(Seedings in parentheses)
(6) T.F. North at (3) Marmion Military Academy
When: 7 p.m. today.
Advancement: Winner plays (7) Thornridge-(2) T.F. South winner in second round.
Breaking it down: A four-year playoff-less existence officially ended last Friday when the Meteors buried Argo beneath 64 points to gain their sixth win. Junior QB Calvin Lindsey was T.F. North's catalyst as he rushed for 180 yards, passed for 146 more and had a hand in five touchdowns. The Meteors collected nearly 300 yards on the ground and bore a resemblance to the team that hammered Oak Forest by 24 points in Week 6. In between, the Meteors got roughed up by Tinley Park and South Suburban Blue champion Lemont, so bouncing back against the Argonauts was huge from a psychological standpoint. Having to travel to Aurora for Round 1 of the tournament is no bargain, though, especially when a very good Cadets squad lies in wait. Marmion suffered its first defeat, 27-21 in overtime to Montini, last Friday, a loss that cost it a second consecutive Suburban Christian Conference Blue title. In the four weeks previous to that, the Cadets had outscored foes 191-33. They're led offensively by all-state candidate T.J. Lally, who ran for 138 yards on 18 carries versus Montini. Two other pivotal figures are QB Bobby Peters (11-of-21, 118 yards last week) and RB Nick Scoliere (six rushes, 72 yards; four catches, 48 yards). If the Meteors can strike first -- and early -- to rid themselves of any postseason jitters, they may put Marmion on its heels and will enhance their chances of returning home for a second-round contest. !~ Ken Karrson
(7) Thornridge (5-4) at (2) T.F. South (8-1)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
Advancement: Winner plays (6) T.F. North-(7) Marmion Military Academy winner in second round.
Breaking it down: The Rebels have won four straight since losing to Lemont and are playing together as they enter the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 13 years. Missing the postseason last year has made this team hungry. In their last four games, the Rebels have outscored their opponents 152-44. RBs Kenny Jackson, Giovanni Canty and Allante Nelson give South a versatile and strong running game. QB Kevin Hallberg has improved every week and is a team leader. The offensive line has opened some big holes. Defensively, LBs Rob Sterling and Seth Wielosinksi have done a great job, as has NT Rob Williams. Thornridge will be playing with plenty of emotion after its 31-25 triple-overtime win over Thornton that qualified it for the postseason. QB Derrick Martin has a strong arm, and WR Gary Ford is his favorite target. RB Mika'il McCall is a threat every time he touches the ball. Defensively, Martin and Ford are playmakers. The Falcons have two shutouts -- Rich South (26-0) in Week 1 and Stagg (47-0) in Week 7. Up front, Peter Jennings is a solid two-way performer on the line. !~ Mike Nieto
(6) Crete-Monee (6-3) at (3) Normal West (7-2)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Advancement: Winner plays (7) DeKalb-(2) Rock Island winner in second round.
Breaking it down: The Warriors claimed another conference title in impressive fashion, steamrolling Rich South and Bloom Twp. in their final two outings. QB Jaylen Bailey accounted for four touchdowns -- two passing, two rushing -- against the Blazing Trojans, who were crushed 48-0. Crete's defense has been solid over the last one-third of the regular schedule. It'll need to be in peak form versus the host Wildcats, who enter their playoff opener after a 56-7 shellacking of Mattoon. Normal West's primary weapon is QB Tyler Marcordes, who is at his most dangerous when running the ball. He gained 130 yards on just nine carries while scoring twice in Week 9. Jacob Evans (53-yard reception) must be marked by the Warriors' prevention corps as well. The Wildcats' defense has pitched four shutouts this fall and surrendered just 109 points overall. Normal West was only 11 points away from going unbeaten in the regular season, which puts it on an even plane with the Warriors, whose three setbacks have come by a total of 13 points. Considering the teams administering those losses -- T.F. South, Marian Catholic and Lincoln-Way West -- are a combined 22-5 heading into the state tournament, Crete's performance certainly rates as credible. If there's a source of uneasiness, it's this: None of the Warriors' conquests came against a foe sporting anything better than a 5-4 ledger. Still, home-field advantage may be the biggest thing separating these two clubs. !~ Ken Karrson
Marian Catholic (7-2) at Wheaton North (7-2)
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When: 7 p.m. today.
Advancement: Winner plays (8) Benet Academy-(1) Wheaton-Warrenville South winner in second round.
Breaking it down: The Spartans are making their 20th playoff appearance, while Wheaton North is making its 18th. Marian's two losses were to playoff teams: Homewood-Flossmoor and Carmel. RB Jeruel Taylor and DT Mike Toliver were named East Suburban Catholic Conference Offensive Player and Defensive Lineman of the Year, respectively. Taylor, Trevor Woolfolk and Matt Simmons give Marian a strong running game, and QB John Rhode has proven to be a field leader. WRs Dominic Pascale and Randall Wells are deep threats. The offensive line, led by Brian Kelly, Trent Podnar, Phil Faso and Jeff Bona, has played well. Toliver, DL Marc Grkinich, LBs David Sowell and Marc Crosetto and DB Wes Fleming have all done a nice job on the defensive side. The Spartans have outscored their opponents 241-199. The Falcons, members of the DuPage Valley Conference, shut out Glenbard East 42-0 and are on a three-game winning streak. They handed Lincoln-Way East its only loss. The Falcons lost to Wheaton-Warrenville South (9-0) and Glenbard North (8-1). QB Reece Butler and WRs Shaniel Katariwala and Johnny Daniels have given opponents fits all season. Wheaton North has outscored its opponents 242-127. Marian will have to contain Butler and avoid giving up big plays. !~ Mike Nieto
(6) Thornton (7-2) at (3) Lincoln-Way East (8-1)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Advancement: Winner plays (7) Plainfield North-(2) Glenbard North winner in second round.
Breaking it down: How costly was the Wildcats' triple-overtime slip-up against District 205 sister school Thornridge last Saturday? The answer will be revealed sometime Saturday night, when Thornton's clash with the SouthWest Suburban Blue-champion Griffins has ended. The Wildcats certainly have the talent to hang with a team like Lincoln-Way East, but they don't have enough of it to survive eight turnovers, which is what did in Thornton last weekend. The odds of a repeat performance are, of course, rather long, but the Griffins won't need that much help in order to prevail. Lincoln-Way East has been an offensive juggernaut this year, as it's averaged 40 points per contest under the on-field leadership of QB Blake Winkler. WRs JJ Robertson and Kyle Buchbach provide reliable targets for Winkler, while RB Tyler Starke has been a steady contributor to the ground attack. Wheaton North handed the Griffins their lone loss to date, and only Homewood-Flossmoor among its other eight foes has posed any sort of threat to Lincoln-Way East's well-being. Thornton's offensive weapons include RB Damien Bell, WR/RB Dimitrius Hardwick (three TDs against Thornridge) and QB Charles Knowles, and its defense has generally been opportunistic. The last two weeks of the regular season didn't set up the 'Cats particularly well as far as momentum-building is concerned, but Thornton has risen to earlier challenges. It needs to do so again or risk a quick and unpleasant ending to a conference-winning campaign. !~ Ken Karrson
(13) Curie (5-4) at (4) Homewood-Flossmoor (7-2)
When: 7 p.m. today.
Advancement: Winner plays (12) Brother Rice-(5) Waubonsie Valley winner in second round.
Breaking it down: The Vikings are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and don't want a quick exit. They are on a four-game winning streak, and their losses are to playoff teams Evanston and Lincoln-Way East. In last week's 56-44 win over Joliet West, the first team didn't play much of the second half. RB Malik Norman is unstoppable, and QB Tim Williams has become a tremendous passer under coach Craig Buzea. WR Willie Ross has had some big games, and the offensive line has really come through as H-F scored 325 points. DT Michael Rouse III, a Purdue recruit, has anchored a tough defensive line. LBs Antione Dantzler, Denzel Wilkins and Cody Cooper should make things tough for the Condors. Curie plays in the Public League Illini Red Bird and finished second to undefeated Simeon. Junior QB Maurice Fleming leads the Condors' offense. H-F needs to take control early, because it has the depth and size to dominate. !~ Mike Nieto
(14) Bolingbrook (5-4) vs. (3) Mt. Carmel (7-2)
When: 4 p.m. today.
Where: Gately Stadium.
Advancement: Winner plays (11) Neuqua Valley-(6) Downers Grove South winner in second round.
Breaking it down: The Caravan posted its shutout since 2007, when it beat Catholic League Blue foe Providence 35-0, and is making an IHSA-record 25th straight playoff appearance. DL Jon Stefan-Bodnar has five TFLs, including three sacks. Fellow linemen Kevin Kosiewicz and Pat Casas have done a nice job of stopping the run, and LB Connor Flaharty and DB Pat Toomey have also been big plusses for the Caravan. RB Mike Banks and QB Chris Sujka have become almost unstoppable in key situations. The line, which has had several different combinations, is playing well together. Bolingbrook is making its 19th straight postseason appearance but has lost three of its last four. The Raiders, of the SouthWest Suburban Blue, beat Lincoln-Way Central last week to make the playoffs. QB Aaron Bailey is also a running threat. He has two good backs in Malik Snapp and D.J. Pruitt. DT Anthony Sharp anchors the defense. !~ Mike Nieto