The (Frankfort) Lincoln-Way East Griffins have been one of the dominant football programs in the Chicago area for more then a decade.
A playoff team for the past 12 years, LW-East has won nearly 90 percent of its games since the 2004 season and been a perennial title contender in the ultra-competitive Southwest Suburban (Blue) Conference.
However against members of the Southwestern Conference, the Griffins are 1-1 with the loss coming at O'Fallon 17-16 in an '09 Class 7A playoff contest.
"The Southwestern Conference is one of the top conferences in the state as we found out a couple of years ago when we went down and got our butts beat against O'Fallon,'' LW-East coach Rob Zvonar said. "I've got a lot of respect for guys like Matt (Martin) at Edwardsville, Tim Funk at (Belleville) East and Cameron (Pettus) at Belleville West. You've got good coaches who run top programs.''
Top-seeded and undefeated, LW-East (11-0) will take on one of those top programs today when they host second-seeded Edwardsville (10-1) in a Class 7A quarterfinal.
The quarterfinal appearance is the Tigers fourth since 2001 and first under Martin, who in just his second full season, has the Edwardsville program back among the state's elite.
The Tigers advanced with a 21-18 win over SWC rival East St. Louis last week.
"Our kids have done a great job of doing what we've asked of them. They worked hard in the weight room and on their conditioning in the offseason and the Summer and have continued to improve as the season has gone on. I'm very proud of these kids,'' Martin said. "When you talk about Lincoln-Way East, you're talking about one of the top programs in the state which plays in a top conference.
"It's a big challenge for our kids. We're going to go up, give it our best effort and see what happens.''
LW-East features a balanced attack on offense which is led by senior quarterback Tom Fuessel. Headed to Northern Illinois University, Fuessel has thrown for 895 yards and rushed for over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns while directing the Griffins spread offense. Senior running back Nick Colangelo is another major weapon with 793 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"Tom (Fuessel) is the one it starts with for us. He's got a strong arm, but he's really run the football better this season,'' Zvonar said. "We run out of the spread offense, but we're probably not throwing the ball as much as we have in the past.
"In watching Edwardsville on film, they're very balanced and they don't make many mistakes. It should be strength against strength. I'm anticipating a good football game against two quality programs on Saturday night.''
Martin also knows LW-East is solid on both sides of the football.
"Offensively and defensively, they're just very good. They kind of remind me a little bit of Belleville West on offense and East St. Louis with the way they play on defense,'' Martin said. "And special teams wise, they're as good as we've run up against.
"They like to jump out quickly on teams.''
The winner of the Edwardsville-Lincoln-Way East game will play the winner of the Lisle (Benet Acadamy)-Downers Grove South game in a Class 7A semifinal game next week.
Today's game: Edwardsville (10-1) at (Frankfort) Lincoln-Way East (11-0), 6 p.m.
Last week: Edwardsville defeated East St. Louis 21-18; Lincoln-Way East defeated Providence Catholic 24-14
Edwardsville players to watch: RB: Bennett Gray (115-for-1,006 yards, 8TDs); RB: Sam Mulford (150-for-687 yards, 16TDs); QB: Will Collins (87-for-162, 1, 380 yards, 8TDs, 7 Int.); WR: Darius Crochrell (43 catches for 663 yards, 3TDs); WR: Julian Harvey (20 catches for 297 yards).
Lincoln-Way East players to watch: QB: Tom Fuessel (134 carries, 1,126 yards, 16 TDs; 60-for-106 pass attempts, 895 yards, 7TDs); RB: Nick Colangelo (110 carries, 793 yards, 11 TDs); RB: Justin Corbett 49 carries, 425 yards, 6TDs; 23 receptions, 426 yards, 2TDs).
Notes: Edwardsville is appearing in the playoffs for the 19th time and their two playoff wins the past two weeks pushes their all-time post season mark to 19-18. This is the Tigers fourth trip to the state quarterfinals since the 2001 season. Edwardsville placed second in Class 7A in 2001 and 2002 (losing the state title game to Mt. Prospect both times). The Tigers reached the Class 7A semifinals in 2005, losing to Chicago Mount Carmel 27-7. Lincoln-Way East is making its 12th straight playoff appearance. The Griffins won the Class 8A state title in 2005 and are an amazing 91-15 since the 2004 season.