Here are five games to keep an eye on in Saturday’s semifinals of the high school football playoffs.
We’re down to 16 teams who are all a win away from playing for a state championship Thanksgiving weekend in Champaign.
Loyola Academy (11-1) at York (12-0), 1 p.m.
It’s been a season of firsts for the Dukes — first 9-0 regular season, first semifinal appearance since 2006 — and now they hope to add one more.
York has never advanced to the state championship game. The Dukes will have to beat the state’s No. 1 ranked team in the AP Class 8A poll to do it. The Ramblers have made the semifinals 11 of the last 13 years and scored on their first three drives last week against Lyons.
York rallied from a 10-7 halftime deficit to beat Palatine 24-10 last week as QB Matt Vezza ran for 153 yards.
Glenbard West (11-1) at Lincoln-Way East (12-0), 1 p.m.
The other Class 8A semifinal pits another West Suburban Silver team, the Hilltoppers, whose only loss was to York, 17-13. They also have their hands full against the No. 2 team in the AP rankings, fresh off a lopsided win over Warren behind QB Braden Tischer’s three TD passes. Glenbard West RB Julius Ellens ran for 135 yards last week in a 37-34 win over Maine South.
Batavia (9-3) at Lake Zurich (11-1), 4 p.m.
In Class 7A, we get a rematch of the 2017 state championship game won by the Bulldogs, 21-14, over a Bears team that day that included current Bears middle linebacker Jack Sandborn — who made a game-high 11 tackles in that loss with 2 tackles for a loss and a fumble recovery.
There’s plenty of standouts on both of this year’s defenses as well. Batavia senior linebacker Tyler Jansey has a team-high 113 tackles and just made the Class 7A Coaches Association All-State team. Lake Zurich linebackers Cal Grabowski, Tyler Burkley and Lincoln Adams also are ones to watch while wide receiver/defensive back Tyler Erkman was selected to the same all-state team as Jansey after making one big play after another the last two weeks.
Batavia also beat Lake Zurich 37-0 in the first round of last year’s playoffs. The Bears already have made a 6-game improvement this season and are looking for one more.
Byron (11-1) at IC Catholic Prep (11-1), 3 p.m.
Here’s another rematch from last year’s playoffs. Byron came from 14-0 down to beat the Knights 15-14 in the semifinals on their way to the 2021 Class 3A state title.
IC, who had a rally of its own last week to win in overtime at Princeton, will try to avenge that loss behind a pair of all-state juniors: QB Dennis Mandala has thrown for 2,352 yards and 32 touchdowns while KJ Parker has 33 catches for 996 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Providence Catholic (8-4) at St. Francis (11-1), 2 p.m.
The Spartans are trying to get back to the state for the first time since winning the 2008 championship. It won’t be easy against Providence who is as battle tested as anyone in 4A — the Celtics lost to Wheaton North, Joliet Catholic, Loyola and St. Rita in the regular season. They already have avenged the loss to Joliet Catholic in the playoffs.
St. Francis RB Brady Parker has scored 5 touchdowns and run for 213 yards in the Spartans’ three playoff wins. Two-way lineman and Illinois recruit TJ McMillen made the 4A all-state team.