Phillips was the king of last season’s state football playoffs. The Wildcats’ romp to the Public League’s first state football title was the dominant story on the way to and coming out of DeKalb.
This season the title games will be in Champaign, and even if Phillips advances again, the Wildcats are unlikely to be the biggest story in town. If top-seeded Loyola is playing for another state title, the Ramblers will likely be the hot topic of conversation.
Coach John Holecek and the Ramblers enter the playoffs on a 26-game win streak. The combination of Holecek and his coaching staff, Loyola’s financial resources and the school’s ability to attract students from all over the area (last season Holecek said that about 80 zip codes are represented at the school) is proving to be a nearly unbeatable force.
It will take five wins for the Ramblers to win the 8A title. So two days after Thanksgiving, Loyola could be holding a second consecutive state championship trophy and standing on a mountain of 31 consecutive wins. It would be a major accomplishment. Only 18 schools in state history have managed consecutive undefeated seasons.
It’s not going to be an easy path for the Ramblers. The 8A bracket is absolutely stacked. Seven teams are unbeaten and ten teams are 8-1. Loyola and Brother Rice could meet again in the state quarterfinals. On Friday the Crusaders were just a couple of dropped balls worse than the Ramblers.
Most fans will be anticipating a matchup between Loyola and No. 2 Homewood-Flosmoor. The schools played in the quarterfinals last year. The Ramblers hosted and won one of the most epic, high-level high school football games in recent memory.
Aside from Phillips, the Public League’s most interesting entry in the state playoffs is Curie. The Condors haven’t received as much attention as the Wildcats and Simeon, but have quietly been building an impressive program. Curie is 8-1 this season, including a win against the Wolverines. Last season the Condors lost to Warren 42-41 in overtime in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs. In 2014, Curie beat Taft in the first round and lost to New Trier 28-27 in the second round.
“We’ve played [suburban teams] close the past few years,” Curie coach Jay McDonagh said. “We haven’t won, but we were able to run the ball well against Warren.”
The Condors showed the strength of their program late in the season when star running back/linebacker Anthony Watson missed the Simeon game with an injury. Young players, including sophomore AJ Sanya, who rushed for 149 yards, stepped up and helped lead Curie to their biggest win of the season.
Watson is one of the most talented players in the city, Donagh thinks he could possibly play at the FBS level in college. If he is healed and ready to play in the first round expect the Condors to give Oswego East all it can handle.