The opening round of the IHSA football playoffs is loaded with great opening week games. Here are some Chicagoland matchups, from 8A through 4A, that have the potential to be very good “under-the-radar” type of games to watch this weekend.
No. 26 seed Maine South (6-3) at No. 7 seed West Aurora (9-0), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Many will look at this matchup and assume that perennial 8A power Maine South will just overpower West Aurora. But not so fast, my friends. The Blackhawks and head coach Nate Eimers feature a team loaded with talent and speed, including the Cross twins: senior RB/DB DaQuan Cross and senior RB/DB DaVion Cross. This game has the potential to be a high-scoring affair.
No. 25 St. Rita (5-4) at No. 8 Rockford Auburn (8-1) Friday 7:30 p.m.
This is easily one of the most intriguing matchups in the opening round of 7A. Why? Auburn and head coach Dan Appino’s Knights feature a huge offensive line and a strong running game. Also, the Knights never play outside of the NIC-10 conference until state playoff time. St. Rita had an up-and-down season, yet no one will ever accuse the Mustangs of not being battle-tested. They have Chicago Catholic Blue credentials and have non-conference wins over Rich Central and Marmion — two playoff teams.
[MORE PREPS: IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups]
No. 11 Lakes (6-3) at No. 6 Grayslake North (7-2) Friday 7:00 p.m.
Both hail from the Northern Lake County conference and despite Lakes’ 31-14 win over Grayslake North on Sept. 9, the Eagles are the lower seed/road team this week. Look for another terrific game here. It's always very difficult to beat the same team twice in the same season.
No. 9 Rich Central (6-3) at No. 8 Woodstock North (6-3), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Rich Central might have one of the state's biggest offensive lines, which includes senior OL/DL Caylon May (6-foot-3, 290 pounds). Woodstock North looks to run the football behind senior RB Casey Dycus. Everybody in the Thunder program continues to be excited, stemming from last week's 23-22 win over Rock Falls. Woodstock North blocked a potential game-winning field goal attempt in overtime to secure the win and a state playoff bid.
No. 12 Wheaton Academy (6-3) at No. 5 Aurora Central Catholic (8-1), Friday 7:00 p.m.
Wheaton Academy hit a rough patch in its Metro Suburban Blue slate and lost three straight games to playoff teams (IC Catholic Prep, Riverside-Brookfield and Glenbard South). The Warriors are undoubtedly battle tested. However, Aurora Central Catholic's only loss came to Ridgewood (7-2) who won the Metro Suburban Red. Expect a packed house in Aurora on Friday night for, likely, a back-and-forth game.
CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.
“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”
It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.
Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as an another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.
After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.
“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.
“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.”
After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.
“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.
“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”