Preps Talk

HF football shows what 'Viking Tough' is all about

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HF football shows what 'Viking Tough' is all about

Craig Buzea stood in front of his team silently.

Just outside the gates of the Stevenson football stadium, the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings gathered around their head coach for one final meeting. Just behind them, the Patriots' marching band performed the school's fight song. The Stevenson students, taking up two sections of the massive stands in their corresponding white outfits, roared as the fifth-ranked Patriots took the field minutes before kickoff. Late-arriving fans from the HF side bellowed out to the team words of encouragement as they filed into the packed house.

Noise surrounded the Vikings, a raucous atmosphere not too dissimilar from the ambience they experienced 10 months earlier in the 8A state title game against that same Stevenson team.

But where they had gathered, under a few trees on a small hill just outside the school's north entrance, the Vikings were eerily quiet. Confidently quiet.

Many of the players knelt. Others stood. Some, like defensive end Tyler Newkirk and linebacker Percy Walters, anxiously paced as they awaited their head coach's final message.

With a gleam of brightness from the stadium's lights on his face, Buzea stared at his players. Then he spoke.

"We talked about our number one goal here today," he said. "'Viking Tough.' Everybody thinks we're finesse. Everybody thinks we're just fast. They have no idea how we hit. They have no idea how we get after people. And I told you yesterday, guys: 'Viking Tough.' You can't really define it, but you hear it and you see it. And when we walk out there today everybody's going to understand what Viking Tough is!"

Perhaps the Vikings have been mislabeled. Or at least not labeled thoroughly enough. Their speed, agility and quick-strike capability had been on full display in the season's first week in a 56-15 trashing of Downers Grove South. It had been apparent the previous year when this year's seniors gashed opposing defenses on a weekly basis, littering Hudl highlight reels with dazzling touchdowns from anywhere and everywhere on the field.

But squaring off against a Stevenson team ranked fifth in the state, Buzea understood flair alone wouldn't carry them to a second straight road victory. They needed to show muscle. They needed to show toughness. Viking toughness.

And in their 43-29 victory over the Patriots, a statement-making win whether they'd like to acknowledge it or not, the Vikings proved they can punch as well as they can dodge.

The embodiment of Viking Tough showed itself late in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings leading 36-29 with 3:20 remaining. Josh Hjorth's defense had all three of its timeouts and knew the Vikings, starting at their own 41, would pound the run game.

Devonte Harley-Hampton, who had scored twice, began the drive with a five-yard run. Deante Harley-Hampton, owner of three rushing touchdowns on the night, then rushed for four more yards. Devonte then picked up a first down on third-and-1 and rushed for five more yards on the next play. On a second-and-6, pocket passer Bryce Gray faked a handoff to Deante and lowered his shoulder for a 7-yard run and another first down. That set up Deante, running behind a bruising offensive line, to break free on the next play for a 29-yard score to put the game out of reach with 1:15 remaining.

"Our plan this game was really to break them down from the inside-out, and in the past it's always been to get to our speed real quick," Buzea admitted after the game. "I thought our offensive line really showed that on the last drive when (Stevenson) knew (we) were going to run the ball, and still be able to get a first down, I think that really was the definition of 'Viking Tough' right here."

Homewood-Flossmoor also revealed that "Viking Tough" was more than just a physical trait.

After racing out to a 22-7 lead, the Vikings surrendered 15 straight points to Jack Sorenson and the Patriots' offense that tied the game late in the first half. Gray and the offense responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a Deante Harley-Hampton touchdown run. Wisconsin commit Kendric Pryor then intercepted Sorenson in the end zone on the half's final play, ending a scoring threat and maintaining the lead.

In the second half coordinator Zac Wells' defense came out with a new attitude. The Vikings defense allowed 177 yards and seven points in the second half, turning over the Patriots on downs three times on five possessions after halftime. The most crucial stop came with 6:23 to play and the Patriots on their own 41 trailing by a score. Stevenson managed the ball to the HF 41 before crucial pass break-ups on third down (by Jeremy Correll) and fourth down (Pryor) ended the drive and set up the offense's clinching drive.

"Hit them in the mouth, that's all we had to do," said linebacker Simeon Nwokenkwo, who had nine tackles and half a sack in the win. "We hit them in the mouth in the second half and it was over from there. We reflected on what happened last year and we pushed ourselves to keep going."

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

High School Lites is down to the final week of the regular season in local high school hoops as the Class 3A and 4A schools finish up conference play. The boys basketball playoffs have also started as the Class 1A and Class 2A regional championships will be played on Friday night.

The girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals will also be featured. You can catch all of those games on NBC Sports Chicago on Friday beginning at 11 a.m. with the 1A semifinals. High School Lites will air Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago

East Aurora at No. 11 West Aurora, 7:00 p.m. -- These two rivals meet for the 225th time. The Blackhawks (20-4, 9-0) won the first matchup by 22 points as they try to finish the season on a 12-game winning streak. 

Jacobs at Dundee-Crown, 7:00 p.m. -- Fox Valley rivals match up as Jacobs tries to go unbeaten in the conference. The Eagles (23-3, 15-0) has been playing very well as they've won 20 of 21 games heading into this one -- including an earlier win against Dundee-Crown. The Chargers (14-11, 10-4) has won seven consecutive games since dropping to the Golden Eagles as they're second in the Fox Valley heading into this one. 

Yorkville at DeKalb, 7:00 p.m. -- The top two teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East play in this one. DeKalb (16-11, 11-1) has already clinched a share of the conference title as the team's only league loss has come against Yorkville. The Foxes (17-8, 10-2) knocked off DeKalb at their place on Feb. 3 as they try to win again to get a piece of the division title. 

T.F. North at Lemont, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the South Suburban Blue battle on the eve of the playoffs. Lemont (17-8, 9-3) has picked up three straight wins entering this one. T.F. North (11-9, 9-3) is trying to build some momentum after recent close losses to Hillcrest and T.F. South.

Carmel at No. 10 Benet, 7:30 p.m. -- The ESCC closes out its season with this one. Benet (22-4, 7-1) is coming off a nice road win at Marian Catholic earlier this week. Carmel (17-10, 4-4) knocked off Joliet Catholic during the week as they've been a dangerous team in the ESCC. 

Class 2A Boys Basketball Regional Championships

Leo vs. Marshall, 6 p.m. -- The Lions are the favorites but the Commandos are the host of this regional title game. Leo (20-5, 8-0) has a 13-game winning streak as they won the Catholic League White. Marshall (8-17, 4-5) struggled in the win column but they were a competitive 4-5 in a very deep Public League Red-South. 

Uplift vs. Northridge, 7 p.m. -- This should be an interesting battle as Uplift is playing on the road at Northridge. Uplift (17-9, 6-3) has played an extremely competitive schedule that includes a recent close loss to No. 1 Simeon as Kansas commit Markese Jacobs and senior forward Toraze Dobbs are one of the best combinations in the Class 2A field. Northridge (22-5, 12-0) went unbeaten in the Independent School League this season as they're riding a 13-game winning streak.

Class 1A Boys Basketball Regional Championships 

Aurora Christian vs. Harvest Christian, 7 p.m. -- These two teams play for the third time this season in what should be an interesting regional title game. Aurora Christian (23-1, 10-0) is the host as they only lost to Winnebago this season. The Eagles beat Harvest Christian twice in a six-day span in December. Harvest Christian (18-8, 8-2) finished third in the Northeastern Athletic as they played the second game within two points. 

Class 1A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Okaw Valley vs. Stockton, 11 a.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Okaw Valley (29-5) is making its first state appearance after winning its first regional title in school history. Stockton (31-2) finished under .500 last season (13-15) and had an amazing turnaround that includes a current 15-game winning streak. 

Lebanon vs. Schlarman, 12:45 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- These two teams have combined for two losses this season as this should be a good one. Lebanon (31-1) just won its first sectional title in school history as they've now moved on to state. Schlarman (31-1) is led by junior Anaya Peoples, a Notre Dame commit and five-star prospect in the Class of 2019. 

Class 2A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Harlan vs. Eureka, 5:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two red-hot teams play in the first semifinal in Class 2A. Harlan (25-6) is riding a 12-game winning streak as this is its first appearance at state for girls basketball. Eureka (28-3) has a 19-game winning streak as they make their first state appearance since 1988.

Marshall vs. Teutopolis, 7:15 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two storied programs in the state match up in this one. Marshall (20-7) will be making its 21st state appearance as head coach Dorothy Gaters is one of the most storied coaches in Illinois. Teutopolis is making its 17th appearance at state as the Lady Shoes (28-6) seek their first title since 1995. 

Check out the AP boys basketball polls as regular season winds down

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NBC SPORTS

Check out the AP boys basketball polls as regular season winds down

Here is the latest AP boys basketball polls. The girls basketball polls are done with the playoffs underway in all four classes.

Class 4A

School                                 W-L       Pts   Prv

1. Simeon (9)                      25-3      90    1

2. Belleville West                23-2      75    3

3. Curie                                22-3      74     2

4. Danville                           23-2      67      4

5. Whitney Young               22-7     52     T5

6. Normal West                   21-6     28     T5

7. Quincy                              19-4      21     T10

8. Bloomington                   18-7      15     8

9. Evanston                          20-5      14     7

10. New Trier                       22-3       12     NR

Others receiving votes: Moline 11, Niles North 10, Lisle (Benet Academy) 10, St. Viator 5, Naperville North 4, Maine South 2, Rockford Jefferson 1.

Class 3A

School                                            W-L          Pts    Prv

1. Morgan Park (7)                       18-9         88     2

2. Springfield Southeast (2)        22-3         82     1

3. Marian Catholic                        20-4         67     4

4. Hillcrest                                      21-5         57     5

(tie) Springfield Lanphier             22-3         57     3

6. Alton Marquette                       28-0         44      6

7. Centralia                                    21-4          32      7

8. DePaul College Prep                20-6          31      8

9. Champaign Central                  17-7          13      10

10. Decatur MacArthur                 18-8         9        NR

Others receiving votes: Lincoln 6, Burlington Central 6, Bogan 3.

Class 2A

School                                       W-L          Pts     Prv

1. Orr (11)                                 23-4         110     1

2. Warsaw West Hancock      22-2         83       3

3. Pinckneyville                       25-3         76       T4

4. Winnebago                          24-2         75       2

5. Monticello                            22-1         69       6

6. Leo                                        19-5         65       T4

7. Bloomington Central Catholic       21-6         42   8

8. Effingham St. Anthony                    25-3         23   7

9. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley               24-3         12   NR

10. Trenton Wesclin                             24-4         9     NR

Others receiving votes: Eldorado 7, Corliss 6, St. Joseph-Ogden 6, Bureau Valley 5, Uplift 5 Teutopolis 4, Williamsville 3, Quincy Notre Dame 2, Farmington  2, Casey-Westfield 1

Class 1A

School                                      W-L          Pts      Prv

1. Aurora Christian (9)            22-1        108      1

2. DePue (1)                              24-2        85        2

3. East Dubuque (1)                26-3        80        4

4. Annawan                              25-3        75        5

5. Payson Seymour                 26-2        68        3

6. Sterling Newman                 23-4       57        6

7. Colfax Ridgeview                  24-4       48        7

8. New Berlin                             25-3       33        8

9. Cairo                                       21-5       22        9

10. Nokomis                              21-7         9        NR

Others receiving votes: Newark 8, Quest Academy 5, Milford 4, Cissna Park 2. Okawville 1.