Class 5A playoff breakdown

Breion Tucker and Joliet Catholic will be tough to beat in Class 5A. Scott Powers for ESPN.com

One of the best stories in Illinois high school football came out of Class 5A last season when No. 12 seed Montini snuck into the playoffs and ended up winning the whole thing by upsetting Joliet Catholic with a 2-point conversion in the state championship.

Could there be another Cinderella team this season? Maybe Marian, a 6-3 team that played seven playoff teams? Or could Joliet Catholic, the state favorite again, take care of business?

Here’s a deeper look at the Class 5A playoffs.

Best opening-round game

No. 11 St. Francis at No. 6 Montini: This is the third year in a row that these two teams meet in the playoffs. They also met earlier this season in Week 4, and Montini scored a late touchdown to pull out a 28-14 victory. Montini’s Jordan Westerkamp had six catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns. St. Francis stayed in the game by forcing five turnovers.

Top 10 Class 5A teams

1. Joliet Catholic (8-1): Averages 41.6 points per game

2. Vernon Hills (8-1): Allowed 24 total points in nine games

3. Montini (7-2): Defending Class 5A state champions

4. Sacred Heart-Griffin (8-1): Out-scored opponents by 33.1 points

5. Kaneland (9-0): Only one opponent scored more than 13 points against

6. Richwoods (9-0): Defeated Crystal Lake Central in Week 3

7. Sycamore (8-1): Only loss came to Kaneland

8. Crystal Lake Central (7-2): Ended season on six-game winning streak

9. Marian (6-3): Played seven playoff opponents this season

10. Lincoln-Way West (7-2): Had five games decided by seven points or less

Top 5 players to watch

1. DaVaris Daniels, SR, WR, Vernon Hills: A Notre Dame recruit, Daniels is the state’s highest-rated prospect. He has scored 16 touchdowns in a multitude of ways this season. He has scored passing, rushing, receiving, kick returning and defensively.

2. Josh Ferguson, SR, RB, Joliet Catholic: An Illinois recruit, Ferguson has rushed for 1,362 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has averaged 13.1 yards per carry.

3. Jordan Westerkamp, JR, WR, Montini: He has 57 receptions for 1,026 yards and 14 touchdowns.

4. Ryan Klachko, OL, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin: A Nebraska recruit, Klachko is ranked the 30th-best offensive guard in the country by ESPN Recruiting. He is 6-3 and 280 pounds.

5. Joe Camiliere, SR, QB, Kaneland: He has completed 112 of 173 passes for 1,867 yards, 23 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Sleeper team

Senn: How is a No. 2 seed that went 9-0 in the regular season a sleeper? Well, the Bulldogs may have out-scored their competition 412-57 and gone undefeated, but their competition wasn’t too fierce. They faced only one other playoff team (Taft) and did not play anyone outside of the Chicago Public League. They’ll have a lot to prove in the playoffs.

Road for defending Class 5A state champions

Montini came out of nowhere to win last year’s Class 5A state championship. The Broncos barely got into the playoffs and then went on a miraculous run, which included a comeback win in the title game against Joliet Catholic. Montini won’t be flying under the radar this season. After starting the season with back-to-back losses to Joliet Catholic and Loyola, Montini has won its last seven games. The Broncos defeated previously-unbeaten Marmion during the final week of the season. They may be a No. 6 seed in the playoffs, but they are one of the class’s premier teams and should be a title contender again.

New kids on the block

Lincoln-Way West is the lone team making its first playoff appearance in Class 5A. The Chargers are in their second year as a program and improved from last season’s 2-7 mark to a 7-2 one this year. Kicker Nick Bray, quarterback Justin Butterfield and running back Mike Bellamy have been key to their success. Bellamy had 290 rushing yards against Lincoln-Way North earlier this season.

Fun fact

Joliet Catholic has made an IHSA record 17 state title appearances. Of the Class 5A teams, Sacred Heart-Griffin is next with seven appearances, which ranks 11th. The two schools have also won five of the past nine Class 5A state championships.

Coaches’ thoughts

  • Montini coach Chris Andriano: “For our team to advance in the playoffs, we must continue to be mentally prepared each week. This time of the year the teams with the mental discipline to prepare for their opponent, and then properly execute the game plan each week are the ones that are most successful. We are peaking at the right time, and we will need to continue to improve each week in order to advance.”

  • Lincoln-Way West coach Mark Vander Kooi: “Joliet Catholic has to be the favorites. They are a strong team that competes in a league with bigger schools, and they have a strong tradition. But 5A has several extremely strong teams, so anything can happen.”

  • Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken:“I kind of follow the old boxing title belt holder rule. Montini's the champ until someone beats them. … We’ve only had our best defense on the field for one quarter in the first game this year. If we can get to Week 3 of the playoffs healthy, we’ll have everybody back.”

    State championship prediction: Joliet Catholic defeats Vernon Hills