Class 7A playoff preview: Libertyville at Lincoln Park

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Sixth-seeded Lincoln Park (7-2) plays host to 11th-seeded Libertyville (6-3) at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs. Here’s what you should look forward to this weekend:

DIFFERENCE MAKERS

Libertyville

Riley Lees, quarterback, jr. — In his first year as starter, Lees has transformed the Wildcats’ offense. Lees scored 26 touchdowns in the regular season, an average of just under three per game. He is an electrifying player and Lincoln Park will have to figure out how to contain him, something few defenses have done this season.

Ben Kimpler, defensive end, jr. — Libertyville’s defense likes to get up the field and rush the passer. Kimpler wreaks havoc in the opposing team’s backfield. A 6-foot-6, 205-pound junior, Kimpler led the team with 6.5 sacks, 37 solo tackles and two forced fumbles.

Lincoln Park

Derrick Barnes, quarterback, sr. — Lincoln Park runs a spread offense, with shotgun and under-center formations. Barnes is the trigger man. A 5-8, 160-pound senior, Barnes averaged 276 yards passing through the Lions’ first five games. In Lincoln Park’s final two regular season games, both victories, Barnes threw a total of four touchdown passes.

Amari Freeman, wide receiver, sr. — Barnes’ favorite target, the 6-4, 182-pound Freeman, has the size to outjump opposing defensive backs. The Wildcats are vulnerable in the secondary, so expect Barnes to look for one-on-one matchups with Freeman. “Stopping the deep ball and containing the quarterback [are keys],” Libertyville coach Mike Jones said.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

When Libertyville has the ball…

Lees will carry the load. Wildcats offensive coordinator Chris Davis has done a good job designing a scheme around Lees’ talents. The 6-1, 170-pounder rushed for 1,330 yards in the regular season and was most effective on direct snaps out of the shotgun and on scrambles. When Lees isn’t running, senior running backs Taylor Rossman and Sean Ferraro share the rest of the carries.

When Lincoln Park is on offense…

The Lions also feature a power running package. Under center, Barnes hands the ball off to senior running back Howard Williams, a strong downhill runner with a big body (5-10, 200 pounds). “[We have to] be physical when they run power,” Jones said. The Lions’ plus-42 point differential in the regular season shows they played in a lot of close games and won most of them.

When Libertyville’s special teams are on the field…

The special teams have not been so special for Libertyville. In lopsided victories over Zion-Benton and North Chicago, the Wildcats gave up kickoff returns for touchdowns. It didn’t hurt them against losing teams. But this is one element Libertyville has to tighten up if it expects to advance far in Class 7A.

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