The metro-east started with 14 teams in the IHSA football playoffs. That number was quickly cut down to five after the first round.
Now three teams —Edwardsville, East St. Louis and Highland — remain in contention for a state championship. Each will play in the quarterfinal round Saturday, the Tigers and Bulldogs both on their home turf and the Flyers on the road in Chicago.
Here’s a quick look at each team in Week 12 of the season and their quarterfinal opponent:
Class 8A: No. 15 Minooka at No. 26 Edwardsville, 4 p.m.
▪ Scouting the Tigers (8-3): Edwardsville rallied to eight straight wins and a Class 8A quarterfinal berth on the strength of a deep ground game. Junior Dionte Rodgers, who was among the region’s leaders last season, had 281 yards rushing before going down to an injury in the second game of the season. It took a while for the Tigers to find their legs after that.
But junior quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman eventually broke out with 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a Week 5 win over Alton. He now leads the team with 1,283 yards and 23 touchdowns to go along with his 646 passing yards and eight more scores. Antonio Thigpen Jr. (517 yards, 14 touchdowns) has since had three 100-yard games, as has Justin Johnson (611 yards, eight touchdowns). In the meantime, Rodgers has returned.
The Tigers’ ground game has generated an average of 41.4 points per game.
Defensively, Edwardsville allowed 22 points per game during the regular season, but has surrendered at least 35 points in each of its first two playoff games. The Tigers had to fight back from a 17-point deficit to nip No. 7 Huntley 42-38. It took a 31-yard field goal by Devin Parker in the game’s final minute to knock off Palatine 38-35.
▪ Scouting the Indians (9-2): Minooka quietly built its playoff resume in the Southwest Prairie Conference, where it lost only to first-place Oswego and in an upset by Plainfield South. Its 25.1 points per game is among the lowest offensive averages in the 8A field, but so is its 9.8 points allowed.
Senior quarterback Zach Gessner is 95 of 181 passing for 1,007 yards with nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Max Christiano is the top receiver with 16 catches for 217 yards and four scores.
The Indians have five backs with more than 100 rushing yards, including Owen Kappel, who leads with 676 yards on 148 carries and five touchdowns. Sophomore Connor Etzkorn has 353 yards and eight touchdowns.
Linebacker Tyler Haase leads the team with 59 tackles and Colin Schuster has four of Minooka’s 13 pass interceptions.
▪ Next: The winner advances to the semifinals against No. 3 Chicago Marist (11-0) or No. 6 Loyola Academy (10-1)
Class 7A: No. 7 East St. Louis at No. 18 Chicago Mount Carmel, 5 p.m.
▪ Scouting the Flyers (10-1): East St. Louis has put its depth on display all season long.
When all-Southwestern Conference running back Jarrell Anderson went down with a knee injury on the first play of the season, Jigg Brown stepped into his spot and leads the team with 1,216 yards rushing. When quarterback Christian Perez was lost in Week 9, Eric Johnson stepped up and completed 60 percent of his passes for 493 yards and five touchdowns through two playoff games.
It was DeMonta Witherspoon, who missed time with his own injury, who led the way for East Side in a second-round win over Buffalo Grove on Saturday, rushing for 213 yards and three touchdowns.
A Flyers offense that averages 42.9 points has five running backs with at least 100 yards and nine receivers who have caught touchdown passes. Eric Rogers II leads the team with 51 catches for 844 yards and six scores. Lawaun Powell has 37 catches for 596 yards and 13 touchdowns.
But defense has been the defending Class 7A state champion’s calling card in 2017. The Flyers have forced 21 turnovers and have sacked the quarterback 55 times. Oliver McDowell has 97 tackles and 13 sacks and Imuniqe Williams has 102 tackles and 11 sacks.
Rogers has a team-high 127 tackles with five sacks, a fumble recovery and four interceptions.
▪ Scouting the Caravan (8-3): Mount Carmel reached the quarterfinal with a stunning 14-13 win over unbeaten and No. 2-seeded Normal last week. The Caravan forced a pair of turnovers in the game and blocked the game-tying PAT.
Mount Carmel’s three losses came against playoff teams: Loyola Academy, St. Rita and De La Salle. It closed the season with wins over two other playoff teams, Montini and Providence.
Along the way, the Caravan have managed to outscore their opponents by an average of 18.1 points, posting 35.4 points on offense and allowing just 17.3 points on defense.
The player to watch is Alek Thomas, a baseball and football recruit at Texas Christian University. He missed three games at the start of the season to play for Team USA in the U18 World Baseball Championship. He shifted from quarterback to a multipurpose back who, in a comeback win against Providence, rushed for 93 yards and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass.
Mount Carmel has used three players at quarterback, including Thomas, but has settled on junior Radomir Premovic.
▪ Next: The winner advances to the semifinals against No. 3 Lake Zurich (11-0) or No. 11 Chicago St. Rita (9-2)
Class 4A: No. 3 Herscher at No. 2 Highland, 5 p.m.
▪ Scouting the Tigers (10-1): Herscher’s only loss of the season came in Week 9 when it fell 35-28 to Peotone. That was the Tigers’ lowest offensive output of the year after twice topping 60 points and three more times scoring more than 40. Five of those opponents qualified for the playoffs.
Herscher has breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs posting 48 and 43 points respectively in wins over Columbia and Taylorville, while allowing a combined 20 points in those two games.
The offense is powered by senior quarterback Tyler Jarnagin, who completes 66 percent of his passes for 2,158 yards. He’s tossed 21 touchdowns — eight of them to senior Tyler Stuart — and has been intercepted just once. He also has rushed for 1,283 yards and 22 touchdowns, three of them in last week’s second-round victory. Senior running back Anthony Koranda also has 1,283 rushing yards rushing and 23 scores.
Defensively, the Tigers have forced 26 turnovers, led by Jarnagin and Luke Cross, who have four interceptions and one fumble recovery apiece.
▪ Scouting the Bulldogs (11-0): Highland’s 57-14 second-round win over Effingham marked the sixth time this season the Bulldogs have topped 50 points in a game. They’ve gone over 60 points three times.
The offense is remarkably balanced having amassed 2,674 yards passing, all on the arm of senior quarterback Garrett Marti, and 2,527 yards on the ground.
Marti has completed 67 percent of his 222 pass attempts with 36 touchdowns and just one interception. Junior Sam LaPorta, with 54 catches for 1,076 yards and 18 touchdowns, remains his favorite target. But four others have caught at least 10 passes for a combined 18 scores.
Brady Feldman leads Highland with 955 yards rushing, but also has caught 32 passes for 548 yards. He has 28 total touchdowns.
Overshadowed is the Bulldog defense, which has created 27 turnovers in holding opponents to an average of just 15.3 points per game. LaPorta leads the way with seven interceptions and a fumble recovery. Kyle Lane leads the team with 111 tackles and shares the sacks lead with Josh Burke.
▪ Next: The winner advances to the semifinals against No. 1 Rochester (11-0) or No. 4 Herrin (10-1).