FOOTBALL: Playoff capsules

Bishop McNamara’s Manny Harris reads Immaculate Conception defenders ahead of scoring an Irish touchdown earlier this season. Harris and the Irish will head to Paris on Saturday in the IHSA Class 4A playoffs.


14. Unity-Seymour (5-4) at 3. Central (9-0)

Gametime: 3 p.m. Saturday

Players to watch: QB/LB Jay Lemenager, WR/DB Jacob Shoven

Preview: The Comets went unbeaten and added the Sangamon Valley Conference title to their trophy case, but the Class 2A trophy is what they’re after. Unity-Seymour doesn’t offer much in terms of a challenge, but the Comets will have to be on their toes and not look too far ahead. Expect early doses of Lemenager-to-Shoven connections and Garrett Graham’s bruising running style to salt away a big win and send the Comets to the second round.

Pick: Central 35, Unity-Seymour 14

9. Tremont (6-3) at 8. Watseka (6-3)

Gametime: 1 p.m. Saturday

Players to watch: RB Jameson Cluver, LB/RB Bryce Denoyer

Preview: The Warriors are ecstatic to have a home playoff game for the first time in coach Aaron Hilgendorf’s four-year tenure, and the home crowd definitely will help fire up the team, although I doubt the kids need much help with that. The running game will have to be able to match the Turks in terms of the possession battle, and Denoyer and Tylor Durflinger will need to be stout defensively to prevent sustained drives by a run-heavy Tremont squad.

Pick: Watseka 21, Tremont 14


14. Lisle (5-4) at 3. Wilmington (8-1)

Gametime: 7 p.m. Friday

Players to watch: RB/LB Jake Rodawold, RB/DB Trey Shaw

Preview: The Wildcats won this matchup 27-6 at Lisle during Illinois Central Eight play this year, but this hungry group of ‘Cats won’t expect another easy win with everything on the line. Rodawold and Shaw will see double-digit carries and will look to keep the ball out of the Lions’ hands. When the Lions do have the ball, a defense that only has gotten better since these two teams last met will do what it needs to as well.

Pick: Wilmington 35, Lisle 13

9. Hall (6-3) at 8. Peotone (6-3)

Gametime: 1 p.m. Saturday

Players to watch: RB/LB Ben Balmer, RB/LB Sam Biedron

Preview: Will Balmer be back in action this week? It’s hard to say one player has such an effect on a team, especially one that is as team-oriented as the Blue Devils, but the proof has been in the pudding. The Blue Devils lost two of their past three games, with the lone win coming on a 2-point conversion stop against Lisle. Hall offers team speed the Blue Devils haven’t seen much this year, but if Balmer is back, Peotone will be the team racing into next week.

Pick: Peotone 21, Hall 13


16. Chicago Phoenix (3-4) at 1. Coal City (9-0)

Gametime: 2 p.m. Saturday

Players to watch: WR/DB Asa Cooper, RB/DE Connor Best

Preview: This game was very much in doubt because of the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike, but the IHSA and Chicago Public Schools have relaxed some of the requirements they originally made in regard to when the strike needed to be over for CPS schools to play this weekend. Even if they do play, the Coalers’ starters probably won’t see much time in a game that is probably the most lopsided in the entire state.

Pick: Coal City 63, Chicago Phoenix 0

10. Manteno (5-4) at 7. Marengo (7-2)

Gametime: 7 p.m. Friday

Players to watch: QB Caleb Borkenhagen, WR/DB Luke Trepanier

Preview: There is no such thing as an easy draw in the north side of the bracket, but the Panthers were able to avoid a matchup against one of the elite programs and have a winnable game Friday. The Indians only have played three playoff teams this year, with the lone victory in those three games coming against Class 1A Hope Academy. The defense has been unreal as of late, but something tells me a late connection between Borkenhagen and his favorite target will seal the deal late.

Pick: Manteno 35, Marengo 24

12. Bishop McNamara (6-3) at 5. Paris (8-1)

Gametime: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Players to watch: DE/RB Caleb Smith, QB/DB Tyler Hiller

Preview: The Tigers come in with the better record, but the strength of schedules between these two schools has been so different they might as well have been playing different sports. The Irish are getting healthy at the right time, and the Tigers are getting injured at the wrong time, as quarterback Danny Perry and top lineman Jackson Boatman were injured last week. It remains to be seen if they will suit up, but either way, the Irish should roll on the road.

Pick: Bishop McNamara 49, Paris 21


13. Peoria Notre Dame (6-3) at 4. Kankakee (8-1)

Gametime: 3 p.m. Saturday

Players to watch: LB Patrick Allen, RB Mattias Clark

Preview: The Kays have had their best season in 20 years and plan on keeping that rolling deep into the playoffs, but the path is difficult, and that starts Saturday. The Irish had a six-game winning streak snapped at Danville in a shootout last week, although the competition in the Big 12 left a little to be desired this year. The defense, particularly the linebackers, will have a busy day against a run-heavy offense. We know the Kays can score, the question is if they can be patient enough to ice away a fourth-quarter lead.

Pick: Kankakee 28, Peoria Notre Dame 14

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