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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Michael O'Brien

State playoff pairings first impressions: A fun first round, Prairie Ridge’s bad luck and Public League dreams

Prairie Ridge’s Gavin Tinch (65) celebrates after recovering a fumble against Cary-Grove. (Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times)

The annual reveal of the Illinois High School Association state playoff brackets is always a huge deal for the teams and die-hard fans, but overall the first-round matchups are generally a bit ho-hum and most of the fun comes from looking ahead at possible quarterfinal and semifinal matchups. 

That’s not the case this season. The first round provides some major punch, especially in Class 7A which features two sensational first-round games, St. Rita at Mount Carmel and Brother Rice at Batavia. 

The Caravan appears to be a level better than St. Rita this season and won the matchup 38-7 in Week 4, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone associated with Mount Carmel wanted to see their arch-rivals in the first round. However, it is unknown if Mustangs starting quarterback Jett Hilding will be healthy for the game.

Brother Rice is good. I keep stressing this and probably kept them in the Super 25 for too long this season. But the Crusaders opened the season with a win at Maine South and knocked off St. Rita in Week 9. They can give Batavia a stern test.

The Bulldogs have state championship aspirations and are entering the playoffs on a high. Three-year starting quarterback Ryan Boe threw for 360 yards and six touchdowns against Glenbard North on Friday.

Nazareth is in

Undefeated Prairie Ridge, the Class 6A runner-up last season, has dropped down to Class 5A this season. The team expected the move and Wolves coach Chris Schremp mentioned in the preseason that he was looking forward to seeing some different teams in the playoffs this year. 

It’s unlikely Schremp wanted to get a look at Nazareth though. The Roadrunners, highly ranked in the preseason and full of major college prospects, have underachieved all season and snuck into the playoff field at 4-5 after losing to St. Francis on Friday. But that’s still a difficult first-round game for a two-seed. 

Two dozen CPS teams

The Public League, which set a record with 26 state playoff teams last season, changed things around a little bit this year with which teams were playoff eligible but still managed to get 24 teams into the field. That’s the second-highest total for Chicago Public Schools. 

Phillips, which for a while appeared to be heading to Class 3A, wound up in Class 4A and may have a difficult time in the opener at Rockford Boylan (8-1). 

It wouldn’t be surprising if only three Public League teams advanced past the first round. Ag. Science and Dyett are playing one another in a Class 4A opener, so one of those teams will see the second round. 

Kenwood will travel to Downers Grove North for a Class 7A first-round game. The Broncos will be heavy underdogs but have the talent to pull off an upset. 

Morgan Park is the major hope for a Public League state title. The Mustangs open with Corliss but the major test comes immediately after that. Morgan Park will likely face Sycamore (8-1) in the second round. The Spartans have advanced to the state semifinals the last two years and have an Iowa recruit, Burke Gautcher, at quarterback.

“I feel confident but we just need to fix certain mistakes,” Morgan Park senior Tysean Griffin, an Illinois recruit, said after the Mustangs beat Simeon 16-8 on Saturday. “This game right here? This should never have been close. The Kenwood game should never have been close. We made too many mistakes on special teams.”

Contributing: Mike Clark

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