Auburn, Byron Highlight Big Area Playoff Matchups
The first round of the playoffs was not kind to the NIC-10. Certainly Hononegah and Harlem were underdogs in their games, so to see the first round losses was not a shock. Hononegah acquitted itself well in a competitive game, but Harlem struggled in a 40-0 loss. Shockwaves were sent through the area, however, when Boylan came up short in a 24-13 loss to St. Viator. Auburn advanced, but needed 5 turnovers and a two point conversion in the last seconds to pull out the win.
Around the area, surprises were everywhere. Winnebago almost pulled off an upset against 9-0 Farmington, pulling a lead late and then seeing it gone on the next play. Stockton was 9-0 entering the playoffs and also lost, throwing the 1A brackets for a loop.
It sets up some intriguing matchups for the Stateline Area. Auburn, Byron and Forreston are among the area teams looking to continue their playoff run as we take a look at the playoff matchups.
St. Charles North at Auburn 1 PM Saturday – St. Charles North comes in 9-1 on the season. They only played two playoff opponents in the regular season, undefeated St. Charles East, who handed them their only loss, and Batavia, both of whom are in the second round. In the first round, they needed two overtimes to defeat Mundelein Carmel 31-24. The defense has 4 shutouts this seson, and only gave up 2, 3, and 10 points in seven other games against non-playoff teams. Against playoff teams, including the first round, they have given up 28, 35, and 24. They play a spread offense similar to Auburn, led by quarterback Zach Mettetal, who is going to Memphis for baseball. The senior has thrown for 1,777 yards and 23 touchdowns, adding in 227 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns. Lucas Segobiano leads the teams in receptions, but watch for 6’5” TE Griffin Hammer. The senior had 5 catches against Carmel last week and against St. Rita, coach Dan Appino was worried about how his team would match up with big receivers, and St. Rita was able to move the ball despite turnovers. Senior Eric Lins is the leading rusher. He only has 935 yards, but he averages 7.7 yards per carry, making him a threat in the backfield off of the spread action. They play behind a big offensive line, including Isaac Hawn and Sammy Ambrogio. On defense, you have to track Trey Kellog. The defensive lineman leads the team with 77 tackles, including 16 for a loss. He also has 14 sacks. It will be interesting to see how often he gets matched up on Vederian Lowe and how he can perform against the Illinois recruit. For Auburn, quarterback Nathan Jarrett has been working back from injury, but he really seemed to find his stride in the second half against St. Rita. His passes were a little more on point and he was able to use his legs to make some big plays. Combine that with the twin threats at running back in Daquawn Bell and Drequan Friar, and the Knights offense is looking very potent right now.
Byron at Wilmington 6 PM Saturday – Two teams that are very familiar with each other having played each other the last two years in the playoffs. Each matchup has been at Wilmington, just like this one. Two years ago, Wilmington knocked off a surprise Byron team in the semifinals on their way to a state championship. Last year, Byron defeated Wilmington before falling to Bishop McNamara, the eventual state champion. As usual, the undefeated Wildcats have been impressive. The defense does not have a shutout, but they only give up 13 per game, while the offense averages 42 points. It all starts with two-way star Owen Weaver. The senior has 1,651 rushing yards with 33 touchdowns on offense and on the defensive side he has 39 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Weaver must be accounted for on every snap in the game for Byron to have a chance. Just because you account for him does not mean you will stop him, but if you do not at least find him, it will be a long day on both sides of the ball. Byron continues to be a big play offense. Whether it is Justin Martinez, Bryce Scheffler, Brandon Elsbury, or anyone else who seems to touch the ball, coach Jeff Boyer can have his offense score in a split-second. Paired with a strong defense and it makes the Tigers dangerous. In a tight game, the defense has the ability to make stops and all Byron needs is one play to put points on the board.
Dakota at Ottawa-Marquette 2:30 PM Saturday – Dakota stormed back in the second half against Polo to win easily 42-21. The same could not be said for Ottawa-Marquette. They played well defensively, but they needed a field goal at the end of the game from David Martin, who missed an extra point and a field goal earlier in the game, to avoid overtime in a 9-6 win over Milledgeville. Noah Wright had two interceptions to lead the defense. The Crusaders were dominant this year in the NEAC, only allowing 5.2 points per game will scoring nearly 53 per game. Dakota will come in with a stout defense, and maybe an offense that has found some rhythm coming off of their best performance of the year. Drew Wenger is a load for the Dakota offense, rushing for 1,269 yards, but don’t discount quarterback Cade Meier, who has been finding his touch as of late and has thrown for 877 yards.
Stark County at Forreston 6 PM Saturday – Speaking of teams familiar with each other, these two have played 3 of the last 4 years. That may not mean much for the players, but for the coaches, the familiarity means a lot in game planning. Last season, Stark County won on their way to a second place finish in the state. The year before, Forreston won on their way to a state title. It wasn’t a typically dominant year for Stark County as they got off to a 1-3 start. They have corrected things, however and have now won 6 straight games. Stark County won their first round playoff matchup after four touchdowns from running back Wyatt Schupp, who leads the team with over 1,000 yards rushing. Forreston has the best defense in the 1A field, only allowing 4 points per game. They opened up with their fifth shutout of the year in a 67-0 win over Luther North. Tyler Bryant makes plays from the linebacker position and a big line helps control the run game. On offense, quarterback Hunter Daws has done well when asked to throw, but it is about Gavin Fuchs, Matt Akins, and AJ Christensen running the ball. Each has had a good season and the Cardinals have their offense rolling right now.
Lena-Winslow at Salt Fork 3 PM Saturday – Salt Fork shocked the 1A field by knocking off Stockton 43-42 in the first round. Their reward is a home game, though it won’t be an easy one against Lena-Winslow. Salt Fork generally did not anything that stood out on their season. The defense did allow only 15 points per game, but after giving up 42 to Stockton, that number seems misleading. They did play a tough schedule against some bigger teams like Eureka however and are battle tested. Quarterback Caleb Fauver is a big dual threat for the Storm, and he leads the team with 8 interceptions. Lena-Winslow cruised to a 54-14 win over Bureau Valley in the first round. The Panthers come in only allowing 7 points per game and have five shutouts on defense. Their only losses came to Forreston and Eastland-Pearl City, and they were competitive in both, especially against undefeated Forreston, only losing 13-7. Bailey Litow, Payton Lingle and Rahveon Valentine lead a strong rushing attack, and while Lena does not throw the ball often, Tanner Lawfer does have 10 touchdown passes on the season.