Wauconda (9-0) leads 8 Lake County teams into playoffs

It's been about checking boxes this season for the Wauconda football team.

And so far, the Bulldogs are 2-0.

"At the beginning of the year, we talked to our kids and they had three big goals: they wanted to win our conference (Northern Lake County Conference) and they wanted to go 9-0," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "And we're just checking those boxes off."

Check. Check.

"The third thing is that they wanted to wreck everyone's Thanksgiving," Mills said with a laugh.

The Bulldogs, who put together the program's first undefeated regular season in school history, have nothing against turkey, or the Thanksgiving holiday for that matter. That third box they want to check off has to do with advancing far enough in the upcoming state playoffs to be playing during the week of Thanksgiving. That would mean Wauconda would be in the state championship game.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs learned what their path to a state championship game could look like. The IHSA conducted its football playoffs bracket show and announced the first-round playoff games that will start next weekend for all eight classes in the state.

Wauconda earned a No. 2 seed in Class 6A and will face NLCC foe Lakes, which is a No. 15 seed with a 5-4 record. The Bulldogs defeated Lakes in Week 6, 29-13.

"It was a battle and they tested us," Mills said of Lakes. "They are familiar and they're a good team. We just have to be who we are (to win again). We're a great defensive team, we run the ball well and we play physical football."

Also in Class 6A is Grayslake Central, making its first playoff appearance since 2011. The 7-2 Rams earned the No. 9 seed and are matched up against No. 8 Belvidere North, which is also 7-2.

No. 10 Vernon Hills (7-2) will take on No. 7 Prairie Ridge, also 7-2. And No. 11 Antioch (6-3) will face No. 6 Lake Forest (7-2).

In Class 8A, Warren "wrecked" Thanksgiving the last time the IHSA staged the state playoffs by advancing to the 2019 state championship game. The Blue Devils are 8-1 this season and got the No. 5 seed. The Blue Devils will face No. 28 Barrington, which slipped into the playoffs with a 5-4 record.

Warren shut out Barrington 19-0 in the season opener. It was one of six shutouts on the season for the Blue Devils, who are allowing an anemic 3 points per game.

The Blue Devils ended the regular season on Friday night by giving up 14 points to Lake Forest in an 18-14 win. That was more points in that single game than they had allowed in the previous eight games (13 points).

"Our defense isn't happy about that," Warren coach Bryan McNulty said of the 14 points to Lake Forest. "They have very high standards and 14 points isn't acceptable to them. I think that's really going to motivated them this week."

McNulty thinks his players are also motivated by the idea of finishing what the 2019 team started.

"We don't have any kids left on our team right now from that 2019 team," McNulty said. "But they know about that team and they see this as their chance to write their own story and to create their own legacy."

In Class 7A, No. 18 Libertyville (6-3) will be in for a long road trip, taking on No. 15 Pekin (7-2). The Wildcats are hoping a late shot in the arm will give them some playoff momentum. They had lost three of four games before getting an exhilarating 22-21 win on Friday night over rival Stevenson in the regular season finale.

Meanwhile, No. 32 Lake Zurich, which won four of its last five games, qualified on points with a 5-4 record and will travel to take on 9-0 Batavia, the top seed.

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