8A breakdown: Can Loyola break through?

To get that elusive 8A title, Loyola will need to get past Maine South. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

Within minutes of Loyola defeating St. Rita last week, Ramblers quarterback Malcolm Weaver began dealing with questions about the Class 8A playoffs and the possibility of facing Maine South again.

Weaver and the Ramblers have been eliminated by Maine South the last two years in the 8A semifinals and watched as the Hawks continued onto consecutive state championships.

On the one hand, it’d be understandable if Loyola would rather not see Maine South again. The Hawks may just have their number. But on the other hand, the Ramblers could believe if they’re going to win their first state championship since 1993 the proper way for it to come is by pushing Maine South off the mountain.

Weaver thought the latter.

“That’s who we want to see,” Weaver said. “That’s the goal right now. We’ve competed against them greatly. Great competition. We want to play the best competition. We want to play Maine South.”

Of course, Maine South doesn’t care who it plays. For the last three years, the Hawks have set up the Class 8A dominoes and knocked them down one by one on their way to three consecutive state championships.

Best opening round game

No. 12 Homewood-Flossmoor at No. 5 Marist: Whatever the over is for this game, take it. Both teams have put up plenty of points this season. Homewood-Flossmoor is averaging 43.2 points a game. Marist is averaging 37.9 points and has scored 120 points in its last two games.

Top 10 Class 8A teams

1. Maine South (9-0): The Hawks are shooting for their fourth consecutive state championship. They’ve been ranked No. 1 in the area from the opening poll.

2. Loyola (9-0): The Ramblers have come close to dethroning Maine South. Is this finally the year? Their offense and defense have been impressive.

3. Bolingbrook (8-1): The Raiders’ lone loss came to Lincoln-Way East, and they were leading that game the entire first half. They’re not too far off Loyola and Maine South.

4. Palatine (8-1): The Pirates responded from their season-opening loss to Montini with eight consecutive wins.

5. Marist (7-2): The RedHawks are as hot as anyone right now with back-to-back wins over Carmel and Joliet Catholic.

6. Downers Grove South (8-1): The Mustangs took a step back with their Week 9 loss to Addison Trail, but they were among the state’s top teams throughout the rest of the season.

7. Bartlett (7-2): The Hawks’ losses came early in the season to Batavia and Wheaton North. They rallied to win the Upstate Eight Valley title.

8. Waubonsie Valley (8-1): The Warriors’ lone regular-season loss came to Bartlett and was the difference for the Upstate Eight Valley title. Waubonsie Valley is a No. 1 seed.

9. Stevenson (7-2): The Patriots have played six games decided by seven points or less. They won four of them.

10. Mount Carmel (6-3): The Caravan ended the regular season on a low note, losing to Providence. They were in the area’s top 10 for most of the year.

Top 5 players to watch

1. Simeon offensive lineman Jordan Diamond: Diamond is one of only two Illinois players in ESPNU’s 150. He’s not committed yet.

2. Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti: Alviti already has offers from Illinois, Northwestern and Notre Dame. He’s still only a junior.

3. Bolingbrook linebacker Antonio Morrison: Morrison is one of the state’s top defensive players. He’s committed to Florida.

4. Downers Grove South running back Josh Williams: Williams is in contention for ESPNChicago.com Offensive Player of the Year.

5. Loyola quarterback Malcolm Weaver: Weaver is one of the area’s premier dual-threat quarterbacks.

Sleeper team

Simeon (7-2): It’s hard to tell what the Wolverines are going to do in the playoffs. They lost early games to Mount Carmel and an out-of-state team, then cruised through their Public League competition. They have the pieces to make a run.

Coaches’ thoughts

Maine South coach David Inserra: “Class 8A looks to be fair throughout with even competition in each of the four quads. The key to success for us is continue to do what we do best and make slight adjustments based on the opponent at hand. This time of year can be a grind. so it's important to stay healthy physically and sickness-wise, plan accordingly, be able to shift ‘mid-stream’ if that's what's called for and stay the course. Everyone is good at this time. Should be a great playoff with some interesting and exciting games right off the bat.”

Loyola coach John Holecek: “I know there’s one team that’s really, really good out there that we’re going to have to play eventually. But there are a bunch of North Side teams that could cause us a lot of trouble. There’s a bunch of good teams, unknowns in the playoffs. We’re not going to look ahead. We’re just going to talk about the next game.”

The road for the defending Class 8A state champions: If the seeds play out, Maine South would face Stevenson in the second round and Palatine in the quarterfinals. Because the IHSA doesn’t seed 1-32 in the playoffs, Maine South and Loyola would meet in the semifinals. It would be at Loyola, which is the top seed.

Fun fact: Thirty of the 32 teams in the Class 8A playoffs also reached the playoffs last season. Only Hinsdale Central and Naperville Central missed the playoffs last year. Mount Carmel is making its 26th consecutive appearance.

State championship prediction: Maine South over Bolingbrook