(1)Kankakee (13-0) vs. (2)Fenwick (11-2)
Game time: 10 a.m. Saturday, Huskie Stadium, DeKalb
Players to watch: Kankakee — WR Pierre Allen, DB/RB Jyaire Hill; Fenwick — QB Kaden Cobb, OL/DL Jimmy Liston
Preview: The moment Kankakee football fans have been waiting an eternity for finally is here, as the Kays will take the field in a state championship game for the first time in school history Saturday morning in DeKalb.
The Friars also are in search of their first state championship in their program’s respectable history, and similar to the Kays, this Fenwick team, one littered with three-star recruits, has had its eyes set on this exact prize since August.
Both teams have speed and size out wide and more size and strength in the middle of the field, setting up Saturday morning’s contest to be one of the closest matchups on paper.
For the Kays, the offense starts with All-Southland Athletic Conference quarterback Tomele Staples, who has gotten the ball to Allen a school record-breaking amount of times (56 receptions) for a school record-breaking amount of yards (1,090) and touchdowns (17).
But Staples has plenty more weapons as well, as Karson King is a huge threat in the slot, and Christian Whallum, Quan McElroy and Maurice Burkes have made big postseason plays in the passing game as well.
Staples also can take off when plays break down, but he usually has plenty of time to find his weapons, thanks to a big offensive line that’s as quick as it is strong. Anchored by three all-conference blockers — Malik Dozier, Steven Young and Tre Campbell — the Kays’ three-headed rushing attack of Jyaire Hill, Nate Hill and Demere Turner will look to keep the Friars’ defense honest from going all-out to defend such a lethal passing attack.
Defensively, the Kays will have to focus their game plan around Cobb, an all-state signal-caller who will play in college at Ball State University. His top weapon of choice is Eian Pugh, the wide receiver whose 18th overall recruiting ranking in the state by 247 Sports is one spot higher than Cobb’s. The Illinois-bound Pugh leads a group of pass-catchers that also includes three-star tight end Max Reese, who is committed to Eastern Michigan.
Similar to the Kays, the Friars will look to their high-powered passing game but also run the ball behind their own massive group of linemen, led by Liston, the Purdue-bound blocker.
Defensively, the Friars don’t boast quite as much of the recruiting talent their offense does, but they’ve been pretty stout through the rigors of the Chicago Catholic League/East Suburban Catholic Conference and the 5A playoffs, surrendering a respectable 14.4 points per game.
Pick: With a deeply talented secondary and a defensive line that potentially could get some pressure on Cobb, the Kays know their defense can travel well to DeKalb. The offense has shown a knack for the big play all season, but it also showed it can sustain long drives last week, with three touchdown drives of at least seven plays and 60 yards. No matter who wins Saturday morning, we will see a first-time state champion. And that champion very well could be the Kays. Kankakee 28, Fenwick 23
(1)Wilmington (13-0) vs. (6)Nashville (12-1)
Game time: 1 p.m. Friday, Huskie Stadium, DeKalb
Players to watch: Wilmington — FB/LB Karsen Hansen, RB/DB Jacob Friddle; Nashville — WR Isaac Turner, OL Kade Ridgeway
Preview: There perhaps haven’t been two teams that have had as different a route to DeKalb this weekend as the two teams that are playing for the right to call themselves Class 2A champions.
The Wildcats have been perhaps the most dominant pound-for-pound team in the state the past four weeks, scoring 40-plus points in four postseason games for the first time in school history. In fact, they’ve averaged exactly as many points per game in the playoffs as they’ve allowed during all 16 quarters of postseason play, 46 points.
On the other hand, the Hornets have had a run that would have been considered impossible if it was made by many other schools that don’t have the program pedigree of Nashville. The Hornets have defeated three undefeated teams the past three weeks to reach the finals, including a drastic comeback in their 37-35 win against St. Teresa last week that included the recovery of two fourth-quarter onside kicks and a game-winning field goal from Eduardo Garibay as time expired.
The Wildcats already ended the season of the defending Class 2A champions when they throttled past Newman Central Catholic in the second round, and now they have the opportunity to make the Hornets the Class 2A runners-up for the second straight season.
If they’re able to do that, it will be because that double-wing offense will continue to dominate the way it’s been doing for the better part of the past two months. Colin James (1,291 yards, 19 touchdowns) and Friddle (1,237 yards, 18 touchdowns) have both been top-five rushers in the area, but Hansen perhaps could be the most important member of the backfield, as he joins a beefy offensive line in the blocking game, setting the edge for James and Friddle to run wild while also chewing up yards, and touchdowns, of his own when called upon.
Nashville also is going to look to establish itself on the ground, leaning on honorable mention all-stater Ridgeway to make holes for a rushing attack headed by Connor Gladson, who ran for two touchdowns and caught another from quarterback Kolten Gajewski in last week’s semifinal victory.
Gajewski’s top target is unquestionably Turner, an all-state receiver who totaled 128 yards and two scores on 11 catches last week. Friddle, James and Ryan Banas likely will see turns trying to shut down the 6-foot-2 receiver, with Friddle matching up from a physical standpoint at 6-foot-1.
The Nashville defense has done enough to win but also has been susceptible at times, allowing at least three touchdowns in each of its four postseason victories. While they’ve bended but not broken, the Hornets know they’ll have to play their best defensive game of the season in an attempt to slow down the Wildcats.
Pick: It’s the first time Wilmington ever has played in a Class 2A title game, and it’s the Wildcats’ first appearance at state since they hoisted the Class 3A crown in 2014. One would have to go back at least that far, if ever, to find a time the Wildcats have been playing quite this well. Wilmington 35, Nashville 24