Preps Talk

Flying high: Can anyone stop East St. Louis?

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NBC Sports Chicago

Flying high: Can anyone stop East St. Louis?

Depending upon who you believe, the 2019 East St. Louis Flyers are --at minimum-- the state's best team regardless of class size. One could say they are a preps version of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1985 Chicago Bears, wrapped up into one Illinois superpower. Even the Chicagoland media, some of the harshest critics to win over, have been all gaga over the Flyers. This is especially true after East St. Louis dispatched a highly acclaimed, highly ranked Batavia team 31-17 in the opening week. And it was honestly not as close as the score would indicate. 

So the question remains: How good are the Flyers this season and can they be beaten? 

I've been able to see East St. Louis play in person every season since the early 2000s. I've seen quite a few standout East teams and a multitude of standout hig- level college talent over those many years. The program has won more games in Illinois than any other in state history. But I believe in many ways that this could be their best team…ever. But they remain a long ways away from that lofty goal. 

The overall talent level for the 2019 Flyers is undeniable. 

Offensively, start with three star-ranked junior QB Tyler Macon. Macon, who is starting his second season under center, is a year older, faster, stronger and better this fall. Macon already had an impressive arm and deep ball. But his overall confidence level in the passing game and his ability to tuck it and run has increased considerably. Mix in a highly-ranked group of offensive skill position players including three star-ranked senior WR Lawaun Powell, four star-ranked (and the state’s top-ranked recruit via Rivals.com) senior WR/S Antonio Johnson, three star-ranked junior WR Dominic Lovett, senior three star-ranked junior WR Keontez Lewis and rising senior RB Demonta Witherspoon and you have easily one of the state's best skills group. The East St. Louis offensive line averages nearly 280 pounds. They’re led by three star-ranked Tennessee commit senior OG Javontez Spraggins (6-foot-3, 310 pounds).

On defense, they have a terrific mix of speed, size and athletic tools rarely seen at the prep level. The defensive line is led by senior three star-ranked DE Kevon Billingsley (Missouri) and senior DT Kendrick Scarbrough. The back seven is equally as skilled. Keep an eye on senior LB Darius Walker, senior DB Dylan Appleton along with secondary mates Antonio Johnson and Lawaun Powell.

[MORE: AP Week Three Rankings / East St. Louis #1 in Class 5A]

So what will it take for a team to upset the Flyers? 

Neuqua Valley, under head coach Bill Ellinghaus, was able to trade scores with the Flyers last Friday. They also made some key stops at times, but still couldn’t overcome the Flyers in a 50-48 in overtime loss. The Wildcats offense features a standout senior QB in Mark Gronowski (South Dakota State) along with a strong group of backs and receivers including WR Sean Larkin (SIU), senior Patrick Hoffman and senior WR Garrett Stare. Junior RB Armani Moreno has also given the Wildcats a punishing run threat to its already strong passing attack. But it wasn’t enough.

While Neuqua Valley was able to trade score for score, is there another way of slaying this tremendous 618 monster? 

Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School has been able to eliminate the Flyers over the past two seasons in the 7A playoffs. OK, so we all know last year was last year. And we also know the Flyers are looking at playing in either the 6A or 5A state playoff field this November (East isn't being allowed to volunteer to play "up" in 7A but will play in its actual enrollment classification). Stay with me on this-- Mount Carmel, in both playoff wins, reverted a bit back to its old power running game/ball control attack. They slowed down the pace of the game and kept the Flyers’ speedy playmakers on the sidelines for extended periods of time. The Caravan also took full advantage of various East St. Louis penalties, lack of a strong kicking/punting game and turnovers en route to those wins. The Caravan also have a knack of making team pay for costly turnovers-- something that cost the Flyers at times in both playoff losses. 

Admittedly, the chances of teams pulling off an upset of the Flyers, whether in the regular season or postseason looks more and more remote. Sure, East St. Louis still has its entire Southwestern conference schedule ahead of them. The annual showdown with rival Edwardsville (2-1) is always a big game in the Metro area. That comes on Oct. 4. The Week 9 nonconference showdown at Naperville Central sure looked a lot more promising a few weeks ago before the Redhawks got off to an 0-3 start. But Naperville Central still have a shot at making that Week 9 game mean something. 
 
How about the postseason? Again, never say never, but the overall level of competition between playing in Class 7A versus playing in Class 6A or Class 5A can be considerable. Playing in Class 6A or 5A also means the Flyers will be in a more geographically friendly bracket and won't –potentially-- see very many Chicagoland area powers in those classes until very late in the state playoff or even at the state title game. 

Also: let's not forget that this is still high school football. Kids could get hurt and/or suspended. And the only thing certain in high school football is nothing is certain. So can the East St. Louis Flyers be stopped? Of course. Will they be stopped? It's still too early to tell. But what I can tell you is this remains the best team I've seen so far this season in the Land of Lincoln. That I'm pretty certain about...at least for now. 
 

Edgy Tim's Top 25 Preps Power Rankings: Week 8

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NBC Sports Chicago

Edgy Tim's Top 25 Preps Power Rankings: Week 8

Here are the latest @NBCSPreps Top 25 Power Rankings as teams embark on the final week of the regular season.

1. Lincoln-Way East 8-0 (1)
Last Week: Beat Sandburg, 40-0
This Week: vs Lincoln-Way West
EDGY's Take: The Griffins are aiming for a win against the Warriors this Friday. Will a top-see in Class 8A come their way Saturday night?

2. Mount Carmel 8-0 (2)
Last Week: Beat St. Viator, 37-7
This Week: vs Brother Rice
EDGY's Take: The Caravan pounced on four St. Viator turnovers in the first half. Mt. Carmel now gets one final conference test before the playoffs.

3. Nazareth Academy 8-0 (3)
Last Week: Beat Notre Dame, 21-0
This Week: @ Benet Academy
EDGY's Take: The Roadrunners' defense was spectacular Friday en route to a 21-0 shutout in Niles.

4. Loyola Academy 6-2 (4)
Last Week: Beat Marian Central Catholic, 52-0
This Week: vs Marist
EDGY's Take: The Ramblers' offense has averaged nearly 48 points per game since a Week 4 loss at Mount Carmel. 

5. Warren Township 8-0 (5)
Last Week: Beat Stevenson, 37-0
This Week: vs Mundelein
EDGY's Take: The Blue Devils defense has posted four shutouts and has allowed just 21 points all season.

6. Homewood-Flossmoor 7-1 (6)
Last Week: Beat Bolingbrook, 14-13
This Week: vs Lincoln-Way Central
EDGY's Take: The Vikings hang on and get a rivalry win over Bolingbrook.

7. Glenbard West 8-0 (7)
Last Week: Beat Hinsdale Central, 20-17 OT
This Week: @ Oak Park-River Forest
EDGY's Take: The Hitters' defense held Hinsdale Central to an overtime field goal; the running game did the rest in the extra session.

8. Neuqua Valley 7-1 (11)
Last Week: Beat Naperville North, 45-14
This Week: @ Metea Valley
EDGY's Take: The Wildcats win its first outright Dupage Valley conference title in school history.

9. Hersey 8-0 (12)
Last Week: Beat Elk Grove, 56-21
This Week: vs Rolling Meadows
EDGY's Take: The Huskies will now gear up for rival Rolling Meadows. It should be a terrific Mid-Suburban East title game.

10. Hinsdale Central 7-1 (9)
Last Week: Lost to Glenbard West, 20-17 OT
This Week: vs Lyons
EDGY's Take: The Red Devils have a lot to look forward to in the postseason, including the development of junior QB Michael Brescia.

11. Notre Dame 7-1 (8)
Last Week: Lost to Nazareth Academy, 21-0
This Week: @ St. Rita
EDGY's Take: How long will the Dons be without senior RB Julian Schurr? 
  
12. Bolingbrook 6-2 (10)
Last Week: Lost to H-F, 21-0
This Week: vs Andrew
EDGY's Take: Do not sleep on the Raiders this postseason. Bolingbrook's two losses were to Lincoln-Way East and H-F . The Raiders showed they can play with elite-level programs.

13. Minooka 8-0 (13)
Last Week: Beat West Aurora, 27-13
This Week: @ Oswego
EDGY's Take: It'll be another battle of undefeateds when Minooka clashes with Oswego. The Southwest Prairie West conference title hangs in the balance. 

14. Oswego 8-0 (14)
Last Week: Beat Yorkville, 28-20
This Week: vs Minooka
EDGY's Take: Oswego will seek to win its 9th straight Southwest Prairie conference title. 

15. Maine South 6-2 (15)
Last Week: Beat Glenbrook South, 28-13
This Week: @ New Trier
EDGY's Take: The Hawks always get up for rival New Trier. The Trevians will be fighting for their playoff lives.

16. Batavia 6-2 (17)
Last Week: Beat St. Charles North, 27-26
This Week: vs Wheaton North
EDGY's Take: The Bulldogs always seem to find secure wins after trailing. RB Art Taylor carried the load in the victory. How long will it take for RB/LB Quinn Urwlier to return?

17. Hillcrest 7-1 (18)
Last Week: Beat Lemont, 32-26
This Week: vs T.F. North
EDGY's Take: RB Mar'Kiese Irving carried the Hawks to an impressive road win. Look for Hillcrest to be a very dangerous team to watch in Class 5A. 

18. Willowbrook 7-1 (19)
Last Week: Beat Morton, 44-0
This Week: vs Proviso East
EDGY's Take: The Warriors get a nice Week 9 test when upstart Proviso East comes calling with the West Suburban Gold title up for grabs.

19. Huntley 7-1 (20)
Last Week: Beat Burlington Central, 63-13
This Week: @ Dundee-Crown
EDGY's Take: The Red Raiders defensive line continues to draw rave reviews from fans and observers across the Fox Valley.

20. Montini 6-2 (21)
Last Week: Beat De La Salle, 42-0
This Week: vs Providence Catholic
EDGY's Take: The Broncos will look to secure a higher playoff seed with. A win on Friday against a strong Providence Catholic would go a long way.

21. Prairie Ridge 7-1 (NR)
Last Week: Beat Cary-Grove, 42-7
This Week: vs Crystal Lake South
EDGY's Take: The Wolves have all the ingredients to make a very deep run in Class 6A.

22. Fremd 6-2 (22)
Last Week: Beat Conant, 20-12
This Week: vs Hoffman Estates
EDGY's Take: The Vikings just find a way. They secured the Mid-Suburban West conference title in their victory over the Cougars.

23. Crete-Monee 8-0 (23)
Last Week: Beat Bloom, 56-6
This Week: vs Thornridge
EDGY's Take: The Warriors got another huge game from senior QB Trayvon Rudolph in the win over Bloom.

24. St. Charles East 6-2 (16)
Last Week: Lost to Wheaton North, 24-19
This Week: @ Lake Park
EDGY's Take: The Saints look to rebound this week after the loss to Wheaton North on Friday.

25. Rolling Meadows 8-0 (NR)
Last Week: Beat Wheeling, 63-14
This Week: @ Hersey
EDGY's Take: The Mustangs have received a huge season from Ball State verbal commit OL/DL Nate Pedraza.

High School Lites Roundup Week 8

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NBC Sports Chicago

High School Lites Roundup Week 8

High School Lites is back with an exciting Week 8 full of thrilling matchups. NBC Sports Chicago has the highlights of some of the top matchups from the games.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPREPS for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights.

Drive: Phillips Epsidoe 8

Windy City Legends: Pierre Thomas

Saint Xavier Team of the Week: Proviso East Pirates

Wintrust Athlete of the Week: Maggie Biegalski

Phillips 58, Westinghouse 0

Coal City 29, Wilmington 14

Homewood-Flossmoor 14, Bolingbrook 13

Hillcrest 32, Lemont 26

Prairie Ridge 42, Cary-Grove 7

Grayslake North 20, Grant 17

Antioch 10, Lakes 7

Nazareth 21, Notre Dame 0

Warren 37, Stevenson 0

St. Francis 20, IC Catholic 19