Previewing the top state semifinals

A look at this weekend’s best playoff games.

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Wheaton North players celebrate Mark Forcucci’s (5) touchdown against Willowbrook.

Wheaton North players celebrate Mark Forcucci’s (5) touchdown against Willowbrook.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Class 8A: No. 8 Lockport at No. 1 Loyola, 1 p,m. Saturday

Loyola has been mixing and matching at running back after Marco Maldonado suffered a broken collarbone against Brother Rice in Week 4, but quarterback Jake Stearney and a deep receiving corps have kept the offense afloat. The Ramblers (12-0) were held to just a field goal in last week’s win over Lincoln-Way East, but a defense led by James Kreutz made sure that was enough. Hayden Timosciek, Lockport’s 6-7 quarterback, and running back Ty Schultz have both been impact players in the playoffs. How strong is the Porters’ defense? The 22 points Lockport (11-1) gave up to Glenbard North last week were a season high.

Class 8A: No. 4 Maine South at No. 10 Marist, 1 p.m. Saturday

Marist’s three losses all came in the CCL/ESCC Blue, but they’re just a fading memory now that the RedHawks (9-3) are one win away from their first trip to state since 2015. Coastal Carolina-bound quarterback Dontrell Jackson Jr. has passed for 1,981 yards and 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions, and has rushed for 473 yards and three TDs. Jaylen Johnson (841 yards, 14 TDs) also has been productive in the ground game. Linebacker Jimmy Rolder, who just committed to Michigan, has 102 tackles and nine tackles for loss. Maine South (11-1) has been as good as any team in the state away from home, with wins at Warren and Neuqua Valley. Rowan Keefe threw for 218 yards and two TDs, including an 80-yarder to Northwestern recruit Chris Petrucci, last week against Neuqua Valley.

Class 7A: No. 3 Brother Rice at No. 6 Wheaton North, 4 p.m. Saturday

Jack Lausch, Rice’s Notre Dame-bound football and baseball player, continues to bolster his case for Player of the Year. Last week he ran for 253 yards and four touchdowns as the Crusaders (10-2) pulled away in the second half to beat Mount Carmel 41-28. Rice has some other difference makers as well in coach Brian Badke’s final season before stepping down. Running back Aaron Vaughn added 174 rushing yards against the Caravan and Khary Shaw has delivered some big plays on defense. Wheaton North (11-1) is seeking its first trip to state since winning the Class 5A title in 1986 under legendary coach Jim Rexilius. Holy Cross-bound quarterback Mark Forcucci and junior linebacker Ross Dansdill have been the Falcons’ leaders all season.

Class 7A: No. 17 Prospect at No. 7 St. Rita, 6 p.m. Saturday

St. Rita’s Kaleb Brown, an Ohio State recruit, was the Chicago area’s top-ranked prospect coming into the year. He was hurt in the opener against Mount Carmel and missed most of the season, But he’s back healthy and giving the Mustangs (10-2) another elite offensive option down the stretch. Prospect (10-2) also had an injury to a key player: quarterback Frank Covey. But Owen Walter has stepped in for the Knights (10-2), who also have been getting big plays from a defense that has six takeaways the past two weeks.

Class 5A, No. 19 Sycamore vs. No. 9 Fenwick, 1 p.m. Saturday at Triton

Fenwick (10-2) is a longtime Catholic League football power, but the Friars have never played for a state title. With Division I talent on both sides of the ball, this could be the year the drought ends. Quarterback Kaden Cobb, a Ball State recruit, has some speedy targets in Eian Pugh (Illinois) and Max Reese (Eastern Michigan) and good protection from the likes of center Jimmy Liston (Purdue). Sycamore also is playing for its first state final berth. The Spartans (9-3) have five shutouts, including the past two weeks against Glenbard South and St. Patrick.

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