This is the weekend we hit the reset button on the football season.
And it’s when I look back on the regular season to look forward five weeks and predict the last team standing in Class 8A.
These crystal-ball sessions have a rushed feel because, like everyone else, I didn’t get to see the IHSA brackets till Saturday night. When they were released, I went through and picked every game, round by round.
The results may surprise some and I’m sure the message boards will be buzzing. But, as they say, these picks are for entertainment purposes only.
My projected 8A final is a rematch of a Week 1 game: Stevenson’s weather-delayed 33-24 win over Homewood-Flossmoor. I didn’t pick it for the sense of symmetry, though.
Stevenson has been very good for a very long time in a part of the state that has had some of the best 8A programs. The Patriots haven’t won a title and have only reached one final, losing to Lockport in 2002.
But they definitely passed the eye test in that win over H-F, coming back from 17 points down in the second half with a game-ending 26-0 run. Stevenson has some playmakers, including speedy receiver Cameron Green (whose dad Mark played for the Bears). And they have one of the state’s best and most experienced quarterbacks in Willie Bourbon, whose football career is almost over; he’s headed to Northwestern on a baseball scholarship.
Bourbon’s sense of urgency — and the program’s — along with the overall talent on the roster could be enough to bring that trophy back to Lincolnshire on Thanksgiving weekend.
But just getting to Memorial Stadium in Champaign for the 8A final will be a chore in the loaded north bracket. There are two more unbeatens on the bottom half — Maine South and Glenbard West — and you could make a pretty good case for either to win it all.
Maine South also has a savvy quarterback in Brian Collis and one of the state’s top two-way players in Justin Fahey. And like Stevenson, the Hawks had a big comeback win in Week 1, rallying from 20 down in the final six minutes to edge Montini. That kind of resilience can come in handy in November.
Glenbard West is what it usually is: physical on defense, run-first on offense. But the Hitters also have a vertical passing game; the last time that was the case, in 2012, Glenbard West won the 7A state title.
There aren’t any unbeaten teams in the 8A south bracket. But there is the defending state champ: Naperville Central (7-2). The Redhawks lost a lot to graduation, but actually head into the playoffs with a better record than last year (6-3). There are some key players back from that club, including linebacker Bobby McMillen and running back Kevin Clifford. A repeat run wouldn’t be a complete stunner.
But my bracket has a different team coming out of the south, and it’s a familiar one to Stevenson: H-F (7-2). The Vikings may have as much pure talent as anyone in the state, especially at the offensive skill positions with twins Deante and Devonte Harley-Hampton, receivers Kendric Pryor and Jared Sharp and quarterback Bryce Gray,
H-F showed how good it could be in the Stevenson game, and its other loss was to a team that could go a long way in Class 7A (Lincoln-Way East). Vikings coach Craig Buzea has talked about how his young team has been growing up as the season has gone from late summer toward winter.
Is it H-F’s time? Or Stevenson’s? Or someone else’s? We’ll find out over the next five weeks.
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