Playoffs see intriguing matchups
Updated: October 25, 2011 9:39PM
When you stop to think about it for a moment or two, March Madness has nothing, beyond blessed alliteration, on the high school football playoffs.
The way the IHSA sets things up, many of the same match-ups occur every year in the basketball playoffs. You can almost set your watch by Mount Carmel’s annual sectional tea party with Simeon. Variety in March, there is not.
Variety in October and November abounds. Of the 18 opening round games involving 24 SouthtownStar schools, several are match-ups that just wouldn’t happen in the regular season.
How about Homewood-Flossmoor at Marist in Class 8A? The Vikings and the RedHawks rarely meet in a regular-season anything, and certainly not in football. Halley’s Comet crosses the sky more often. Hope that the H-F bus driver has GPS so he can find Marist.
These two strangers meet on the plush new FieldTurf behind Marist on Friday night. Get in line at the gate now if you like offense, and bring extra bulbs for the scoreboard. The two teams have combined for 730 points this season. Marist, with receiver Nic Weishar the primary target for quarterback Ian Woodworth, has piled up 188 in regulation time the past four games — and that doesn’t count the 15 the RedHawks scored to beat Carmel in double-overtime on the road two weeks back.
The Vikings, who opened 3-0 under second-year coach Craig Buzea before getting into the heart of SouthWest Suburban Blue play, finished 6-3, but also can pour on the points. With Tim Williams throwing and teammates Sheldon Jones and Trevor Dapkus catching, they’ve scored 178 in the past four weeks.
In the next quadrant of the 8A bracket, Sandburg is slated to visit Brother Rice. Here’s another pairing of strangers in the night. The Eagles and Crusaders have football programs with considerable tradition, but it’s as if Orland Park and Mount Greenwood are on opposite sides of a mountain range. These teams never see each other. Now, they will.
Can Brother Rice control Sandburg back Alec Melone, who scampered for 140 yards against H-F on Friday night? Can Sandburg lasso Rice’s Martez Walker, who skittered for 166 yards against Leo in the regular-season finale?
The Class 7A scrap between Shepard and St. Rita is another game that would never be arranged but for the IHSA’s doing. Shepard’s been in the postseason three years running now, after missing the fun in 13 of the previous 14 years, but it might not be much fun visiting the Mustangs, where Todd Kuska’s crew piles up 10-win seasons with monotonous regularity. St. Rita’s 7-2 at the moment, but of the seven other teams in its quarter of 7A, only O’Fallon, at 8-1, has a better record.
The fourth way cool match-up, in Class 5A, will see Lincoln-Way West, three years young, going around the corner to play Joliet Catholic, which has been around almost since, well, Lincoln was around. (We’re not kidding. The school traces its linage to 1869.) The good news for the Warriors is they’re not likely to be awed by the history of the Hilltoppers, which includes 13 state football championships. After all, Joliet Catholic hasn’t won it all since 2007, and all those guys have graduated.
The anticipation of the unknowns clashing is what makes the playoff season come alive. Gary Korhonen, the longtime Richards coach, always wanted to play teams from outside the area in the playoffs, rather than open up with someone from the Bulldogs’ conference. Unfamiliarity, he believed, was far more interesting than a rematch with a foe his team already had beaten. And it wasn’t because he worried about an upset. Like any coach, he worried about anything, but he saw the playoffs as both reward and adventure.
So, bring on this weekend’s games, including Richards at Hyde Park, Lockport at Simeon (at refurbished Gately Stadium), Thornton at Oswego and Rich East at Metamora. Adventures are afoot.