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."

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

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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 (NBCSportsChicago.com/channel-finder) 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 NBCSportsChicago.com/WatchLive, on Facebook Live (Facebook.com/NBCSChicago), 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.