Scouting this weekend's playoff football games

By Dave Oberhelman

Class 5A semifinals

No. 4 Montini (11-1) at No. 2 Sterling (11-1)

Time: 2 p.m. Saturday.

Road to the semifinals: Montini beat No. 13 Woodstock North 42-7, No. 5 Sycamore 21-17 and No. 16 Evergreen Park 54-7; Sterling beat No. 15 Phoenix 49-0, No. 10 Brooks 55-12 and No. 3 Rockford Boylan 10-7.

Outlook: Montini and Sterling are both in their 31st playoff appearance, Montini the last 26 consecutively. Six-time state champion Montini seeks its ninth title-game appearance, Sterling its first.

Montini and Sterling both rotate two quarterbacks in a spread set and all four will throw the football. Both are big on the offensive line, averaging over 250 pounds. Each team tests the perimeter offensively and gets players in space but takes pride in ground games that have far outpaced those of their foes. Montini took a Week 9 loss to Brother Rice. Sterling also lost in Week 9, 35-7 to common foe Sycamore.

The Boylan game was Sterling's sole playoff squeaker. Montini led Evergreen Park 48-0 at halftime, one of the Broncos' two postseason runaways. Illinois-bound running back Nick Fedanzo ran for 100 yards to boost his season total to 1,146 yards with 14 touchdown runs. Quarterback Deontay Bell has run for 673 yards, 8 touchdowns and completed 42 of 65 passes for 656 yards, 9 touchdowns. Quarterback Robert Brazziel, a sophomore, has thrown for 717 yards, 12 touchdowns. Montini has thrown only 1 interception, while Broncos cornerbacks Scott West and Jermari Harris have 6 and 7 interceptions, respectively. West, Matt Ross and return specialist Zack Olson have caught between 3-5 touchdown passes apiece while junior Nate Muersch owns team highs of 26 catches, 402 yards, 8 touchdowns.

Montini defensive ends Frank Conforti and 6-foot-4 Fred Stokes have made 16 and 21 tackles for loss and 9 and 10 sacks, respectively. Defensive tackle Patrick Peters has made 70 tackles, 15 for loss, 7 sacks. Linebacker Jackson Bruscianelli, a three-year starter, leads Montini with 122 tackles and Trevor Swier has 100. Rover DiAndre Harris has come on to make 75 tackles. Montini averages 35 points and allows 9.

Run defense has been a Montini focus and it'll be required Saturday. Sterling averages 268 yards rushing, 102 passing behind the quarterback combo of Cam Bailey and Cooper Willman, also the Golden Warriors' second leading rusher. Both quarterbacks have completed at least 64 percent of their passes with Willman the better striking power with 687 yards passing, 9 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. Behind 6-5, 245-pound left tackle Nate Beyers and 6-6, 275-pound right tackle Jacob Capes, scatback Negil Bruce has burst for 874 yards and 13 touchdowns, including Sterling's single touchdown last week. Bruce leads four players with at least 448 yards rushing, including Willman with 646, D.J. Johnson with 567 and Marquez Williams with 448 yards rushing, 13 touchdowns. When Sterling elects to pass Weston Sisson, Alek Duran and Dylan Bryant have been the top targets, Sisson with 25 receptions for 422 yards, 5 touchdowns.

Winner of the Northern Illinois Big 12 West, Sterling averages 38 points and allows 12. Coach Jonathan Schlemmer said the key is to win the line of scrimmage. If that happens, senior linebacker Isaiah Ryan will rack up tackles and the offense will become more diverse.

Montini is plus-19 in turnover ratio, Sterling plus-17. Montini kicker West and Golden Warriors counterpart Eric Davila have made at least 90 percent of their extra-point attempts and each have 1 field goal. Davila hit the game-winner last week as time expired.

Advancement: The winner advances to the Class 5A championship game, 10 a.m. Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, against the winner between No. 1 Hillcrest (12-0) at No. 14 Joliet Catholic (8-4).

Class 4A semifinals

No. 3 Richmond-Burton (11-1) at No. 1 IC Catholic Prep (12-0)

Time: 4 p.m. Saturday.

Road to the semifinals: Richmond-Burton beat No. 14 Plano 42-0, No. 6 Genoa-Kingston 19-0 and No. 2 Coal City 17-14; IC Catholic beat No. 16 Raby 49-8, No. 9 Stillman Valley 31-0 and No. 5 Marengo 49-27.

Outlook: First-year Richmond-Burton coach Mike Noll, who coached at McHenry and Glenbrook South, leads the Rockets into their first semifinal appearance since placing second in Class 4A in 2011. IC Catholic Prep coach Bill Krefft's two-time defending Class 3A champion squad has won 13 straight playoff games and 24 straight overall. There have been two common foes this season: Aurora Central Catholic, which ICCP beat 59-0 and R-B beat 17-8; and Marengo, which dealt the Rockets their sole defeat in the Kishwaukee River Conference, 14-13 in Week 5.

Giving up 7 points on average, up front defensively Richmond-Burton goes with a three-man line of 6-3, 270-pound Logan Grant, 5-11, 210 Dylan Szumanski and their sole two-way lineman, 6-4, 260 Kyle Curran. Linebacker Dalton Wood has made 91 tackles while linebacker Mike Kaufman leads the Rockets with 95 tackles. Linebacker Nick Legnaioli and defensive back Devin Bailey each have made 4 interceptions, defensive back Payton Minzey with 3. A physical, collectively sound unit gets multiple tacklers to the ball. Richmond-Burton's defense has helped the Rockets go plus-7 in turnover ratio in the playoffs. Their defensive key here is not to allow the big play.

R-B runs primarily a ground-based, double-wing offense behind a line that averages around 6-1, 230 pounds. Kaufman has run the ball 208 times for 1,406 yards, 21 touchdowns. Fullback Wood has run for 583 yards, 8 touchdowns with Legnaioli at 363 yards, 4 touchdowns. Sophomore Jacob Huber earned the starting quarterback job Week 4 and has 546 yards passing. Logan Hutson and Jake Bassett each have 11 receptions. The Rockets get lots of mileage from punter Jimmy Horner and kicker Legnaioli - 7 of 8 on field goals, including last week's 27-yarder to beat Coal City late - but Noll knows some balance will be required to win this game.

Thus, IC Catholic's defensive goal is to stop the run and force the pass. That starts up front with 6-3, 310-pound Ricky Mysliwiec, 6-1 245 Kevin Akins, 5-11, 310 Koby Reed and 6-2, 235 A.J. Howard; against more-balanced Marengo the Knights went with the sleeker Corties Draper at one defensive end but here 6-0, 245 Michael Johnson may get some gap-plugging reps. Linebackers Kevin Cooke and Dom Krepulec and safety Ryan Malek were credited with 27, 15 and 11 tackles, respectively, but Krefft wasn't pleased with tackling against Marengo, which was within 22-20 of the Knights late in the first half. That has been addressed.

Noll's big-play concern centers around Knights running back Kyle Franklin. The sophomore scored 6 touchdowns as ICCP stats had him for 338 yards rushing, the most for any back in Krefft's seven years. Quarterback Khalil Saunders added 79 yards rushing and though the passing game warmed slowly against Marengo, Saunders threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Lytton. Purdue-bound receiver and safety Khali Saunders is always a touchdown waiting to happen and Malek has 20 catches, while Lytton leads ICCP with 26 catches and 461 yards, with 4 touchdowns. Finding early rhythm and maintaining offensive balance are the keys for Krefft, who got about 45 minutes of sleep Saturday before starting to prepare for Richmond-Burton.

Advancement: The winner advances to the Class 4A championship game, 7 p.m. Nov. 23 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, against the winner between No. 4 Rochester (11-1) at No. 3 Bishop McNamara (11-1).

- Dave Oberhelman

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