High School Football

A look ahead to metro-east matchups in round one of the high school football playoffs

Fifteen teams from the St. Louis metro-east region advanced to the IHSA high school football playoffs, which begin this weekend.

Here’s a look ahead to their first-round games:

Class 8A: St. Charles East (17) at Edwardsville (16)

Kickoff: Friday, 6 p.m.

Scouting the Saints (7-2): A member of the rugged DuKane Conference, a league which including former state champions Batavia, Wheaton-Warrenville South and Glenbard North, the Saints shouldn’t be in awe when they make the 270-mile trek south to take on the Tigers. The Saints, whose biggest win of the season came in week seven when a late touchdown pass by sophomore quarterback Nathan Hayes lifted them past Batavia (30-29), have played in five games decided by six points or less. St. Chales East is making its fourth straight trip into the playoffs and 25th overall. The Saints have a postseason mark of 18-24.

Scouting the Tigers (7-2) Led by veteran head coach Matt Martin, the Tigers are making their 26th playoff appearance and ninth in a row. Ranked in the Class 8A state poll top 10 for most of the season, the Tigers stumbled against St. Louis power CBC, 44-27, in week two then gave Class 6A favorite and Southwestern Conference rival East St. Louis a battle for a half before falling 43-21. Edwardsville, which reached the Class 8A quarterfinals a year ago, is led by junior running back Justin Johnson who has rushed for 722 yards an d nine touchdowns. Johnson is ranked as the No. 5 junior in the state by 247Sports. Senior linebackers Jacob Morrissey (33 tackles) and Trey Klein (29 tackles) are two of several outstanding defenders for Edwardsville.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Edwardsville-St Charles East game will take on either No. 32 Joliet West (4-5) or No. 1 Minooka (9-0).

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The Flyer’s DaMonta Witherspoon carries the ball during a Southwestern Conference game at Belleville East. Chris Johns Stlsportsphoto

Class 6A: Chicago Morgan Park (16) at East St. Louis (1)

Kickoff: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Scouting the Mustangs (5-3); A member of the Chicago Public League’s Land of Lincoln Division, the Mustangs enter the first round game on a three-game winning streak. Morgan Park’s final regular season game was wiped out by the Chicago teachers’ strike. Led by junior quarterback Camron Fulton and senior running back/linebacker Noah Malone, the Mustangs have outscored their opponents 208-126 and placed second in their league behind Chicago Phillips. Coached by Chris James, Morgan Park is making its 23rd trip into the IHSA postseason and has compiled a mark of 16-22.

Scouting the Flyers (9-0): Thought to be the top team in the state in any class by many, the Flyers have raced through the Southwestern Conference and four tough non-conference opponents, outscoring their foes 448-120. Making their 39th appearance in the IHSA postseason, East St. Louis has a remarkable 91-30 playoff record which includes eight state championships and three runner-up finishes. Thought to be one of veteran coach Darren Sunkett’s most talented teams, the Flyers are loaded with future NCAA division I players including quarterback Tyler Macon (2,837 passing yards, 27 touchdowns), running back DaMonta Witherspoon (1,100 yards, 19 TDs), wide receivers Lawaun Powell (33 receptions, 547 yards, 3 TDs) and Dominic Lovett (42 catches, 980 yards, 10 T0 TDs). Senior and University of Tennessee recruit Javontez Spraggins (6-6, 310) is among the best offensive linemen in the midwest, while on defense senior all-American defensive back Antonio Johnson has committed to Texas A & M.

UP NEXT: The winner of the East St. Louis-Morgan Park game will take on either No. 9 Rock Island (7-2) or No. 8 Dunlap (7-2).

Triad’s Sam Yager tries to break free from Highland’s Eli Jones. He hopes to help the Knights’ reverse a three-game slide. Photo by Jody Becker Photography

Class 5A: Triad (14) at Marion (3)

Kickoff: Saturday, 2 p.m.

SCOUTING THE KNIGHTS (6-3): The Knights looked like one of the top teams in the St. Louis area in rolling up six straight wins to start the season, But after suffering a 21-7 loss to rival Highland in week seven coach Paul Bassler’s squad struggled to the finish line with a three-game losing streak. Making their 22nd trip to the IHSA postseason, Triad is 10-21 all-time in the playoffs. Senior quarterback Logan Wongler (717 yards, 7 TDs) and running backs Sam Yager (701 yards, 7 TDs) and Luke Foreman (600 yards 7 TDs) lead the Knights run oriented offense while linebackers Kaden Marmon (73 tackles, 5 sacks) and Andrew Gula (58 tackles) lead a Knights defensive unit which has allowed 70 points the past three weeks.

SCOUTING THE WILDCATS (8-1): One of the most successful and consistent programs in southern Illinois for over a decade under coach Kerry Martin, the Wildcats are making their 15th straight trip to the postseason and enter the contest with Triad looking to add another win or two after sharing the South Seven Conference title with Carbondale and Cahokia. Quarterback Lucas Will is a gifted runner and passer, firing a combined six touchdown passes in wins over playoff teams Highland and Cahokia earlier this season. Wide receiver Jacob Tucker has been one of several targets for Will.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Triad-Marion game will play either No. 11 Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin or No. 6 Morris.

Cahokia’s Shawn Binford sacks Chaminade’s Brady Cook during a game at the Gateway Scholars Classic in East St. Louis during Week 1 of the season. Photo by Chris Johns

Class 5A: Highland (10) at Cahokia (7)

Kickoff: Saturday, 2 p.m.

SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS (6-3) After graduating several exceptional skilled position players the past two years from teams which reached the state semifinals (2017) and quarterfinals (2018), the young Bulldogs have rebounded from a 1-3 start to win their last five games and advance into the playoffs for an eighth straight year. Led by coach Jim Warnecke, Highland has put over 40 or more points on the scoreboard in five of its last last six games. Freshman quarterback Brent Wuebbles has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards with 16 touchdown passes while running back Logan Chandler has run for more than 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. The Bulldogs defense is led by senior defensive back Conner Sands (64 tackles) and sophomore linebacker Bryce Iberg (63 tackles).

SCOUTING THE COMANCHES (7-2): Like Highland, Cahokia advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals a year ago where it lost to Hillcrest. Now, after several seasons of not making the playoffs, Cahokia is back for a second straight time and is making its 18th playoff appearance overall. Junior quarterback Ch ris Bradley has been sensational in his first season at Cahokia, completing nearly 70% of his throws for over 1,900 yards and 16 touchdowns. After running for over 1,300 yards a season ago, senior running back Vincent Perry has 970 yards and eight scores this season. On defense senior linebackers Emori Lee (93 tackles) and Shawn Binford (82 tackles, 9 sacks) lead the way.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Highland-Cahokia game will play either No. 15 LaSalle-Perui or No. 2 Rochester.

Class 5A: Mascoutah (12) at Carbondale (5)

Kickoff: Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

SCOUTING THE INDIANS (6-3): Riding a three-game winning streak which included an impressive 62-10 win a week ago over Carterville to clinch a second straight playoff appearance, the Indians will play the 26th postseason game in school history when they take on the Terriers. Mascoutah is led by senior running back Devin Wills, whose 25 touchdowns and 152 points leads the entire St. Louis area. Wills, who has run for 1,488 yards, has scored 13 touchdowns in the last three weeks. The improvement of quarterback Devon Ross (14 TD passes, 1,300 yards) has taken some of the pressure off Wills, while junior Thomas Conroy (58 tackles) and senior Andrew Schultz (54 tackles) are two of the Indians’ top defenders.

SCOUTING THE TERRIERS (8-1): A playoff team in consecutive years for the first time in more than a decade, Carbondale’s strength is on the offensive side of the football. Averaging more than 400 yards of total offense per game, the Terriers have scored 50 or more points in each of their last four games. Junior quarterback Darius Ragland has thrown for over 1,900 yards and 17 touchdowns while sophomore running back Gabe Hilliard (1,018 yards) has excellent speed. Seniors LaShawn Newell and Tavaris Macklin are two of five Terriers wide receivers with more than 17 receptions. Both Newell and Macklin have five touchdown receptions for coach Bryan Lee’s team.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Mascoutah-Carbondale game will play either No. 13 Peoria Notre Dame of No. 4 Kankakee.

Breese Central’s Tyler Huegen celebrates with teammates after a touchdown run against Mater Dei. Photo by Chris Johns

Class 4A: Central (14) at Effingham (3)

Kickoff: Saturday, 2 p.m.:

SCOUTING THE COUGARS (5-4): One of the feel good stories of the 2019 season, the Cougars battled injuries to key personnel early in the season, then rode brilliant efforts from quarterback Kyle Athmer and running back Tyler Huegen into a second straight playoff berth. Huegen was at his very best late in the season, finishing with 1,070 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns, while Athmer was 5-for-5 with three touchdown passes in a playoff clinching win over Herrin. Athmer finished the regular season with 13 scoring passes and no interceptions. Junior linebacker Gavin Watts (69 tackles) and defensive back Shane Becker (57 tackles) lead the defensive unit for Central which is making its 13th trip into the IHSA playoffs.

SCOUTING THE FLAMING HEARTS (8-1): Ranked as high as sixth in the Class 4A state poll during the regular season, the Flaming Hearts have their sights set higher after reaching the state quarterfnals a year ago. Senior quarterback Nathan Shackelford has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns while junior wide receiver Tristin Dundan (53 receptions, 1,019 yards, 10 TDs) and running back Chase Woomer (898 yards, 11 TDs) have also been huge contributors for the Flaming Hearts, who average 39 points per game. This is Effingham’s third straight postseason berth and 21st in school history.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Effingham-Central game will play either No. 6 Benton or No. 11 Salem.

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Columbia’s Nic Horner evades a Waterloo tackler during a game earlier this season. The undefeated Eagles are seeded second in their half of the Class 4A bracket and will host 15th seeded Roxana (5-4) in the upcoming IHSA postseason. Photo by Chris Johns

Class 4A: Roxana (5) at Columbia (2)

Kickoff: Saturday 2 p.m.

SCOUTING THE SHELLS (5-4): Making their 18th playoff appearance and first since the 2015 season, the Shells have rebounded well after a slow start and enter the first round game on a four-game winning streak. Defense has been the key for the Shells during their recent hot streak Roxana has not given up a point in its last nine quarters and has outscored their last four opponents 162-30. Seniors David Pluester (102 tackles) and Austin Wilburn (81 tackles) lead the Shells on defense while junior running back Michael Lich (797 yards, 11 TD’s) and senior quarterback Gavin Huffman has thrown for 1,012 yards and nine touchdowns.

SCOUTING THE EAGLES (9-0): Pushed for three quarters in a season-opening 28-7 win over playoff bound Mascoutah, the Eagles have simply dominated the rest of the season, outscoring their nine opponent 398-45 as they romped to the Cahokia Conference championship. Making their ninth straight postseason appearance under veteran coach Scott Horner, the Eagles are loaded with playmakers on both sides of the football. Senior linebacker Eli Wagner is one of the best in the state and has 87 tackles, three sacks and pair of interceptions for the Columbia defense which has four shutouts. On offense, senior quarterback Nic Horner has completed 71%of his passes for more than 1,300 yards and 21 touchdowns. Twin brother Sam Horner, also one of the top defensive backs in the St. Louis area has teamed with speedy Londyn Little for 51 receptions 16 touchdowns and over 700 receiving yards. In the backfield are seniors Donavan Bieber (875 yards, 13 TDs) and Ronnie Hunsaker (338 yards, 6 TDs). Nick Horner has also run for over 400 yards and seven touchdowns.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Roxana-Columbia game will take on either No. 10 Fairbury Prairie Central or No. 7 Olney Richland County

Class 4A: Murphysboro (9) at Civic Memorial (8)

Kickoff: Saturday 4 p.m.

SCOUTING THE RED DEVILS (7-2); Led by former Wood River coach Gary Carter, Murphysboro is making its second straight playoff appearance and 18th in school history. After dropping a 32-29 heartbreaker to DuQuoin in week one, the Red Devils defense allowed only 31 points and had four shutouts during the final eigh weeks of the regular season. The Red Devils offense hasn’t been bad, either. Murphysboro has averaged 37 points per game.

SCOUTING THE EAGLES (7-2): It has been a banner year in Bethalto as the Eagles overcame losses to Class 5A powers Cahokia and Mississippi Valley Conference rival Highland to earn it first playoff berth since 2016. Senior quarterback Noah Turbyfill leads the balanced Eagles offense, completing nearly 60% of his attempts for over 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns. Junior Kuron Parchman has been Turbyfill’s favorite target, catching 27 passes for 564 yards and five touchdowns. Two-way standout Nick Walker has rushed for 438 yards and seven scores. A standout linebackers, Walker has recorded 117 tackles, while teammate Chandler Powell has added 95 tackles.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Civic Memorial-Murphysboro game will play either No. 16 Taylorville or No. 1 Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central.

Class 3A: West Frankfort (12) at Mater Dei (5)

Kickoff: Saturday, 1 p.m.

SCOUTING THE REDBIRDS (6-3) Making their second straight and 10th playoff appearance in school history, the Redbirds enter their first round game in Breese Saturday on a bit of a downslide with two defeats in their last three games. Coached by Brian Beery, West Frankfort features a balanced offensive attack which is led by three-sport standout Conner Eaton. A senior quarterback who has thrown for over 1,000 yards, Eaton was a state runnerup in wrestling and also stars on the Redbirds’ baseball team. Junior running back TJ Willis has good speed and has the ability to catch the football coming out of the backfield.

SCOUTING THE KNIGHTS (8-1): Featuing a high-powered offense that averages more than 37 points per game, the Knights are in the playoffs for the second year in a row and the 27th time in school history. Coach Jim Stiebel’s team has one of the top offensive weapons in the St. Louis area in senior Zach Napovanice who has rushed for 1,305 yards and 17 touchdowns while catching 49 passes out of the backfield for another 510 yards and five scores. Quarterback Reed Braundmeier has also turned into a elite player with nearly 2,000 in passing yards and 19 touchdown tosses to his credit. In 6-6 junior wide receiver Mitchell Haake, (36 catches, 712 yards, 8 TD’s), the Knights have another playmaker. Linebacker Nolan Foppe (70 tackles) leads the defense for Mater Dei which has]won eight straight games since an opening loss to Effingham.

UP NEXT: The winner of the West Frankfort-Mater Dei game will take on either No. 13 Alton Marquette or No. 4 Fairfield.

Class 2A: Red Bud (16) at Pana (1)

Kickoff: Saturday 2 p.m.

SCOUTING THE MUSKETEERS (5-4): Needing a win to clinch the eighth playoff berth in school history, the Musketeers responded with their biggest offensive night of the year in a 40-26 win over Sparta last week. Coach David Lucht’s team may need a similar offensive performance to have a chance against the top-seeded Panthers. Quarterback Jayden Birkner has thrown for 870 and nine touchdowns while rushing for 300 yards and adding five scores. Red Bud has also gotten good production from running backs Chase Ward and Frank Ford who have combined for 10 touchdowns and 1,200 yards on the ground. Ford is also one of the Musketeers to defensive players with 53 tackles at linebacker.

SCOUTING THE PANTHERS (8-1): A member of the South Central Conference, the Panthers finished behind only undefeated Vandalia and enter the first round playoff gameon an up note after a 6-14 win over Hillsboro. The Panthers balanced attack is led by senior quarterback Jonah Lauff (1,700 passing yards) and junior fullback Lane Perry who with 632 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns is one of five Panthers backs with more than 200 yards.

UP NEXT: The winner of the Red Bud-Pana game will play either No. Nokomis or No. 8 Fithian Oakwood.

Dean Criddle has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat for 32 years as a sports writer. Dean graduated from SIUE with a double major in journalism and English, is married and lives in Belleville.