The drama continues with this weekend's championship games

Drama and Group Interpretation is an official IHSA activity, with state finals held the final weekend of March at the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Unfortunately for high school football fans, drama and a lot of interpretation were unofficial activities this week leading up to the state championship games on this final weekend of November at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Plainfield North's controversial Class 7A semifinal overtime decision over Fenwick has produced no shortage of armchair quarterbacking, coaching, officiating, lawyering and administrating. The IHSA's admission that a misinterpretation of the rules that cost Fenwick a victory in regulation time was not enough to appease those affiliated with the school who wanted the on-field decision overturned.

The IHSA stood behind its by-laws that it could not take away the on-field result, which favored Plainfield North. So, Fenwick took the matter to court on Wednesday but lost there, too.

Hopefully there will be a lot more drama on the field during this weekend's eight title games at Memorial Stadium. What happened this week will be a hot topic for a long time but it will be nice to shine some of the spotlight on the field of play.

So, it's time for our annual exercise in picking the winners. If you picked the IHSA to upend Fenwick in court, then you are already ahead of the game.

And here is a suggestion for all coaches in any sport. Make sure you or someone on your staff has a National Federation of State High School Associations (NHFS) rule book at games or meets. You never know when it might be needed.

Saturday's games

Class 8A

Loyola (13-0) vs. Maine South (10-3), 7 p.m.

The best matchup could be saved for last if it's anything like their Week 2 meeting where Loyola won 44-43. The defending 8A champions have continued to roll and bring a 27-game winning streak to Champaign. Duke-bound TE Jake Marwede can catch (41 receptions, 544 yards, 6 TDs) and run (14 TDs) and throw when he lines up at QB. Senior Tommy Herion does most of the throwing (2,115 yards, 18 TDs) with David Terrell Jr. (55 catches, 886 yards, 7 TDs), the son of former Bears WR David Terrell Sr., as his top target. Kyle Rock (1,128 yards, 18 TDs) leads the running game for coach John Holecek.

Maine South was 1-2 after a loss to Barrington and 4-3 after its 77-game Central Suburban South winning streak was snapped by New Trier. But coach Dave Inserra decided to let some of his top offensive players such as Michigan State-bound OG-NG Kevin Jarvis (6-5, 340) go both ways and that helped the Hawks avenge their Barrington loss and give West Aurora and Palatine their first defeats in the playoffs. The offense is prolific as usual with dual-threat QB Nick Leongas (3,787 total yards, 38 TDs), RB Fotis Kokosioulis (1,358 yards, 21 TDs) and K Sean McNulty (12-for-16 field goals).

The pick: These are two programs that expect to be here every year with Maine South owning three titles and three runner-up finishes since 2003 under Inserra. But a convincing semi win over Glenbard West, last year's 7A champ, shows Loyola is ready for a second straight title 36-20.


East St. Louis (13-0) vs. Plainfield North (11-2), 4 p.m.

East St. Louis had to wait until the late Wednesday morning court ruling to know for sure its opponent would be Plainfield North. But the Flyers are also familiar with fates being out of their hands since 4 forfeits from a teacher's strike last year led to a rare season without a playoff trip. The seven-time state champs have rebounded perfectly behind Missouri-bound QB Rey Estes (2,513 total yards), RB Jarrell Anderson (1,306 yards, 21 TDs) and standout senior WR-S Jeff Thomas (47 catches, 996 yards, 11 TDs). They did survive a big second-round scare from Glenbard North.

Plainfield North had never won a playoff game before this year and now owns one of the state's most memorable and controversial victories after its 18-17 overtime semifinal decision against Fenwick. RB Tyler Hoosman (1,625 yards, 26 TDs), QB Brady Miller (1,868 yards, 20 TDs) and WR-K Connor Peplow (50 catches, 783 yards, 7 TDs) lead a balanced offense. Coach Tim Kane is also familiar with the Flyers from his six-year stint at Collinsville (1997-2002).

The pick: Plainfield North will definitely be fired up to prove it belongs here after a crazy week. But East St. Louis will prove it made the right decision by moving up one class with a 34-14 win for its first title since 2008.


Springfield Griffin (13-0) vs. Prairie Ridge (13-0), 1 p.m.

This year's only matchup of unbeaten teams features two offenses that use different methods of piling up the points. Griffin, which won five titles between 2005-14 under Ken Leonard, can throw it with Tim Brenneisen (2,436 yards, 26 TDs) or run it with Tremayne Lee (2,108 yards). Prairie Ridge's 3-5-3 led by two-way junior D-I prospect Jeff Jenkins (6-4, 250), Army-bound LB-TE Austen Ferbet, MLB Jacob Ommen and ILB Joe Perhats has answered every challenge.

Slowing the Wolves' triple option will be a major task for Griffin's defense led by lineman John Pempek. Junior QB Samson Evans (1,870, 38 TDs) and RBs Manny Ebirim (971, 10 TDs) and Cole Brown (827, 11 TDs) combine speed, power and machine-like precision. Evans is only 28-for-51 passing but has 13 TDs - with 9 going to the 6-4 Ferbet.

The pick: Both teams come in off much-needed semifinal tests. Prairie Ridge has been on a mission since last year's tough semifinal loss to Montini and will complete it by adding to its 2011 state title 42-35.


Peoria Central (12-1) vs. Vernon Hills (10-3), 10 a.m.

Vernon Hills makes its first state trip behind a stingy 3-5-3 defense led by LBs Chick Smith, Jeff Rosenstock and James Hommer. The Cougars rebounded from a loss to Highland Park to end the regular season and have allowed only 24 points in the postseason. Senior QB Kyle Hull can throw and run and Andre Szmyt is a big weapon with 9 field goals in 11 tries and a long of 48 yards.

But the Cougars will get their ultimate defensive test as Peoria Central has been putting up points that the traditional state basketball powerhouse would be hard-pressed to match. The Lions need just a safety to break the state record of 744 points and had an eye-popping 96-40 second-round win over Decatur Eisenhower. Junior RB Geno Hess (2,597 yards, 42 TDs), dual-threat QB Coran Taylor (1,537, 19 TDs rushing; 1,327, 15 TDs passing) and Jaleen James (1,313 yards, 21 TDs) have been nearly unstoppable behind a line that averages 6-3, 288.

The pick: Hull and Vernon Hills' offense definitely need to complement their tough defense. But Peoria Central appears to have too much firepower and will obliterate the state scoring record 54-20.

Friday's games


Rochester (12-1) vs. Johnsburg (13-0), 7 p.m.

Last Friday's overtime semifinal win over defending 4A champion Phillips could be the biggest thing to happen to Johnsburg sports since it reached the Class AA boys basketball Elite Eight in 2003 or big C.J. Fiedorowicz was dominating the athletic landscape on the way to his current job as a TE with the Houston Texans. Senior RB Alex Peete (2,295 yards, 37 TDs) has more than 5,000 career yards and DB Blake Lemcke has been vital on defense and special teams.

Rochester is back at state after a five-year run of titles ended in last season's quarterfinals. The Rockets avenged that loss to Belleville Althoff 48-47 in the same round and the only loss for coach Derek Leonard's team was 33-28 in Week 8 to his dad Ken and 6A finalist Springfield Griffin. Senior Avante Cox is a big-time receiving threat for QB Nic Baker.

The pick: Peete will be tough to handle but Rochester's experience, which showed as it rallied from a 19-point deficit against Althoff, will show as it pulls away 47-28.


IC Catholic (13-0) vs. Carlinville (12-1), 4 p.m.

No one has been able to stop IC Catholic, Northern Illinois-bound RB Jordan Rowell (2,025 yards, 34 TDs) and QB Luke Ricobene (2,247 yards passing, 27 TDs) en route to 678 points. And the Knights have kept seven opponents from scoring and more than half of their points allowed came in a Week 2 63-49 win over a St. Laurence team with more than three times as many students.

The pick: The big hope for Carlinville is to control the clock and score at every opportunity with senior RB Jacob Dixon (2,998 yards, 45 TDs). But no one else has been able to do it successfully so IC Catholic wins its third title and first under alum Bill Krefft 60-21.


Deer Creek-Mackinaw (12-1) vs. Maroa-Forsyth (12-1), 1 p.m.

Both teams can put points on the board. Maroa scored 70 in its season opener and Dee-Mack beat Chicago Hope 91-70 in a wild - no, not Arena football or basketball - second-round game. Dee-Mack relies heavily on RB-LB Jared Reese (1,951 yards, 29 TDs) while Maroa is more balanced with QB Tyler Ray (2,293 yards, 32 TDs) and RB Jaxson Nelson (1,119 yards, 15 TDs).

The pick: Maroa has been more consistent offensively in the playoffs but Dee-Mack is a safety away from 6 shutouts. Dee-Mack pulls it out 35-21.


Decatur St. Teresa (12-1) vs. Forreston (13-0), 10 a.m.

Forreston has relied on a stingy defense that has allowed 68 points and a running game behind a line that averages 226 pounds to get a shot at its second title in three years. St. Teresa will test that defense with sophomore RB Jacardia Wright (2,485 yards, 39 TDs), who is already getting big-time college interest, and QB Ryan Fyke (2,074 yards, 25 TDs).

The pick: This could be a fun start to the weekend. St. Teresa will have too many Wright answers for Forreston in a 27-20 win.

  Vernon Hills' Chris Mariella grabs the live ball out of the air after teammate Jake Morris, right, tipped the pass away from Sycamore's Robert Cole, on the ground, in the final minutes last Saturday at Sycamore. John Starks/
  Benet Academy's Danny O'Malley (2) wraps up East St. Louis' Jigg Brown (11) during Class 7A semifinal playoff football action in Lisle. East St. Louis meets Plainfield North for the Class 7A championship on Saturday. Daniel White/
  Loyola Academy's Jake Marwede catches a late first-half touchdown pass against Glenbard West during the Class 8A semifinals in Glen Ellyn. The Ramblers meet Maine South in Saturday night's championship game in Champaign. Daniel White/
  Palatine's Josh Turner is turned away from the end zone by a tough Maine South defense in Class 8A semifinal action. The Hawks face Loyola for the Class 8A state championship Saturday in Champaign. Mark Welsh/
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