Preps Talk

Primary goal still intact for HF, ready to react to first blemish

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Primary goal still intact for HF, ready to react to first blemish

There's a certain maturity level about the Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings that keeps head coach Craig Buzea from ever becoming nervous.

This is a team that knows all too well the fragility of high school football, and how quickly circumstances can change. Eleven months earlier the Vikings were three yards away from winning a state championship. Two months before that the team, comprised of juniors at most skill positions, sat at 3-2 after a gutting defeat to rival Lincoln-Way East before reeling off eight straight wins. This is a group that all year played with a bulls-eye on its back, the unanimous top-ranked team in Illinois that got opponents' best shot each Friday night, all the while dealing with outside noise of detractors and doubters.

It's why as Buzea stood in front of his Vikings last Friday night, having just been upset by rival Bolingbrook at home in the regular season's final week, there wasn't a sense of panic in his voice. Instead, as he's done all year, he spoke to his team matter-of-factly.

"I’m not angry. I’m not mad. We did not deserve to win," he said. "You don’t make mistakes like we did and win games like that. And we won’t in the playoffs, too. Can’t happen. Shouldn’t happen.

"Always talk in this program it’s not the action, it’s the reaction," he added. "So, how are we going to react? How are we going to react? Bottom line."

Though just a single loss for a top-tiered program still favored by many to win 8A, Friday's defeat stung the Vikings. The Raiders marched down the field in the game's final minute to set up a game-winning field goal, earning a 22-21 victory and vaulting them into the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season. On Homewood-Flossmoor's side, the loss meant crossing off three of the team's goals they had set out at the beginning of the season.

[#DriveVikings: HF football plays for each other, takes another step toward title dreams]

An unblemished 14-0 season. Winning the Southwest Suburban Lake conference title outright for the first time in school history. Keeping the Alec Anderson Memorial trophy, given to the winning of the annual HF-Bolingbrook game, in Flossmoor. Few teams run the table and go wire-to-wire as the state's top-ranked team, let alone an 8A team that faced three ranked opponents and played six games on the road in the regular season. The Vikings were hoping to make history.

Still, the matured Vikings, with core players entering their third postseason, have their primary goal of a state title in sight.

"Our goals are still in place. The second season starts and we know if we do something like that again we’re done," said quarterback Bryce Gray, who finished the regular season with 23 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. "So I think it’ll be a sharper focus, more hard work going into it. This is it. It’s now or never. For most us seniors it’s now or never. Some of us will never put on the pads again, so we know what the ramifications are. We’ll come back strong and do what we need to do."

The path to DeKalb was made considerably tougher with the loss. The Vikings dropped from a potential No. 3 or 4 seed with a win to the No. 8 seed, lining up on the same side of the bracket at the top-seeded Loyola Ramblers. They also could face the No. 15 Stevenson Patriots, the team that beat them in the 8A state title game a year ago, in the quarterfinals.

[RELATED: HF defense responding to, thriving on criticism with their play]

Their path is now more difficult, but it's also more difficult for the teams in their bracket that assumed they'd face the lethal Vikings later in the postseason. What their new playoff seeding does is give the Vikings an earlier chance to quiet the detractors who all year long were waiting for them to slip up. There's no easy wins in the postseason, as Buzea told his team in the locker room Friday night, meaning playoff seeding is simply a number next to a school's name.

"I still believe we’re the best team in state. We just have to prove it now. People are going to doubt us now, saying we can’t beat Bolingbrook. We’re going to have a lot more doubters than we did before and we just have to prove them wrong. We had two losses last year, made a nice run in state, came three yards away from a state championship.

"So it can be done, and it will be done."

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

The Class 1A and 2A regionals begin this week and the regular season is finishing up for every other team in the state. We're getting that much closer to state titles being decided in Peoria. Simeon remains the clear No. 1 in the latest Power Rankings after beating No. 4 Whitney Young and No. 2 Orr by double digits on the way to earning a third straight Public League Playoff title, while a couple of familiar faces are back in the tail end of the rankings.

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- Simeon stays at No. 1 after winning the Public League Playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Wolverines have now defeated teams No. 2 through No. 6 in the Preps Power Rankings for a 6-0 record on the season in which the average margin of victory has been 14.5 points per game. The clear No. 1 in the state of Illinois, Simeon has the week off before the Class 4A playoffs.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- Orr put up a good fight but they ultimately fell short to No. 1 Simeon in the Public League Playoff title game. The Spartans did gain revenge on No. 3 Curie, however, with a big semifinal win on Friday. Orr has to forget the title loss ahead of the Class 2A Playoffs that begin this week as the Spartans try to repeat as champions.

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The Condors have only lost to No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to in-state losses as they remain one of the most complete and balanced teams in the state. Curie has the week off before the IHSA Playoffs.

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- Whitney Young earned a huge quarterfinal win over Morgan Park before falling to Simeon in the Public League Playoff semifinals. The Dolphins also have the week off before they attempt to repeat as Class 4A champions. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) Disappointing result for the Mustangs as they lost on a buzzer-beater in the Public League Playoffs to Whitney Young. Defending champions in Class 3A, the Mustangs will rest this week before the playoffs begin.

6. Fenwick (18-7, 8-0) (8) -- The Friars earned two wins during the week as they beat Marmion while also getting a huge conference road win at Loyola. Fenwick will battle Taft during the week.

7. New Trier (22-3, 8-1) (9) -- New Trier had one of the best weeks of any team in the area as they picked up wins over Maine South and Evanston. Now the leaders in the rugged CSL South, the Trevians have some more tough games against Niles North and Glenbrook North this week. 

8. Evanston (20-5, 8-2) (6) -- Evanston's red-hot recent play was finally slowed down as they fell to rival New Trier. The Wildkits will try to bounce back when they play Vernon Hills in a Central Suburban crossover this week.

9. Oak Park-River Forest (21-5, 12-0) (11) -- The Huskies finished the West Suburban Silver season unbeaten following wins over York and Proviso West. OPRF gets a great test right before the playoffs when they face Hinsdale South in the West Suburban championship game.

10. Benet (21-4) (6-1) (12) -- Two wins for the Redwings this week when they beat Joliet Catholic and Stevenson. Things aren't easy for Benet this week as they head to Marian Catholic before hosting Carmel in two tough ESCC games. 

11. West Aurora (19-4, 8-0) (13) -- The winning streak is now 11 for the Blackhawks after beating South Elgin. West Aurora will play Bartlett and crosstown rival East Aurora this week as they try to keep the momentum going into the playoffs. 

12. Marist (23-4, 6-2) (15) -- Marist picked up a double-digit win over St. Patrick during the week as they prepare for the Class 4A draw. The RedHawks will have an ESCC game against Marian Central this week. 

13. Niles North (22-4, 5-4) (8) -- The Vikings fell to CSL South rival Maine South and followed that up with an overtime win over a tough Wisconsin team in St. Catherine's. The Vikings get a crack at conference leader New Trier this week before playing Maine West in a tough Central Suburban crossover. 

14. Marian Catholic (20-4, 5-3) (16) -- Three wins for the Spartans during the week as they knocked off Nazareth, Rich Central and Marian Central. Marian Catholic gets a tough test this week when they host Benet in its final ESCC game.

15. Naperville North (23-2, 14-1) (17) -- The Huskies have won eight straight games as they clinched at least a share of the DuPage Valley Conference with a win over Waubonsie Valley this week. Naperville North hosts Wheaton-Warrenville South this week to decide the DVC title.

16. DePaul Prep (20-6, 5-3) (19) -- Picking up a convincing double-digit win over Mount Carmel, the Rams got back on track after the loss to Brother Rice. DePaul Prep will host Montini during the week as they prepare for Class 3A. 

17. Loyola (21-6, 5-3) (10) -- Tough recent stretch for the Ramblers as they fell to St. Joseph and Fenwick to fall out of the Catholic League Blue race. Loyola hosts Steinmetz for a tune-up this week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (21) -- Hillcrest survived a tight win over T.F. North before winning convincingly against Oak Forest. The Hawks have the week off as they prep for Class 3A. 

19. Leo (19-5, 8-0) (22) -- Finishing the regular season with a big win over Marmion, the Lions will be one of the area teams to watch in the Class 2A playoffs as they are in the Marshall Regional. 

20. Homewood-Flossmoor (16-6, 7-1) (23) -- Another huge win for Homewood-Flossmoor as the Vikings took down Bolingbrook to keep a lead in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Homewood-Flossmoor goes on the road this week to battle Sandburg and Lockport. 

21. Hinsdale South (20-5, 10-2) (24) -- The Hornets stayed hot with wins over Addison Trail and Proviso East as they clinched the West Suburban Gold. Hinsdale South has a tough battle against Oak Park-River Forest in the West Suburban championship game this week. 

22. St. Viator (22-5, 8-0) (25) -- The Lions picked up some wins against Carmel and Bartlett. St. Viator will try to close out the ESCC with an undefeated record when they play Nazareth this week. 

23. Bolingbrook (17-6, 5-3) (18) -- Bolingbrook fell out of the SouthWest Suburban Blue conference race when they lost to Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders still have some tough games to close out the regular season when they play Lincoln-Way East and Stagg.

24. Maine South (20-7, 6-4) (NR) -- Huge win for Maine South as they knocked off Niles North after losing to New Trier in overtime earlier in the week. The Hawks close out the regular season with a Central Suburban Crossover against Highland Park.

25. Willowbrook (22-5, 9-3) (NR) -- Willowbrook is back in the rankings by earning three double-digit wins over Morton, Leyden and Downers South. The Warriors have only lost to ranked teams like West Aurora and Hinsdale South lately as they've been playing well. 

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

Five top-25 matchups highlight loaded episode of High School Lites

High School Lites had five matchups between top-25 teams on Friday night as the Public League Playoff semifinals and big matchups in the CSL South, Catholic League Blue and SouthWest Suburban Blue took shape.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPreps for the latest news and scores for IHSA basketball.

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Palatine's Eduardo Orozco

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Maine West girls basketball

Highlights

No. 1 Simeon holds off No. 4 Whitney Young

No. 2 Orr gets revenge on No. 3 Curie

No. 9 New Trier takes down No. 6 Evanston

No. 8 Fenwick handles No. 10 Loyola Academy

No. 23 Homewood-Flossmoor rallies past No. 18 Bolingbrook

Oswego East upsets No. 20 Joliet Central

Andrew shuts down Thornridge

Sandburg tops Lockport in OT

Richards runs by Shepard

Maine West captures second straight girls basketball regional title