Preps Talk

Vikings' offensive 'machine' hitting on all cylinders

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Vikings' offensive 'machine' hitting on all cylinders

There's offensive efficiency, and then there's what Homewood-Flossmoor did last Friday night at Downers Grove South.

Anxious to get a highly anticipated season underway, the state's top-ranked team left no doubt about their explosive potential in a 56-15 victory over the Mustangs.

In seven scoring drives from the first team offense, the Vikings averaged 2.8 plays; no drive took more than six plays, and four of those possessions needed two plays or fewer. The constant home-run strikes resulted in Homewood-Flossmoor needing just 7:03 to score seven touchdowns, with no drive taking longer than 2:14 to find the end zone. Their first five touchdowns came in the offense's first 11 plays from scrimmage.

"I told Bryce, I told Deante, I told Devonte, ‘Can y'all please slow down so I can get a break?’" joked senior defensive end Tyler Newkirk, who led the defense with 13 tackles. "Because we go on the field, make a stop, they get on the field and then I’m right back on the field for PAT and then I got to get ready to go back on defense. So I’ve told those guys countless times and they’re like, ‘We can’t. We’ve got to keep scoring.’ So it is what it is. I’m glad they’re scoring. It’s a good problem to have."

Quarterback Bryce Gray led the charge with an unimaginable box score: 8-for-9, 348 yards and four touchdown passes in a little more than a half on the field. The Harley-Hampton touchdown competition got off to a rousing start, with Devonte finding the end zone twice on touchdown runs in the first quarter, while brother Deante scored from 31 yards out on the game's opening drive. Deante added a second score early in the second quarter on a 28-yard middle screen pass from Gray. A 66-yard catch-and-run score out of halftime gave Devonte his third score of the night.

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Wide receiver Kendric Pryor, who committed to Wisconsin late Wednesday night, picked up right where he left off a year ago, too. The senior caught four passes for 152 yards and a pair of scores from Gray. The Vikings' explosive offense was summed up when a holding call and intentional grounding left them with a 2nd-and-33 from the Mustangs' 35-yard line. Gray took the snap, looked right and lofted a perfectly thrown ball to Pryor, four yards in front of his defender, for the score.

"We trust each other. I know where he’s going to be, I know if I throw it up 90 percent of the time he’s going to go get it," Gray said. "If he doesn’t get it nobody’s going to get it, so it’s great."

Statistically it's difficult to envision a high school program improving on a prior season in which they amassed 5,800 yards and nearly 600 points. But the trial run Friday night made it look like a matter of when, not if, they'll do just that.

"We know each other. We trust each other. Not many new pieces, so we’ve been playing with each other in this offense three years with the core guys. So we trust what Coach Buzz calls, trust the play calling, trust the coaches and we do what we do," Gray said. "And if we execute like we did today, it’s going to be hard to beat."

Even the backups, talent good enough to start on most teams in the state, showed promise. Reserve quarterback Trevor Johnson, who was split wide in an athlete role with the first team, led an 11-play drive in the third quarter that resulted in a 20-yard score from running back Tony Bello.

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A rival head coach described the Vikings' offense to CSN's Edgy Tim as a "machine," and their Week 1 performance certainly backed it up.

Despite the lackluster opponent, Friday was a crisp display of how deadly the Vikings' offense can and should be this season. With eight starters enjoying their second season in the role, head coach Craig Buzea believes the explosive unit is adding cohesiveness in the form of trusting one another on every play call.

"There's a feel amongst each other when things don't go well, there's always someone to bail them out," he said. "I think that just comes with time and chemistry and playing together a long time. I really sense that between them all."

They'll need to continue that camaraderie as they head into a Week 2 showdown against Stevenson, the reigning 8A state champion that stole glory from many of the same seniors who will take the field in Lincolnshire in Week 2. For some, like Deante Harley-Hampton, it's revenge. For others, it's simply the first tough test on the Vikings' schedule toward eminence in the form of a state championship in DeKalb 3 months from now.

"I'm sure our guys will show up and play, I'm sure their guys will. It'll be a great atmosphere, great high school game," Buzea said. "Win or lose, there's going to be seven more games to play. I think it's going to be exciting."

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.