State semifinals: Top 20 previews

Montini will be facing the 11th team with a winning record this season in Kaneland. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

ESPNChicago.com previews all of the Top-20 games.

No. 1 Wheaton Warrenville South (12-0) at Belleville East (10-2) at 5 p.m. on Saturday

The story: This game could have been between two nationally ranked teams, but East St. Louis was caught with illegal players, and Belleville East has taken its place. Belleville East lost 48-13 to East St. Louis in the regular season. The Lancers have had to fight to get where they are. They won their first three playoff games by a total of 28 points. On the other hand, Wheaton Warrenville South has won its last three games by 106 points, including a 44-20 win over Glenbard West last week. The Tigers will be heavily favored in this one.

Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: Wheaton Warrenville South defensive back Caleb Bednarz had two interceptions, including a touchdown, in last week’s win. He has seven interceptions on the season.

Belleville East player to watch: Darnell Stevenson is one of three Bellville East running backs with 600-plus yards. Stevenson has rushed for 719 yards and eight touchdowns.

Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 49, Belleville East 17

No. 6 Maine South (10-2) at Loyola (11-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday

The story: Maine South and Loyola also met last year in the Class 8A semifinals. Maine South pulled out a 21-14 home victory over the Ramblers and went on to win its second consecutive state title. Loyola will be at home and favored this time around. The Ramblers’ defense has come up big lately, but they have scored their share of points this season while being led by junior quarterback Malcolm Weaver. Maine South lost its first two of the games, but has bounced back nicely. Sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti has matured quickly.

Maine South player to watch: Running back Paul Preston ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Stevenson.

Loyola player to watch: Loyola defensive lineman Mark Sullivan was the Catholic League’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Prediction: Loyola 24, Maine South 21

No. 3 St. Rita (11-1) at No. 4 Lake Zurich (11-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday

The story: This has the makings of the game of the week. Both teams have been among the state’s best all season. St. Rita earned a share of the Catholic League title and has flourished with a balanced offense and defense. The Mustangs’ defense was at its best last week, shutting out a high-powered Carmel rushing attack. Lake Zurich’s defense is possibly the state’s best. The Bears’ defense was dominant again last week, holding Simeon’s offense to just 14 points. Lake Zurich running back Jacob Brinlee is a threat to score whenever he touches the ball.

St. Rita player to watch: Not a lot of running backs have had success against Lake Zurich. St. Rita’s Jahwon Akui needs to pick up yards for his team to be successful this week.

Lake Zurich player to watch: Linebacker J.J. Raffelson anchors Lake Zurich’s defense. He’s normally all over the field.

Prediction: St. Rita 21, Lake Zurich 20

No. 13 Homewood-Flossmoor (10-2) at No. 5 Mount Carmel (10-2) at 12 p.m. on Saturday

The story: Homewood-Flossmoor has been the surprise of the playoffs. The Vikings were 1-8 last year and have transformed themselves into a semifinalist this year. Homewood-Flossmoor will be the underdog Saturday, but it’s nothing new. The Vikings have excelled in that role all year. Mount Carmel’s seniors have been waiting for this game all season. Their class hasn’t been to the state finals in their last three years, and this is their last shot.

Homewood-Flossmoor player to watch: Running back Malik Norman has been among the area’s top runners this season.

Mount Carmel player to watch: Running back Michael Banks is speedy. He has the ability to break one whenever he touches the ball.

Prediction: Mount Carmel 31, Homewood-Flossmoor 21

No. 9 Montini (10-2) at No. 14 Kaneland (12-0) at 5 p.m. on Saturday

The story: Montini is well prepared for this game. This will be the Broncos’ 11th opponent with a winning record this season. Joliet Catholic and Loyola are the only two teams to defeat them. Kaneland’s schedule hasn’t been as tough, but the Knights proved they belong with the big boys after defeating a very strong Vernon Hills’ team 27-21 last week.

Montini player to watch: Quarterback Matt Westerkamp was the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week. He’s been better than anyone could have imagined.

Kaneland player to watch: Quarterback Joe Camiliere has thrown for more than 7,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in his three years as the Knights’ starter.

Quote: Montini coach Chris Andriano -- “Their offense is similar to ours, but they do run the ball pretty good. We have to stop the run. Their quarterback is what makes them tick. We’re going to have to have a good game to disrupt his timing. Both teams will have the same approach to get the team out of their rhythm.”

Prediction: Montini 28, Kaneland 21

No. 10 Prairie Ridge (11-1) at Rockford Boylan (12-0) at 1 p.m. on Saturday

The story: Prairie Ridge was impressive in last week’s 37-10 win over Crystal Lake South. The Wolves not only avenged their previous loss to Crystal Lake South, but they proved they’re a legit contender for the Class 6A title. Prairie Ridge has only allowed two opponents more than 10 points this season. Boylan is coming off a 20-14 overtime win over Cary-Grove, last year’s state champion.

Prairie Ridge player to watch: Matt Mugnai is a difference-maker on defense. He intercepted two passes last week.

Rockford Boylan player to watch: Tyreis Thomas ran for 139 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in last week’s win.

Prediction: Prairie Ridge 24, Boylan 10

No. 15 Marmion (11-1) at Danville (12-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday

The story: Marmion has been challenged throughout the playoffs, but the Cadets have passed each one. They pulled out a 28-27 win over T.F. South in the second round and defeated Lemont 31-20 in the quarterfinals. Danville should fall right in line. The Vikings could be the best team Marmion has faced all season. Danville has defeated 11 of its opponents by 19 or more points.

Marmion player to watch: Few are able to play as well on both sides of the ball as T.J. Lally does. He can hurt you in a number of ways.

Danville player to watch: Quarterback Dennis Hightower can run and throw the ball effectively for the Vikings. Marmion will have its hands full with him.

Prediction: Marmion 34, Danville 31