Elmwood Park will grind it out against Joliet Catholic as a couple of running teams will meet in the first round of the Class 5A state football playoffs Saturday.
The fifth-seeded Tigers (7-2) will host the No. 12 Hilltoppers (5-4) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Stadium as Elmwood Park coach Luis Arroyo prepares his squad for its first playoff appearance in more than 20 years.
“They (Joliet Catholic) like to run the option and they’ve been doing it for a long time,” Arroyo said. “We’re studying film now and planning for the biggest game of our lives. There is a great football tradition at Joliet Catholic (a member of the East Suburban Catholic Conference), and coach Dan Sharp knows what he’s doing. This is our opportunity to show how we can play good football, and I believe our players are ready for the challenge. We’ll get our guys ready, put them on the field and turn them loose.”
Arroyo said his defense will prepare for the option and USC-bound running back Ty Isaac, who could be a huge threat if he’s healthy. Isaac suffered a shoulder injury the first week of the season and has aggravated it on several occasions since, limiting his playing time.
The Tigers have had to overcome some injuries of their own during the 2012 campaign, but one player they won’t worry about is running back David Benavidez. The senior missed a couple games with an ankle sprain but came back strong with four touchdowns and 147 yards rushing on 15 carries in Elmwood Park’s 34-14 victory over Metro Suburban Conference rival Ridgewood last Friday, giving the Tigers their first conference championship in 27 years.
“This is an awesome feeling,” Benavidez said after Friday’s big victory. “Winning the conference, getting into the state playoffs was our dream and this year we accomplished it. I’m really excited about the playoffs. Winning state is our ultimate goal, and we are going to bring it all to the table and see what happens.”
Senior Carolos Sandoval had his second interception in as many weeks and continues to also be a weapon on offense and special teams after returning from an ankle injury. While those two were out, James Gonzalez stepped in, picked up the rushing load, and continues to impress with 121 yards and a touchdown against Ridgewood.
Junior Trent Woods might be the only defensive standout missing Saturday after he sustained a knee injury last Friday.
“He’s a big reason why we’re where we are at and to lose him would be bad, but I’m confident the kids will respond,” Arroyo said. “We’ll get the next guy ready like we have all year long and do what we have to do. We won’t let any doubt creep in – that’s not who this team is.”
Arroyo added the precise game plan for Joliet Catholic is yet to be determined.
“We’ll be having a meeting of the minds to see what the other coaches see on film and assess what we need to work on,” Arroyo said. “This will determine our approach for the game. But we will find a scheme, make the proper adjustments and go from there.”