Previewing the top high school football state quarterfinals

A look at five of this weekend’s best games.

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Morris’s Jack Wheeler (27) shows a little swagger after scoring a 70-yard touchdown as he celebrates with A.J. Zweeres (1).

Morris’s Jack Wheeler (27) shows a little swagger after scoring a 70-yard touchdown as he celebrates with A.J. Zweeres (1).

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Class 8A: No. 3 Lincoln-Way East at No. 12 Warren, 7 p.m. Saturday

Lincoln-Way East (11-0) is seeking its fifth trip to the semifinals since 2017. The Griffins have a savvy veteran quarterback in Braden Tischer and a productive back in Nuri Muhammad. And the offense doesn’t have to light up the scoreboard, thanks to a defense that hasn’t allowed more than 14 points and has shut out its last three opponents. Junior edge rusher Caden O’Rourke, whose scholarship offers include Illinois, Iowa and Northwestern, is a playmaker. Warren (9-2) has won nine in a row after opening with losses to fellow quarterfinalists Barrington and Maine South. As usual, the Blue Devils play tough defense (eight points per game allowed during their winning streak) and run the ball well with sophomore Aaron Stewart (1,446 yards, 15 TDs) and senior Donovan McNeal (941 yards, 23 TDs).

8A: No. 5 Maine South at No. 6 Barrington, 5 p.m. Saturday

Maine South (10-1) lost starting quarterback Jack DeFilippis in the first half of a 10-7, season-opening loss to Brother Rice. Constantine Coines stepped in and has helped the Hawks win 10 in a row since. Junior Michael Dellumo has been a productive back running behind a line anchored by junior Zak Stoilov. Barrington (11-0) has a nicely balanced offense led by quarterback Nick Peipert (2,301 yards, 30 TDs, three interceptions) and running back Dillon Fitzpatrick (1,481 yards, 22 TDs). The Broncos have a knack for winning the close ones, going 5-0 in one-possession games.

Class 5A: No. 11 Morgan Park at No. 10 St. Francis, 12:30 p.m. Saturday

Morgan Park (10-1), the last Public League team standing in the IHSA bracket, is looking for its first semifinal berth since 2004 and second overall. The Mustangs came from 11 down at halftime last week to beat Sycamore and have a productive offense led by quarterback Marcus Thaxton, running back Keshawn Lewis-Hunt and Wyoming-bound receiver Chris Durr. Illinois commit Tysean Griffin, Jovan Clark and Jahmere Washington lead one of the best secondaries in the area. St. Francis (9-2) has one of the premier quarterbacks in the state in Ball State commit Alessio Milivojevic (2,935 yards, 75% completion rate, 41 total TDs, four interceptions), along with a dynamic back in Tyvonn Ransom (1,218 yards, nine TDs).

5A: No. 19 Nazareth at No. 13 Carmel, 2 p.m. Saturday

Defending Class 5A champ Nazareth (6-5) was one of six 4-5 teams to squeak into the 256-team IHSA playoff bracket. The Roadrunners knocked out previously unbeaten Prairie Ridge in the first round, then shut out 9-1 Glenbard South last week. Three-year starting quarterback Logan Malachuk leads the offense, and four-star junior edge rusher Gabe Kaminski, who has more than a dozen Power Five scholarship offers, paces the defense. Carmel (10-1), whose only loss was to defending Class 7A champ Mount Carmel, has a proven veteran quarterback in Southeast Missouri commit Johnny Weber and a talented back in Donovan Dey.

5A: No. 24 Joliet Catholic at No. 15 Morris, 3 p.m. Saturday

This is the seventh playoff meeting of the far southwest suburban rivals, a series Joliet Catholic leads 4-2, including victories in the Class 5A title games in 2001 and 2004. The Hilltoppers (8-3) scored two defensive touchdowns last week against Triad and ran for 337 yards, with Keegan Farnaus and HJ Grigsby leading the way. Running back Jacob Swartz has been a reliable option all season for Morris (11-0), which rallied in the fourth quarter to eliminate Sacred Heart-Griffin 39-36 last week.

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