No. 4, 8-2) or Crystal Lake Central (No. 12, 7-3) in quarterfinals
Outlook: Central went on the road last week and pulled out a win against higher-seeded Belvidere North. The Rams now return home to face a Cary-Grove team in the playoffs for the 17th year in a row with 12 appearances in the state quarterfinals or later during that run (2 state titles). "The Trojan machine is well-oiled and firing on all cylinders at the moment," Rams coach Mike Maloney said. "What impressed me most is the overall program coach (Brad) Seaburg has facilitated. I have witnessed the multiple-sport athletes he brings in from the junior high and the physical, mental and skill development that occurs over the course of their four-year high school career. It is impressive. Cary-Grove's program is infused with community support and it's a place where all student-athletes feel internal and external pressure to carry forward the torch of tradition and success. His current squad is disciplined, physical and tough. We admire their effort in all three phases of the game. They play with a great deal of intensity and attention to detail." For the Rams, Maloney said when playing an opponent of Cary-Grove's caliber, execution to the highest potential is a must. "We believe there are some matchups that have an opportunity to be an advantage for us," he said. "It is critical that we come into this contest with confidence and poise understanding our own investment and accomplishment to reach the second round. Everything for us starts with perpetual belief. We don't flinch. I know our young men will empty the tank for each other Friday. When we execute to the level we are capable of, we may surprise some people outside our locker room." Maloney said recent improvement for his group has come when the chips are on the line. "We have consistently improved upon making plays in critical downs," he said. "Early in the season we had a tendency to lose focus or commit penalties at the most important times in the game. We have settled in to our operations in all three phases. The leaders on the field have our kids playing with disciplined confidence. Right tackle Andy Hernandez continues to be a key cog in the trenches. "Andy has improved each week," Maloney said. "He has progressively improved his blocking technique and effectiveness. He has been a huge part of our offensive production down the stretch." Johnny Sage is another notable on defense for Central, starting at middle linebacker as a freshman. "Johnny has overcome his early struggles as a freshman starting at middle linebacker," Maloney said. "His competitive spirit and reckless abandon on defense has spearheaded a group of linebackers that have improved week after week. I am proud to see him grow into a potent and physical defender." For Cary-Grove, there is no secret as to why it's successful on offense. The Trojans have run the ball 355 times for 3,469 yards in 10 games (9.8 yards per carry) and have passed the ball 71 times this season. Nick Hissong (1,163 yards, 18 TDs), Drew Magel (706 yards, 10 TDs), Jameson Sheehan (598 yards, 12 TDs) and Wade Abrams (595 yards, 8 TDs) lead the bulldozing rushing attack. "Coach Maloney has done a great job up there," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "They have talent and guys who can make plays. They have done a real nice job this year." In regards to his team's annual rushing success, Seaburg said the Trojans have benefitted from consistent offensive line play from a unit that returned one starter from the spring team. "Our offensive line is doing a good job," he said. "We have five seniors up front who are very consistent. We don't have any Division I guys up there, but they have great pad level and great strength up there. We will need that because Grayslake has a ton of size up front."
No. 7 Prairie Ridge (8-2) at No. 2 Wauconda (10-0)When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Last week: Prairie Ridge 49, Vernon Hills 0; Wauconda 41, Lakes 7
Wins against playoff teams: Prairie Ridge 4; Wauconda 5
Winner gets: Lake Forest (No. 6, 8-2) or Harlem (No. 3, 9-1) in quarterfinals
Outlook: While Grayslake Central faces Cary-Grove, Wauconda hosts the other perennial Fox Valley Conference power in Prairie Ridge. "Prairie Ridge is a very good football team," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "They run the ball well on offense and fly to the ball on defense. Their special teams gives them great field position with both returns and coverage. They are a successful program that knows how to compete." But as Mills has stressed previously, the focus for his team is on itself. "For us to be successful, we need to be us. All year we have been talking about being us," he said. "We defend very well and we run the ball well. Our special teams has given us great field position all year. I really think this game is going to come down to turnovers. The team that takes care of the ball has the advantage." Mills pointed to a situation in the Lakes playoff win last week where the Eagles executed a successful onside kick. "No panic from our defense," he said. "Just a 3-and-out. I really like how we show patience. No one gets crazy if a team puts us in a bad spot. We take the bad spot as a challenge and get after it." Mills also cited a Lakes punt that was downed at the Bulldog 3-yard line. "No panic," he said. "Our offense goes on its longest drive of the year to score. Our team is accepting challenges." And it is becoming even closer as the season wears on, Mills said. "I really like how the whole team has bonded," he said. "It is not just a couple of players. The entire program has stepped up for playoff practices and responsibilities. We are in this together." Let's talk Wauconda defense. The Bulldogs are allowing an average of 66 rushing yards per game, have given up only 3 rushing touchdowns and have caused 27 turnovers, 21 via interceptions (Colin Husko and Brock Pfeiffer each have 5 picks). Wauconda has run for 2,719 yards in 10 games with Husko leading the way with 1,177 yards and 15 scores. Quarterback Vince Bennett has passed for 669 yards and 12 TDs (only 3 picks) and run for 784 yards and 15 touchdowns. Connor Vanselow has 653 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. Prairie Ridge averages 43 points a contest and has lost to Cary-Grove (42-7) and to Hampshire in a wild 43-42 game. The Wolves have scored 40 or more points in 8 of 10 games this season. Under the direction of coach Chris Schremp, Prairie Ridge has made the playoffs 15 times since 2002 and has won 3 state titles (2011, 2016 and 2017) and made the state semifinals four times (most recently in 2019).
No. 5 Warren (9-1) at No. 21 Glenbard North (7-3)When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
Last week: Warren 27, Barrington 9; Glenbard North 34, Bolingbrook 30
Wins against playoff teams: Warren 5; Glenbard North 3
Winner gets: Glenbard West (No. 13, 8-2) or Lockport (No. 4, 9-1) in quarterfinals
Outlook: Warren took care of business against Mid-Suburban entrant Barrington last week, while Glenbard North, out of the tough DuKane Conference, upset No. 12 seed Bolingbrook on the road. "Glenbard North has always been a program known for toughness and physicality," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said. "They play hard as a program and have playmakers on both sides of the ball. Their guard Paulie Robertson is as good of a high school offensive lineman as I have seen in my 15 years of coaching high school football. We need to play total team football and execute in all three phases." McNulty likes how his team has been playing in pressure situations lately. "As a team, we have shown we can win close games and overcome adversity," he said. One standout in recent times for the Blue Devils has been corner Quentin Reeves. "Quentin has been playing very well lately," McNulty said. "He has a lot of targets his way and has made plays down the field, especially the last few weeks." Glenbard North defensive back-wide receiver Shea Gaffney had 3 touchdowns in the first half last week. Robertson was named the DuKane offensive lineman of the year and starts on both sides of the ball, while Max Eick was named the DuKane defensive lineman of the year and "can rush the passer and play the run," Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens said. Quarterback Justin Bland, also the team's punter, threw for 3 scores in the Bolingbrook win. "Warren is very physical and fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball," Wilkens said. "They have a power run game with their outstanding running backs and are fierce on defense at all three levels." Wilkens said North has thrived because of balance on both sides of the football. "(Coach) Rich Smelko has had the defense playing outstanding all season and our ground and play-action pass game has kept us going offensively," he said.