Class 7A No. 7 St. Charles East (8-2) at No. 2 Cary-Grove (10-0)
When: 6 p.m. on Saturday
Winner gets: No. 3 Rockford Boylan or No. 6 Crystal Lake South
Playoff appearances: East (4th consecutive); Cary-Grove (5th consecutive)
Players to watch: East -- RB Wes Allen (287 att., 1,893 yards, 28 TDs); QB Tim Russell (78-593, 5 TDs); WR Tyler Nutting (24 rec., 332 yards, 0 TDs)
Cary-Grove -- FB Eric Chandler (169 att., 1,052 yards, 15 TDs); QB Tyler Krebs (100 att., 537 yards, 7 TDs); RB Alex Hembrey (71 att., 530 yards, 6 TDs)
Scouting East: Fifth-year coach Ted Monken has the Saints in the second round of the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. East is looking for its first trip to the state quarterfinals since 2005. The Saints have reached the quarterfinals on four occasions in program history, but have advanced no further. East is coming off a hard-fought 17-13 win against defending state champion Lake Zurich in last week's playoff opener, and coach Ted Monken thinks that experience could pay off.
"(Cary-Grove is) very similar to Lake Zurich," Monken said. "They run the exact same defense as Lake Zurich and they have a similar offensive style as Lake Zurich, so our preparation couldn't be any better."
East's offense centers around a relentless ground attack led by Allen, who averages 6.6 yards per rushing attempt. Turnovers have at times been a problem for the Saints. In a Week 2 loss against Geneva they committed five turnovers, and last week quarterback Tim Russell threw three interceptions. Senior Danny White has also seen time under center this year.
"They play very hard and they run the ball extremely well," Cary-Grove coach Bruce Kay said. "Their offensive line will be by far the biggest group we've seen. (Allen) just keeps his feet moving and he finishes all his runs, so right away we need to contend with that. Then their quarterback made big plays against Lake Zurich, so they have a balanced attack."
A first-quarter Lake Zurich touchdown last week stands as the only time an opponent has reached the end zone against East in a span of 16 quarters dating to Week 7. That streak of stinginess came on the heels of a lackluster performance in a 49-42 quadruple overtime loss at Neuqua Valley in Week 6 which marked East's only Upstate Eight Conference loss. Senior linebacker Pat Friel keys the Saints defense.
Scouting Cary-Grove: Success hasn't been hard to come by lately for the Trojans, who are 54-5 the past five seasons. Cary-Grove, which represents the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division, claimed its fifth consecutive league title this year while rolling to its fourth undefeated regular season in five years. The Trojans are the second smallest school in terms of enrollment in the Class 7A playoffs, but have competed at the Class 7A level in three of the past five years.
"No. 1 they have a great coach," Monken said. "Bruce Kay does an outstanding job with his program and they've been a top program in the state for years and I expect nothing but a great game out of those guys."
A steady and balanced ground attack keys a Cary-Grove offense that averages 31.2 points per game. The Trojans have been held to fewer than 24 points only twice this season. Chandler leads a group of four players who average at least 50 rushing yards per game.
Defense once again rules supreme for the Trojans. Cary-Grove is allowing only 7.8 points per game and hasn't given up more than seven points in a stretch of six games. The Trojans have three shutouts in that span, including a 47-0 trouncing of Rockford Guilford in last week's playoff opener.
"We've played great defense the last five years now," said Kay, who is in his 20th season leading the program. "Our coaches and kids know where they go and where they need to be. They play fast, they gang tackle and our past defense is probably the best it's been in the five years."
Erik Jacobsen's pick: East