Previewing the top first-round IHSA state playoff games

A look at five of the best games in the first round.

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Bolingbrook’s Jaquan Howard (1) runs outside against Homewood-Flossmoor.

Bolingbrook’s Jaquan Howard (1) runs outside against Homewood-Flossmoor.

Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun-Times

Class 8A: No. 11 Naperville Central at No. 22 Naperville North, 7 p.m. Friday

Those who believe the current IHSA playoff seeding formula — which uses wins as the top criteria and ignores strength of schedule — is broken can look to this matchup as Exhibit A. These crosstown rivals both have multiple marquee wins, yet one will be done after this week. Naperville North (6-3) has split with No. 9 Neuqua Valley and beat Naperville Central 38-27 four weeks ago. Junior quarterback Aidan Gray, who has a Western Michigan offer, is coming off the best game of his career: 297 passing yards and five total TDs against Neuqua. Naperville Central (6-3) is the only team to beat No. 12 Hinsdale Central and one of two to beat No. 16 Lincoln-Way East. Quarterback Owen Prucha and Northwestern-bound receiver Reggie Fleurima are a potent combo for the Redhawks.

Class 8A: Glenbard North at No. 20 Bolingbrook, 6 p.m. Saturday

This has been a bounceback year for Glenbard North (6-3_, which had two 8A runner-up finishes and two semifinal berths from 2007-12. The Panthers’ three losses have come by a combined five points, including one-pointers to No. 6 Batavia and No. 8 Wheaton North. Watch Glenbard North back Damarion Elliston, who ran for 303 yards in a win over Naperville North. Bolingbrook (7-2) isn’t far from perfect either, with losses by one point to Lockport and by eight to Lincoln-Way East. Junior safety Damon Walters, who has two older brothers playing Division I football, has four Power Five offers including Tennessee.

Class 8A: Sandburg at No. 12 Hinsdale Central, 2 p.m. Saturday

After leading Phillips to the only two IHSA football championships in Public League history, Troy McAllister took over a Sandburg program that had won 13 games the previous five seasons and hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2015. The Eagles (5-4) are in one of the state’s toughest conferences, the Southwest Suburban Blue, and played five playoff qualifiers, plus two 4-5 teams that would have made the playoffs had they beat Sandburg. Oh, and one of the Eagles’ wins was 30-27 over perennial power Lincoln-Way East. Hinsdale Central (8-1) has won eight in a row since an opening loss to Naperville Central and has won the West Suburban Silver twice this calendar year.

Class 7A: Shepard at Prospect, 7:30 p.m. Friday

Shepard (5-4) started 0-4, including losses to still unbeaten Kankakee and Lemont. But then the Astros moved returning South Suburban Red Player of the Year Kendrick Washington to quarterback and saved their season with five straight wins. Co-champ Prospect (7-2) is one of four playoff qualifiers from the six-team Mid-Suburban East. Frank Covey has been a productive dual-threat quarterback for the Knights.

Class 6A: Simeon at Richards, 6:30 p.m. Friday

As usual, Simeon (5-4) has played one of the most challenging schedules of any CPS team. The Wolverines have nonconference losses to Joliet Catholic, Bolingbrook and Phillips as well as a league loss to Morgan Park. But a comeback win over Kenwood in Week 8 saved their playoff hopes. They also have the Public League’s top two-way player in junior receiver/defensive back Malik Elzy, a four-star prospect with 13 Power Five offers. South Suburban Red champ Richards (7-2) has some dynamic athletes as well in Jadon Wilson (14 touchdowns) and Donnie Burton.

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