Preps Talk

Griffins learn something new about themselves in first setback of the year

Griffins learn something new about themselves in first setback of the year

The Lincoln-Way East Griffins returned to Frankfort to play a home game after a pair of long road trips to begin their 2016 season. And after 416 combined miles on the road, taking them to two states and a pair of college campuses, the Griffins learned right in their back yard that the journey to Champaign will be a long one.

The standings will show a first tally in the loss column for the Griffins, who came up just short in their 35-30 loss to rival Homewood-Flossmoor last Friday. But squaring off against a fellow top-5 opponent in the state so early in the year was bound to have its positives, regardless of outcome. And while the Griffins would have liked to earn a victory, they were able to learn things – good and bad – about themselves in the close-knit affair.

“Whether we had been a point ahead or five points behind (at the end), you find out a lot about yourself when you play one of the best teams in the state,” Rob Zvonar said. “That’s the kind of game you want early to get a measuring stick of where you’re at, and it’ll definitely serve us well down the road.”

The goods were evident Friday night. The Griffins offense scored on each of their first three possessions, including two touchdown receptions by wide receiver Jeremy Nelson. The senior, who has dealt with myriad injuries since his sophomore year, continued his red-hot start to the season and finished with nine receptions for 136 yards. The 14-0 start was the first time the Vikings had trailed by multiple scores since the 2014 8A state title game.

It was a mixed night for the defense, which seven days earlier pitched their first shutout against Belleville West. The Vikings’ high-powered offense went scoreless in the third quarter, and the Griffins defense held their ground in the game’s final minutes to give the offense one last chance to win the game trailing by five.

The mistakes were just as clear, too. Losing a 14-0 lead at home, throwing an interception 22 yards from the end zone in the game’s final minute, a blocked punt and a missed field goal all culminated in the Griffins’ first loss of the year.

But if the Griffins needed to learn those lessons, they’re glad to have done it in early September instead of November. One of the top conferences in the state makes wins hard to come by, but also gets teams ready for the postseason. Friday night was certainly a playoff atmosphere, as was the opponent.

“It’s nice to play a caliber team like this early in the season so we know what we’re looking for in playoffs,” offensive lineman Sam Diehl said. “They’re a hard, physical team. So we’ll be expecting that in the playoffs.”

The Griffins may have also learned a valuable lesson about leadership. It was a noted point of interest in Zvonar’s discussions with the team during practice week. On Wednesday the head coach took a dozen or so seniors and a handful of juniors aside and discussed the importance of speaking up in situations that arose, both on and off the field. Leading by example isn’t always enough, he told his leaders.

“We just want to earn the respect of our teammates and we’ve got to make sure they’re all on the same page,” senior quarterback Jake Arthur said. “We’ve got to stay focused, (to) take ownership of this team. Everything revolves around each other, so we’ve got to make sure we’re on the same page.”

It’s a learning-on-the-go development for the Griffins, who have done an admirable job merging two schools, programs and starters together while dealing with state-title aspirations. That includes leadership, which in a program as prestigious as Lincoln-Way East is earned, not given. Zvonar has made it a point to rotate different captains each week, but he let it known to his leaders that he’s expecting more as the season progresses.

And that’s why last Friday’s loss stung, but didn’t sear. The Griffins have improvements to make, and time to do it.

“There’s no doubt we got an early taste of what playoff football can be like,” Zvonar said. “This will serve us well down the road. If we’re not winning, at least we’re learning.”

Beware of the Attack of the Lower Seeds

Beware of the Attack of the Lower Seeds

With the upcoming IHSA football playoff pairings announcement on Saturday night, here are some teams with modest win-loss records who opponents probably wouldn’t want to see in the early rounds of the postseason.

Loyola Academy (5-3): The Ramblers have struggled this season. But head coach John Holocek has, once again, led his team to the state playoff field. So what gives? Loyola has been inconsistent on offense and has turned the football over way too often. The team has also been dealing with various injuries. But the defense (minus a 35-3 loss to Brother Rice) has generally played well this season. If the Ramblers can clean up the turnovers and find a way to get their offense back in a rhythm, this team can undoubtedly surprise some teams along the way in Class 8A. 

Neuqua Valley (5-3): The Wildcats and head coach Bill Ellinghaus have dropped three tight games this season including a last possession, 21-14 decision to DuPage Valley Conference champion Naperville Central two weeks ago. If the Wildcats can continue to get steady production from a balanced offense, led by RB Will Cheviliar and QB John Gronowski, the defense is capable of keeping Neuqua Valley in every game this postseason.

Aurora Christian (5-3): Coach Dave Beebe’s Eagles have lost to three playoff-bound teams this season with a combined 21-3 record (IC Prep, St. Francis and Bishop McNamara). They have a potent spread-passing attack led by sophomore QB Ethan Hampton. Aurora Christian is also slated to wind up in the Class 1A bracket on pairings night. Their dynamic offense and passing game in general could be a tough matchup for opponents in, what usually is, Class 1A North bracket with teams that generally run the ball.

Barrington (5-3): The Broncos, under head coach Joe Sanchez, have also been dealing with a rash of mid-season injuries; that said, it looks like Barrington is getting healthy at the right time. Junior QB Tommy Fitzpatrick is back from injury and is a key catalyst for any Barrington postseason run. Fitzpatrick has weapons in junior WR EJ Darlington and senior RB Michael Curran. 

Lake Zurich (5-3): The Bears made a starting quarterback change last week as Jack Moses took the reins. He promptly led the Bears to a 42-0 win over Mundelein. If the Bears can limit turnovers and continue to get strong production from their offense, the L-Z defense is more than capable of making life very difficult for any higher seeds that they could draw in the 7A state playoff field. 

Edwardsville (5-3): The Tigers hit a rough patch starting the season with a 1-3 record. But they currently boast a four-game winnings streak heading into Friday night’s tilt at Collinsville. Edwardsville is led by senior QB Kendall Abdur Rahman (Notre Dame) and is a gamebreaker every time he touches the football. Sophomore RB Justin Johnson (and the team in general) possesses a ton of speed. There are athletes and playmakers on both sides of the football. 

Here are some more lower seeds who could wreak havoc:

Providence Catholic (5-3): If the Celtics can get their running game going, beware. 

Raby (5-3): The Raiders could be a handful in 4A.

St. Charles East (4-4): The Saints’ power-option game is always tough to defend. 

Joliet Catholic (4-4): IF the Hilltoppers can beat Notre Dame on Friday, they could be a very tough out in 5A.

Crystal Lake South (5-3): A huge offensive line leads the way for the Gators. 

Zion-Benton (4-4): The Zee-Bees can put as much talent on the field than most of their opponents. 

Lemont (4-4): Needs a win Friday over rival Oak Forest. If the offense can keep the chains moving, the Indians’ defense can do the rest. 

Crete-Monee (5-3): They are the Southland conference champs. Their first two losses in 2018? Lincoln-Way East (8-0) and Brother Rice (8-0).

Thornton (4-4): The Wildcats will need to upset Lincoln Way Central Friday. Thornton always has talent.

NBC Sports Chicago to air "IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show" on October 20

NBC Sports Chicago

NBC Sports Chicago to air "IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show" on October 20

Bloomington, IL/Chicago, IL (October 17, 2018) -- The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Football Playoff Pairing Show returns to NBC Sports Chicago for its eighth season in 2018. NBC Sports Chicago – THE Home of the #AuthenticFan – will air the show live on NBC Sports Chicago+ on Saturday, October 20 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM CT. Viewers are urged to visit NBC Sports Chicago’s “Channel Finder” page ( for exact NBC Sports Chicago+ channel locations in their area.

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show, which will reveal the brackets and first round match-ups of all 256 playoff qualifiers across eight classes, can also be viewed via Live stream beginning at 8:00 PM on Saturday at, on Facebook Live (, and will also be accessible for viewing to authenticated NBC Sports Chicago subscribers via the brand new MyTeams by NBC Sports app (NOTE: MyTeams is available on iOS and Android devices, at no cost, to fans anywhere in the U.S. and can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store).

"The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show' continues to be one of the most highly-anticipated events in the state of Illinois and we couldn't be prouder to once again showcase two-straight hours of live, interactive coverage across all platforms on Saturday night," said Kevin Cross, Vice President of Content for NBC Sports Chicago.  

NBC Sports Chicago anchor Leila Rahimi hosts the show and will be joined by a panel of experts on-set, including long-time IHSA TV announcer Dave Bernhard and Illinois high school football bracketologist Steve Soucie. IHSA TV veteran Camron Smith will breakdown each class with media members from around the state, including NBC Sports Chicago prep football expert “Edgy” Tim O’Halloran. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the show and ask questions to be answered during the program by utilizing the Twitter hashtag #IHSAbrackets

The program will once again feature highlights, coaches interviews and media analysis from all over the state. In addition, NBC Sports Chicago will be gathering teams & fan reaction moments throughout the “Land of Lincoln” on Saturday from numerous school playoff pairing parties taking place that evening.

“This is one of the most anticipated nights of the year on the IHSA calendar,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Student-athletes, coaches and communities around the state have put their hearts into the last nine weeks, and for 256 teams, it’s an amazing chance to celebrate their accomplishments, while looking ahead to the path to the IHSA Football State Finals. We appreciate the time and effort that our partners at NBC Sports Chicago put into making this night so special.”

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing Show kicks off NBC Sports Chicago’s playoff coverage of IHSA Football, which culminates with all eight state title games being televised and streamed by NBC Sports Chicago on Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 23-24), live from Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.