Class 6A football playoff preview
Scott Powers breaks down the first-round matchups
No. 16 Oak Lawn (5-4) at No. 1 Danville (9-0)
Danville went undefeated and won the Big 12 Conference outright for the first time since 1995. The only two teams not to be blown out by the Vikings were fellow 6A-playoff qualifiers Bloomington, which lost 30-28, and Normal Community, which lost 12-6. Danville scored 40 or more points four times and had five shutouts this season. It had 545 total yards of offense in its final game. & Oak Lawn squeezed into the playoffs by winning its final three games. Earlier in the season, the Spartans struggled against Kankakee, Lemont and Richards and lost by 26 points or more in all three games. John Robinson and Nick Pesek are both capable running backs.
No. 9 Richards (8-1) at No. 8 Rock Island (8-1)
Rock Island won its last eight games of the season after losing to Fenwick 32-0 in the opening week. The Rockets faced four Chicago-area teams during the season. Aside from losing to Fenwick, they defeated Crete-Monee 14-0, Bloom 33-12 and Rich Central 26-20. Their offense is led by running back Chris Glover. Against Rich Central, he had 207 yards and touchdown runs of 23, 57 and 60 yards. & Richards returns to the playoffs after failing to make them last season. The Bulldogs were within a few points of being undefeated this season. Their only loss was to Lockport (37-36) in Week 2. Wide receiver Keith Sconiers has been a major reason for this season's turnaround. Junior defensive back Jarrell Williams also is a D-I talent and already has an offer from Northwestern.
No. 13 Lincoln-Way North (6-3) at No. 4 Lemont (8-1)
Lemont has finished second in 6A the past two seasons. The Indians look to make another run this season behind the running of Danny Hayes. The senior, who accounted for nearly 2,000 yards last season, has been at it again this year. Lemont has scored 40 or more points four times this season. The Indians hit a bump in the road when they were upset by Hillcrest 16-10 but closed out the season with four consecutive wins in which they outscored their opponents 119-6. Here's coverage of their win over Oak Forest. & Lincoln-Way North came a long way in one year. After going 0-9 in the first year of the program last season, the Phoenix lost their first two games this season before winning six of their last seven. In their six wins, the Phoenix didn't allow an opponent more than 13 points. Their losses were to playoff qualifiers Lincoln-Way Central, Lincoln-Way East and South Elgin. Colin Hannigan, Alex McInerny and Tait Erickson give Lincoln-Way North a balanced running attack.
No. 12 Quincy (7-2) at No. 5 Morgan Park (8-1)
Morgan Park was the top team in the Public League this season, but just barely. The Mustangs edged past Simeon 29-28 and Hubbard 34-33. Their only loss of the season was to Geneva 31-20 in Week 2. Morgan Park scored 29 or more points in eight of their games. DaRon Brown is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the area. & Quincy will travel 300 miles to meet Morgan Park. The Blue Devils are making only their second playoff appearance in the past 20 years.
No. 15 Harlan (6-3) at No. 2 Providence Catholic (8-1)
Providence was among the top teams in the state all season. The Celtics won the Catholic League Blue, arguably the toughest conference in the state. Their wins included beating Loyola, Mount Carmel and St. Rita. Tim Hanrahan is one of the area's top running backs. Pete Houlihan has been finding a variety of ways to assist in each win. Their only loss was to Lincoln-Way East in the season-opener. & After never previously reaching the playoffs, Harlan has qualified for the second year in a row. The Falcons struggled against some of the upper echelon teams in the Public League, losing to King 56-21 and 41-8 to Robeson. Quarterback Tashuan Johnson threw for three touchdown in the team's regular-season finale.
No. 10 Oswego (7-2) at No. 7 Bloomington (8-1)
Bloomington has been beating teams in a variety of ways offensively. The Purple Raiders had three running backs with seven or more touchdowns this season. Quarterback Tyler Dicken leads his area in passing with 1,273 yards to go with and eight touchdowns. Their lone loss was to Danville 30-28 in the season opener. & Oswego bounced back from a 34-14 loss to Minooka in Week 8 to end the season with a 27-0 victory over Romeoville. The victory gave the Panthers a share of the Southwest Prairie Conference. Four of their games this season were decided by four points or less. Junior John Hugunin has been a force at linebacker and running back lately.
No. 14 Julian (6-3) at No. 3 Crete-Monee (8-1)
Crete-Monee had its best regular season since their 1959 team went 9-0. The Warriors' lone loss this season came to fellow 6A qualifier Rock Island. Their offense put up 35 or more points six times this season. Senior Greg Barksdale can make plays on both sides of the ball. Against Thornridge, he had an interception and rushed for three touchdowns. & Julian is riding a four-game winning streak into the playoffs. The Jaguars' losses this season include Robeson (40-6), Deerfield (28-6) and Bogan (42-14). Running back Chris Williams had 217 yards and three touchdowns on five carries in Julian's final regular-season game.
No. 11 Normal Community (7-2) at No. 6 Oak Forest (8-1)
Oak Forest's only loss of the season came to Lemont. It wasn't the Bengals' best game of the season. Since then, they have been dominant. Their offense scored 35 or more points in their past five games. Quarterback Jon Wolf has big-play ability. & Normal Community, which has seven losses in the past seven years, lost to undefeated Danville and Bloomington this season. The Ironmen are led Travis Mullen, who has averaged 11.1 yards per carry.
No. 16 St. Viator (5-4) at No. 1 Cary-Grove (9-0)
Cary-Grove went undefeated in the regular season for the fifth time in the past six years. This year's team possesses one of the most explosive and balanced offenses the program has had. Its option offense is led by quarterback Tyler Krebs and running backs Alex Hembry and Eric Chandler. The Trojans were challenged twice this season in a 31-28 victory over McHenry and when they defeated rival Crystal Lake South 28-16 in Week 8. Here's a Q&A with Cary-Grove coach Bruce Kay. & St. Viator is the type of team that could pull off a major upset in the playoffs. The Lions showed at times they could play with some of the area's best. They hung with Joliet Catholic, Marist and Notre Dame and defeated Marian Catholic and St. Patrick. Quarterback Julian Sipiora has been the key to the team's offense.
No. 9 Highland Park (6-3) at No. 8 Mather (7-2)
Mather will look to prove itself in the playoffs coming from the Public League's Big Shoulders conference. The Rangers' two losses were to Foreman and Steinmetz. They handed Taft its lone loss of the season. Rashaan Fox is a playmaker who can make things happen returning kicks or catching passes. & Highland Park lost to Maine South, Stevenson and Warren, three of the state's top teams in the opening three weeks. Since then, the Giants have won six straight. Their defense came up big in their final three games as each one was decided by six points. Jordan Reisner rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns in Highland Park's 13-7 win over Maine West last week.
No. 13 Fenton (6-3) at No. 4 Crystal Lake Central (7-2)
Crystal Lake Central's two losses came at the beginning and end of the regular season. The Tigers lost 40-0 to Cary-Grove to start the season and 37-36 to Woodstock to end it. In between, they were dominant, winning all their games by double digits and never allowing more than 14 points. Gage Harrah and Adam Smyth are the team's top running backs. & Fenton lost to Glenbard South 42-0 and Leyden 28-0 to start the season. Since then, the Bison have been a different team. They have scored 30 or more points in five of their wins. Quarterback Eric Justiniano had touchdown runs of 60 and 65 in the team's last game.
No. 12 Deerfield (6-3) at No. 5 De La Salle (7-2)
This could be one of better best first-round games. De La Salle was the top team in the Catholic League White this season. The Meteors also hung with Mount Carmel and Providence. Running back Mark Kasper has had some big games & Deerfield has looked solid at times this season. The Warriors especially played well in the final week, defeating Glenbrook North 17-0. Their losses were to Highland Park (22-16), Evanston (35-13) and Glenbrook South (62-21). Quarterback Matt Healy threw for a touchdown and ran for one against Glenbrook North.
No. 15 Huntley (5-4) at No. 2 Marmion (8-1)
Marmion closed out the regular season on a high note, defeating Montini for the first time since 1998. The Cadets' lone loss came in the opening week as they fell 24-16 to South Elgin. Marmion has a large offensive line, and running backs T.J. Lally and Bobby Winkel have had success this season. & Huntley was able to earn a playoff spot with wins in its final two games. The Red Raiders struggled with the top teams in the Fox Valley as they lost to Crystal Lake South (41-0) and Cary-Grove (23-0). Running back Brett Kleckner had 133 yards in the team's victory over Jacobs last week.
No. 10 Prairie Ridge (6-3) at No. 7 King (7-2)
King was among the Public League's top teams this season. The Jaguars' two losses came to Robeson (26-20) and Crete-Monee (41-0). King has had success running the ball this season. Vincent Bobbit and Devon Robinson give it a tough 1-2 punch in the backfield. &Prairie Ridge had an up-and-down season. The Wolves looked great in the games they won, but struggled in those they lost. Crystal Lake South beat them 38-7 and Crystal Lake Central won 35-14. Running back Tim Deering has led Prairie Ridge offensively.
No. 14 Belvidere North (5-4) at No. 3 Robeson (7-2)
Robeson's two losses came to its two non-Public League opponents. The Cougars lost to Riverside-Brookfield 64-26 and Gary West Side (Ind.) 33-26. In the Public League, Robeson scored 36 or more points in six of their wins. Donte Daniels makes a lot of things happen for the Cougars. & Belvidere North won its last three games to reach the playoffs. The Thunder were the only team to hang with undefeated Boylan this season in the Northern Illinois Conference 10. They relay on a variety of backs.
No. 11 Riverside-Brookfield (6-3) at No. 6 Hubbard (7-2)
Hubbard was among the Chicago Public League's elite this season. The Greyhounds' two losses were by one point to Morgan Park and a 21-6 loss to Evanston. Their offense is capable of putting up a lot of points. They scored 33 or more points six times this season. Running back Ronnie Oliver often led the offense. He had three touchdown runs against Steinmetz. & Riverside-Brookfield passes and passes and passes the ball. Wide receiver Mark McDonagh broke the state and national records with receptions (143) this season. Quarterback Bill VandeMerkt also broke the state record for career passes. Their losses this season were to Metamora 52-21, Nazareth 51-7 and Fenton 33-22.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at email@example.com.