It's playoff time for Hampshire, Genoa-Kingston, Bartlett, St. Charles North, St. Charles East and Huntley.
Before you dig in, check out this week's Courier Prep Football Weekly which contains an in-depth preview of Hampshire vs. Genoa-Kingston and analysis and predictions on the rest of the area's games.
No. 11 Hampshire (6-3) at No. 6 Genoa-Kingston (7-2)
When: 7 Friday
Winner gets: No. 3 Reed-Custer or No. 14 Richmond-Burton
Playoff appearances: Hampshire (1st since 2006); G-K (2nd consecutive)
Players to watch: Hampshire -- QB/DB Evan Brenner (47-96, 814 yards, 10 TDs); RB/DB James Goebbert (31 solo tackles, 283 rushing yards); FB/LB Joe Moore (159 att., 689 yards, 12 TDs).
G-K -- QB Chris Wilkins (76-139, 1,415 yards, 14 TDs); RB Robby Thurlby (106 att., 606 yards, 3 TDs); WR/CB T.C. Holterhaus (39 rec., 713 yards, 7 TDs).
Scouting Hampshire: After being denied a playoff spot last year despite finishing 5-4, the Whip-Purs made certain the same scenario wouldn't play out again. Hampshire overcame an 0-3 start to win its final six games, claim the Big Northern Conference East Division title and reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. They'll face a familiar foe in G-K. This year marked the first time since 1983 that the Cogs and Whips didn't play each other in the regular season. Hampshire had a 10-game win streak against G-K snapped last year when the Cogs beat the Whips 37-8. This is the second playoff meeting between the teams. Their only other postseason meeting came in the first round of Hampshire's 1979 state championship season.
"We're certainly familiar with them from playing years past, and they're certainly familiar with us too," Hampshire coach Dan Cavanaugh said.
Hampshire's defense played a leading role in this season's turnaround. The Whips lead the area with only 11.6 points per game allowed, and they are holding opponents to a mere 202.8 yards per game. Goebbert and defensive back Bo Price (24 solo tackles, 24 assisted tackles) lead the unit, which has allowed more than 15 points only twice.
The Whips have attempted more than four times as many run plays as pass plays this season, but that doesn't mean their aerial attack is dormant. Brenner has connected on 48.5 percent of his passes and hasn't thrown an interception. Hampshire's ground game is spread evenly between five players who average 20 or more rushing yards per game.
"They aren't afraid to throw it, but they have a nice running game and their quarterback does a real nice job," G-K coach Bill McCarty.
Scouting G-K: After ending a 15-year playoff drought last year, the Cogs are making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the 1992-93 seasons. G-K, which won its first seven games this year, slipped to third place in the BNC West after losing two of its final three games of the regular season. Like Hampshire, the Cogs beat Harvard, North Boone and Byron and lost to Oregon this year. G-K did beat Winnebago, which beat Hampshire in Week 2.
Wilkins is the main instigator in G-K's spread offense. The senior leads the team in rushing with 844 yards and 15 touchdowns and has also thrown for 14 touchdowns, but is tied for the area lead in interceptions with nine. His top targets are Holterhaus, Nick Lopez and Ethan Menges. The Cogs are averaging 32 points and 360 yards per game, but were held to a season-low 226 yards in last week's 15-13 win at Byron.
"You've got to play error free or really keep (errors) to a minimum," McCarty said. "Field position plays a big role in it too at this time of year."
Defensively, the Cogs are allowing only 16.8 points per game. They've surrendered more than 20 points only twice, and those occasions came in their only two losses of the year. Holterhaus came up with a key interception late in last week's game to help preserve the win.
"They are maybe a little overlooked defensively," Cavanaugh said. "From what I've seen, they play tough defense. The key to the game for us is to cope with their quickness on both sides of the ball."
Erik Jacobsen's pick: G-K
No. 16 Niles Notre Dame (5-4) at No. 1 Bartlett (9-0)
When: 7 Friday
Winner gets: No. 8 Fremd or No. 9 Palatine
Playoff appearances: Niles Notre Dame (3rd consecutive); Bartlett (9th consecutive)
Players to watch: Niles Notre Dame -- S/WR Pat Lazzara; QB Eric Hennessey; WR A.J. Fedoruk.
Bartlett -- QB Josh Hasenberg (116-187, 1,663 yards, 18 TDs); WR Cory Brown (43 rec., 773 yards, 9 TDs); RB Fabian Libreri (135 att., 684 yards, 7 TDs).
Scouting Niles Notre Dame: A sixth-place finish in the ultra-competitive East Suburban Catholic Conference wasn't enough to keep the Dons from securing their third straight postseason berth. Niles Notre Dame hasn't won a playoff game since 1998 under coach Michael Hennessey, who is in his 22nd year at the helm. The Dons are making their Class 8A debut this season. None of their wins came against playoff qualifiers.
"Our conference is very strong and we play a lot of different types of offenses and defenses," Hennessey said. "We think that and the physical nature of the league has helped prepare us well for the playoffs."
Defense is the calling card for Niles Notre Dame. The Dons led their conference by allowing only 10.7 points per game. Hennessey calls Lazzara his team's best player. Defensive tackles Jack Thompson and Drew Holden help lead the push for a formidable front seven.
Hennessey's son Eric Hennessey leads a heavy passing attack. The senior signal caller lines up out of the shotgun on almost every snap. Fedoruk and Joe Gutierrez are his top targets. The Dons average 17.2 points per game and haven't scored more than 14 points since the second week of the season. Junior Julian Burgos leads the ground attack.
"Offensively, they are a spread offense and I'd say they pass about 80 percent of the time," Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. "They do a lot of things passing-wise -- short game, long game, medium game. There's a lot of things you've got to get ready for there."
Scouting Bartlett: With their first perfect regular season in program history complete, the Hawks now turn their attention to changing their postseason fortunes. Bartlett is making its ninth consecutive playoff appearance, but it is only 2-8 all-time in the playoffs and hasn't advanced beyond the second round. The Hawks are Upstate Eight Conference champions for the first time since 2003. They beat four playoff qualifiers during the regular season and are ranked No. 4 in the final Class 8A poll.
Senior linebacker Kyle Zelinsky leads a defense that's been stout against the run all season. The Hawks are allowing only 2.7 yards per carry and 68.2 yards per game for the year. Bartlett matched a season-high by forcing four turnovers in last week's win against East Aurora and has 23 takeaways for the season.
"We've been really strong all year on the run, so that's part of our game we've been really happy with," Meaney said. "We still have to continue working on (defending) the pass, and I know our DBs are up to the challenge. We've just got to develop a pass rush."
Hasenberg broke his own school record for single-season passing yardage in last week's win and guides a balanced attack that averages 32.2 points per game. Brown and senior Alex VanNess are his top targets while tight ends Matt Pashawitz and Greg Partyka are also capable downfield threats. Libreri and Corleon Richardson pace the ground attack.
"They are hard to put together in the sense that they run well and pass well and they blend that together and have a good offensive scheme," Hennessey said. "They do a lot of things right, and that's obviously how you get to be 9-0."
Erik Jacobsen's pick: Bartlett
No. 11 St. Charles North (6-3) at No. 6 Crystal Lake South (7-2)
When: 7 Friday
Winner gets: No. 3 Rockford Boylan or No. 4 Libertyville
Playoff appearances: North (7th consecutive); Crystal Lake South (8th consecutive)
Players to watch: North -- RB Jordan Huxtable (145 att., 939 yards, 12 TDs); QB Sean McGushin (65-102, 867 yards, 10 TDs), WR Greg Stolzenburg (21 rec., 298 yards, 2 TDs).
Crystal Lake South -- QB Drew Ormseth (48-96, 922 yards, 13 TDs); RB Collin Masterson (111 att., 736 yards, 9 TDs), FB Derek Mortensen (134 att., 537 yards, 3 TDs).
Scouting North: Reaching the postseason hasn't been a problem for the North Stars, who are making their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. It's finding success in the postseason that's proven difficult for North, which is 1-6 all-time in playoff games. The North Stars finished fourth in the Upstate Eight Conference and lost to fellow playoff qualifiers Cary-Grove, Bartlett and St. Charles East during the regular season.
"They're big, they are pretty athletic and they've played some quality opponents," Crystal Lake South coach Jim Stuglis said. "For a first-round game, it's not an easy draw by any stretch of the imagination."
Defense has been key for the North Stars this season. They are allowing only 12.1 points per game, and last week's 20-0 win at Neuqua Valley was their third of shutout of the season. Senior linebacker Jake Juriga (48 tackles) and senior defensive back Mike Lefelstein lead the unit.
"The defense has really kind of been a mainstay for us," North coach Mark Gould said. "All three levels of the defense have done really well, whether it's the line, the linebackers or defensive backs."
Huxtable leads a ground threat that's struggled with consistency at times this season. The 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior is fourth in the area in rushing yardage. McGushin took over at quarterback in Week 3 of the season when he replaced senior Nick Neari, who is now one of North's top receivers. Standout receiver Jonathan DeMoss is out for the playoffs with a left elbow injury that sidelined him for three of the final four regular-season games.
Scouting Crystal Lake South: The Gators are back in the playoffs for the eighth straight year after finishing in second place in the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division. Their two losses came against unbeaten FVC Valley champion Cary-Grove and Class 8A qualifier Glenbard North.
Ormseth continues to make strides under center for the Gators as a sophomore. He's spread his passes around evenly as five different players have between 105 and 215 receiving yards. Masterson and Mortensen headline a ground attack that's helped Crystal Lake South score 24.8 points per game.
"We try to run the ball more than we throw, that's for sure, but the main reason for that is we've got a young quarterback," Stuglis said. "He's only a sophomore, but he's growing up and maturing each week."
The Gators have been stout against the run all season out of their 3-5 defense. They allowed only 2.5 yards per carry in their final two regular-season games and surrendered only 12.8 points per game during the regular season.
"They've got a real big defensive line and some good-sized linebackers," Gould said. "They've made it real hard for teams to run, so we're going to have our work cut out for us."
Erik Jacobsen's pick: North
No. 10 Lake Zurich (6-3) at No. 7 St. Charles East (7-2)
When: 7 on Saturday
Winner gets: No. 2 Cary-Grove or No. 15 Rockford Guilford
Playoff appearances: Lake Zurich (7th consecutive); East (4th consecutive)
Players to watch: Lake Zurich -- RB Andrew Maloney, DL John Brewer, QB/CB Tanner Witt.
East -- RB Wes Allen (241 att., 1,713 yards, 26 TDs); QB/WR Danny White (42 rush att., 247 yards, 2 TDs); WR Tyler Nutting (23 rec., 327 yards).
Scouting Lake Zurich: A wealth of postseason success precedes the Bears. Lake Zurich is the defending Class 7A state champion, and third-year coach Bryan Stortz also guided the Bears to a runner-up finish in his first season at the helm in 2006. According to Stortz, that past success only means so much.
"I think it's something you could talk about, but once the game starts it doesn't matter at that point," Stortz said. "A lot of our guys are inexperienced in those games. Hopefully the leadership from those few guys who are (experienced) will transpire to the others."
The Bears lost 11 seniors from last year's state title team, but they did return significant talent on defense. Brewer and fellow defensive linemen Franko Zava and Tony Pecho join Witt as experienced leaders for a unit that is allowing 13.9 points per game.
Maloney is the top offensive threat for a Lake Zurich offense that averages 26.1 points per game. Witt is another threat out of the backfield for a team that used a heavy run attack on its way to a second-place finish in the North Suburban Conference Lake Division. The Bears losses came against a trio of playoff qualifiers in Wheaton North, Stevenson and NSC Lake champion Warren.
"They are very athletic," East coach Ted Monken said of Lake Zurich's offense. "If you're not doing a great job with your technique, they can burn you."
Scouting East: Not only are the Saints making their fourth straight playoff appearance under Monken, who is in his fifth season, but they are also opening the postseason with a home game at Norris Stadium for the fourth consecutive year. East finished second in the Upstate Eight Conference with its only losses this season coming against unbeaten Geneva and Neuqua Valley.
There's no doubt that the centerpiece of the Saints offense is Allen, who in rushing yardage alone has accounted for 48.6 percent of his team's total offense this year. The senior and three-year standout leads the area in rushing and headlines an East ground attack that is racking up 6.6 yards per carry for the season. White and senior Tim Russell have split time at quarterback this season.
"If we can't run the ball, we're in trouble," Monken said. "The pass has been solid, but I don't know if that alone is good enough to win us a ballgame. Anybody that's seen us knows we are going to come out running."
East's defense has been nothing short of dominant in recent weeks. The Saints are coming off back-to-back shutouts and haven't allowed a touchdown since their quadruple-overtime loss at Neuqua in Week 6. Senior linebacker Pat Friel headlines the unit, which has three shutouts for the year.
"They are well-disciplined and well-coached," Stortz said. "They are big and physical."
Erik Jacobsen's pick: East
No. 12 Batavia (6-3) at No. 5 Huntley (8-1)
When: 7 Friday
Winner gets: No. 4 Vernon Hills or No. 13 Grant
Playoff appearances: Batavia (6th consecutive); Huntley (1st appearance since 2001).
Players to watch: Batavia -- QB Jordan Coffey (140-243, 2,037 yards, 19 TDs); RB J.R. Kabba (82 att., 865 yards, 10 TDs); WR Erich Zeddies (48 rec., 858 yards, 12 TDs).
Huntley -- RB/LB Jordan Neukirch (160 att., 1,350 yards, 18 TDs); QB Brandon Luczak (34-57, 560 yards, 6 TDs); RB Tanner Stearns (61 att. 581 yards, 4 TDs).
Scouting Batavia: In his 24th season leading the Bulldogs, coach Mike Gaspari has his team back in the playoffs for the sixth straight year and 13th time during his tenure. Batavia had a streak of four straight first-round wins snapped last year. The Bulldogs finished third in the Western Sun Conference this season and are coming off a humbling 47-14 loss against rival and WSC league champ Geneva.
"I'd like to think (playoff experience helps), but it does change from year to year," Gaspari said. "As a staff certainly we've had to prepare for a lot of different playoff games and a lot of different opponents, so I don't know if that's an asset or not. Every opponent is different and that's the best part of the playoffs, we get to play somebody new."
Coffey is the centerpiece of Batavia's offense. At 6-foot-5, his size and agility give the Bulldogs plenty of versatility. However, Huntley coach Steve Graves points out that Kabba is capable of burning opponents on the ground if they focus on defending the pass. Batavia is averaging a staggering 415.9 yards and 34.2 points per game this year, but is coming off a season-low 14-point effort last week.
"You've got to somehow stop Coffey from making big plays," Graves said. "Every coach that plays them knows that. Saying and doing is like playing Tom Brady and saying we have to stop the big play. (Coffey) presents a monumental task for our defense."
The Bulldogs are allowing 24.7 points and 354.9 yards per game. They've allowed more than 30 points three times this season and lost all of those games. Those setbacks came against fellow playoff qualifiers St. Charles East, Glenbard South and Geneva.
Scouting Huntley: Saying playoff appearances have been few and far between for the Red Raiders is an understatement. Huntley is in the postseason for only the second time in school history. Its only other trip to the playoffs came in 2001 and ended with a loss in the Class 4A state semifinals. The Raiders won their first eight games this season and earned the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division title. However, they suffered their first blemish last week when they dropped their regular-season finale against a Johnsburg squad that failed to make the playoffs.
"We quickly forgot about last week's game," Graves said. "We are going to come out and try and play our game and hope to beat (Batavia)."
Neukirch is the main workhorse for Huntley's high-powered rushing attack. The senior averages 8.4 yards per carry and 150 rushing yards per game. However, three other teammates average more than 30 rushing yards per game to help shoulder the load for a team attack that is racking up 7.3 yards per carry. The Raiders were held to fewer than 21 points for the first time this season in last week's 17-7 loss, but are still scoring 32 points per game.
"They are a great offensive team and they are big up front," Gaspari said. "They have the biggest running backs we've seen all year on our schedule."
With all of Huntley's offensive exploits, its defense almost gets lost in the shuffle. The Raiders have been dominant, holding opponents to only 11.8 points per game. Neukirch paces the unit, which only squared off against two playoff qualifiers during the regular season.
Erik Jacobsen's pick: Batavia