Football state finals preview: Breaking down the Class 8 thru Class 4A title games

Loyola's Michael Gavric (44) finds an opening. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.
Loyola's Michael Gavric (44) finds an opening. Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times.

Loyola is playing for the Class 8A state title again. No one should be surprised, but almost everyone is.

The Ramblers were 3-3 at one point this season and needed overtime to beat St. Ignatius. They didn’t look anything like a team that would return to the state finals.

But it clearly was foolish to count out Loyola and coach John Holecek. The Ramblers (10-3) have played in the last three Class 8A title games and four of the last five.

They will face undefeated Brother Rice at 7 p.m. Saturday in Champaign.

‘‘None of us thought that everything was going to go this smoothly and that we would make a long playoff run,’’ Holecek said. ‘‘At the same time, we knew we could beat anyone in the state if we played our game. The kids kept on believing and fighting.’’

Loyola got healthier on offense throughout the season, and the defense became a dominant unit. The Ramblers shut out undefeated Oswego in the second round and blanked perennial power Maine South in the quarterfinals.

Then Loyola shocked the state by knocking off undefeated and seemingly unbeatable Lincoln-Way East 24-16 in the semifinals.

Linebacker Armoni Dixon and linebacker/safety Jake Gonzalez, a Sun-Times All-Area selection, are the guys to watch.

Dixon and Gonzalez will have their hands full with Brother Rice quarterback John Bean. He has thrown for 18 touchdowns and rushed for 14 more and always seems to make the right decision.

The Crusaders also have a dominant defense, so expect a low-scoring game. Brother Rice is allowing only five points a game in the playoffs and has two shutouts.

Class 7A: Nazareth (12-1) vs. St. Charles North (10-3), 4 p.m. Saturday

Roadrunners quarterback JJ McCarthy is one of the star attractions in the state. Illinois rarely produces passers of his caliber. He is 161-for-219 for 3,088 yards with 35 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

Diamond Evans (56 catches, 12 touchdowns) and Michael Love (54 catches, 18 touchdowns) are McCarthy’s two primary targets.

St. Charles North senior Tyler Nubin, a Minnesota recruit, willed his team to an overtime victory against Mount Carmel in the semifinals. He’s the North Stars’ best rusher, receiver and defensive player.

Class 6A: Cary-Grove (13-0) vs. Crete-Monee (10-3), 1 p.m. Saturday

Cary-Grove’s triple-option threat of quarterback Ben McDonald and running backs Danny Daigle and Blake Skol has been unstoppable this season.

Daigle isn’t a flashy college prospect, but he is one of the best high school football players in the state. He is a force on both sides of the ball.

McDonald’s smarts and arm helped lead Cary-Grove to Champaign. He was 85-for-119 with 18 touchdowns and only one interception this season.

Crete-Monee could play three quarterbacks: Trayvon Rudolph, Vontrell Banks and Ronald Carroll Jr.

‘‘Each of them does something very well,’’ Warriors coach John Konecki said. ‘‘I try to maximize their potential, and they do a fantastic job in the roles we ask them to.’’

Class 5A: Montini (12-1) vs. Joliet Catholic (9-4), 10 a.m. Saturday

A great rivalry game. Montini is the favorite after beating Loyola in Wilmette earlier this season. The Broncos have an excellent quarterback tandem in Robert Brazziel and Deontay Bell. Illinois recruit Nick Fedanzo is a solid running back and a huge threat on kick returns.

The Hilltoppers have one of the best rushing attacks in the area. Most of the players on the offensive line are three-year starters. Running back Keenan Hailey has 300 carries for 2,541 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Class 4A: IC Catholic (13-0) vs. McNamara (12-1), 7 p.m. Friday

IC Catholic won the last two Class 3A titles and has been dominant in almost every game this season. The only team to give the Knights a real challenge was McNamara, so this should be a fun one.

IC Catholic pulled out a 21-20 victory against McNamara in September. Knights running back Kyle Franklin has rushed for 2,151 yards and 35 touchdowns.

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10 comments

  • Metal Bleachers are Best

    Saturday Picks…

    JCA 35 Montini 20 – By all views, Montini should win. But, JCA offensive line has been almost perfect the last 5 weeks.
    Cary Grove 35 Crete Monee 20 – CM dream ends. This CG team may be better than Prairie Ridge in both 2016 and 2017.
    Nazareth 35 St Charles North 20- Nubian can’t cover Evans and Love on same play. Guess is Evans is neutralized, but Naz has too much athleticism.
    Brother Rice 27 Loyola 10 – BR has been best in State all year and it’s not going to change. They’re just too good and so well coached. Remember, BR was last team in 8A – second best team in State is Marist.

    • Paul

      I still can’t believe Richards blew that game against CM. I’m not saying CM isn’t talented but Richards on paper had way more talent.

    • South Suburban Rambler

      Congrats to John Holecek and the LA Ramblers!! Newly crowned 2018 8A State Champs. I’m a former resident of Country Club Hills, IL now living in Pearland, TX and I still follow Chicago Area H.S. football closely even in football crazy Texas. I was just telling my son(a member of LA’s 13 – 0 2011 Team) on this morning of the spectacular job John has done with this 2018 team. At one point in the season, we they 3 – 3 and everybody counted them out. And lo and behold, LA ran off 8 straight to take the title!! Superb coaching job by John Holecek’s staff and the Rambler kids who absolutely played their hearts out. They deserve it. Congrats again!!

  • West sub fan

    IC 27 McNamara 21
    Montini 28 JCA 16
    Cary Grove 28 Crete Monee 21
    Naz 34 St Charles North 21
    Loyola 24 Br Rice 14

  • Observer

    Where’s Public Powerhouse this year?

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