Class 5A breakdown: Montini can three-peat

Montini is working toward winning its third straight Class 5A football championship. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

Can anyone dethrone Montini?

That’s the main question heading into the ISHA fooball Class 5A playoffs. Montini was beatable without John Rhode at quarterback, but with him back, the Broncos look invincible again.

Strange occurrences do happen in the playoffs. Three years ago Montini barely reached the playoffs but got hot and ended up winning the first of two consecutive state titles.

Is there an underdog out there this year? Which team could be Montini’s biggest challenger? Here’s a deeper look at Class 5A.

Best opening round game

No. 3 Sterling vs. No. 14 Julian: Julian is one of a handful Chicago Public League teams which have a chance at advancing.

Top 10 Class 5A teams

1. Montini (7-2): The Broncos were ranked No. 4 in ESPNChicago.com’s preseason top 20, but lost two early games as starting quarterback John Rhode sat out with an injury he suffered prior to the season. Rhode has been back the last four games, and Montini appears to be the front-runner in Class 5A again.

2. Joliet Catholic (7-2): The Hilltoppers boast as much talent on offense as any team in the state regardless of class. Their defense has to get it together if they’re going to make a run at the program’s 14th state title. They could meet Morris in the second round.

3. Springfield Sacred-Heart Griffin (9-0): The Cyclones received a No. 1 seed in Class 5A last season and were upset in the first round. They should have a better showing this time. Their narrowest win came in a 34-27 victory over Chatham Glenwood in Week 1.

4. Marian Central (9-0): The Hurricanes beat out Montini for the Suburban Christian Blue title. They’ve proven they can play with anybody with wins over Montini and Oswego. They could meet Montini again in the quarterfinals.

5. Kaneland (9-0): The Knights reloaded this season after reaching the Class 5A state semifinals with a senior-laden group last year. They completed their perfect regular season with a win over Morris. They have the easiest path to the quarterfinals.

6. Morris (8-1): The Redskins nearly rallied from a 24-0 deficit to beat Kaneland in the season’s final week, but fell 31-28. They’ll look to carry that late momentum into the playoffs.

7. Chatham Glenwood (8-1): The Titans lost in the Class 5A state finals to Montini last season. That group included nine underclassman starters. Glenwood’s only loss this season was to Sacred-Heart Griffin in the season opener.

8. Tinley Park (7-2): The Titans know how to score. They averaged 37.4 points during the regular season and even put up 20 points in a loss to Lemont.

9. Metamora (7-2): The Redbirds lost in the 4A semifinals last season. They defeated Washington 27-24 in Week 9. The two teams are likely to meet again in the second round.

10. St. Francis (7-2): The Spartans finished third behind Marian Central and Montini in the Suburban Christian Blue.

Top 5 players to watch

1. Montini, SR, WR, Jordan Westerkamp: Westerkamp, a Nebraska recruit, is the state’s premier wide receiver.

2. Joliet Catholic, SO, RB, Ty Isaac: Isaac has the potential to be one of the best running backs to come out of Illinois in some time. Malin Jones, a Northwestern recruit, is also a skilled running back for the Hilltoppers.

3. Marian Central, SR, OL, Scott Taylor: Taylor is considered one of the top guards in the country. He’s headed to Northern Illinois.

4. Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, SR, QB, Pat Smith: Smith has been one of the state’s most accurate passers. He’s thrown for 29 touchdowns and just one interception this season.

5. Kaneland, SO, QB, Drew David: David may only be a sophomore, but he’s played well beyond his years. He’s thrown for 2,422 yards and 33 touchdowns with seven interceptions this season.

Sleeper team

Julian (6-3): The Jaguars have been on a roll since quarterback Dae’Shaun Hurley was ruled eligible. They’ve scored 150 points in the last four games.

The road for the defending Class 5A state champions

Montini doesn’t have the smoothest path back to the state championship. Being a No. 6 seed, the Broncos will have to beat a number of higher seeds to get there. They could meet Marian Central, which defeated Montini in the regular season, in the quarterfinals. They could play Kaneland, which Montini beat in the state semifinals last seasons, in the semifinal. If Montini and Joliet Catholic reached the title game, it would be a rematch of the 2009 state championship.

Fun fact

Montini is attempting to win its third consecutive state championship with its third different quarterback. Brandon Pechlof was the quarterback in 2009. Matt Westerkamp directed the Broncos last season. John Rhode is the man this season.

State championship prediction: Montini defeats Joliet Catholic