There’s no class more wide open than Class 6A in this season’s IHSA football playoffs.
Picking the state champion out of a hat may be as accurate as an educated guess this year. There are at least nine state-title contenders.
Batavia, Cary-Grove, Crete-Monee, Lemont, Nazareth and Prairie Ridge are all currently ranked in the ESPNChicago.com Top 20. From outside the area, Normal Community, Normal Community West and Danville all have strong resumes. Then, there are teams like Antioch and Lake Forest, which have played well during spurts this season.
“Class 6A is solid,” Batavia coach Dennis Piron. “There are lot of teams who could win it all. I expect a lot of upsets these first two weeks.”
Best opening round game
No. 13 Grant vs. No. 4 Antioch: Antioch will get a chance to avenge its only regular-season loss. Grant upset the Sequoits 22-14 in Week 8. Grant’s Kyle Whitman scored the game-winning touchdown with 45.7 seconds remaining.
Top 10 Class 6A teams
1. Lemont (9-0): The Indians defense is among the state’s best. Lemont has allowed just five points a game and held five opponents scoreless. The Indians have the easiest road to the semifinals.
2. Batavia (9-0): The Bulldogs have been one of the season’s bigger surprises. While they were expected to be a good team this season, no one could have guessed they’d be so dominant. Batavia outscored opponents by an average of 35.4 points in the regular season.
3. Crete-Monee (9-0): The Warriors have the talent to compete with anyone. The only question is if they’ll be ready to play another top-ranked team. Their regular-season schedule was the easiest of the elite 6A teams.
4. Nazareth (8-1): The Roadrunners fought through a demanding eight-game East Suburban Catholic schedule and won a share of the title. Their offense can put up points, but their defense was especially impressive in wins over Joliet Catholic and Marist.
5. Cary-Grove (7-2): The Trojans are as hot as anyone in the class right now coming off an overtime win over Prairie Ridge. They could meet Nazareth in the second round.
6. Prairie Ridge (8-1): The Wolves looked like the state championship favorite before falling 22-21 to Cary-Grove in Week 9. It was the first time their offense was held to less than 29 points.
7. Normal Community West (9-0): The Wildcats are the premier 6A team outside of the Chicago area. They went undefeated in a tough Big Twelve Conference. They defeated Danville 15-14 in Week 5 and could see a rematch with the Vikings in the second round.
8. Danville (8-1): The Vikings lost to Normal Community West by one point and defeated Normal Community by one.
9. Lake Forest (7-2): The North Suburban Lake went under the radar this season, but the Scouts were right there with Lake Zurich and Stevenson. They defeated Stevenson 10-7 and lost to Lake Zurich 16-6.
10. Antioch (8-1): The Sequoits were at one time ranked in the Chicago area. They could find themselves in the quarterfinals if they can return to form.
Top 5 players to watch
2. Lemont, JR, OL, Ethan Pocic: Pocic is one of the state’s biggest and most talented offensive lineman. He’s 6-6 and 285 pounds and is being highly recruited.
3. Nazareth, SR, DB, Kalium Ewing: Ewing was the East Suburban Catholic defensive player of the year. He’s returned four interceptions for touchdowns.
4. Prairie Ridge, JR, RB, Jordan Getzelman: Getzelman is averaging 13 yards per carry and has scored 11 rushing touchdowns and six receiving touchdowns.
5. Batavia, SR, QB, Noel Gaspari: Gaspari is one of most talented quarterbacks in the area. He’s thrown for 2,061 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Bremen (6-3): Someone will have to emerge to face Lemont in the quarterfinals, and it’s likely Bremen. The Braves have been up and down a bit, but they do possess one of the state’s top running backs in David Smith.
Crete-Monee coach Jerry Verde: “We have a difficult opener versus Bloomington. They are a team that has made the playoffs 25 straight years. They play fundamentally sound defense and have some legitimate weapons on offense. Should we win Saturday, we would play an excellent Normal Community or Peoria Richwoods team. We feel good about where we are as a program, and feel we can compete with all the teams in our quadrant, but must first win round one.”
Nazareth coach Tim Racki: “We have a tough bracket, but we play in a tough conference. No such thing as an easy road in the playoffs in my opinion.”
Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen: “I think 6A is solid. There are a lot of good, well-coached teams.”
The road for the defending Class 6A state champions
Boylan was bumped up to Class 7A, so there will definitely be a new champion in 6A.
Only five teams in the Class 6A playoff have won a state championship before. Richards and Peoria Richwoods have won two titles, and Cary-Grove, Deerfield and Normal Community have each won one.
State championship prediction: Batavia defeats Lemont