The 6 biggest first-round takeaways from the Rockford area in the IHSA football playoffs

Matt Trowbridge Jay Taft
Rockford Register Star

The Illinois high school football season continued on Friday and here are some key takeaways from the first week of the playoffs:

More football stories at rrstar.com

NIC-10: Hononegah offense comes up big in shootout IHSA playoff win; and How one late fourth-down play decided Belvidere North's playoff fate

NUIC: Durand/Pecatonica eases into Class 3A second round

Top performers: Who stood out in Week 1 of the playoffs?

Scores: All the scores from the first round in the Rockford-area

Photos: See all photos from first-round games

Hononegah plays defense like it’s on offense

Hononegah's Dylan Sayles hits Plainfield East quarterback Brandon Parades to help set up the first of four Hononegah interceptions, this one by Miles Schmidt, in a 53-29 victory Saturday.

Even when Hononegah looked vulnerable on defense for the first time this year, allowing 333 yards passing in a 53-29 win over Plainfield East, it forced five turnovers, including four interceptions.

Hononegah came into the game allowing the second-fewest points of any Class 7A playoff team (9.8). And half of those were with a running clock and Hononegah’s backups on the field. But even when Hono gives up yards, it remains aggressive. Hono now has 19 interceptions on the season.

“Every single one of us, all seven of our DBs and linebackers, are ball hawks,” linebacker Dylan Sayles said. “They are all over the ball.”

Sayles blitzed and hit the QB as he threw leading to the first interception, by Miles Schmidt. On the second, Dylan Seymour looked like a receiver. He jumped a short out route and made a diving catch along the right sideline, keeping his toes in bounds. Three plays after that pick, Hononegah scored to go ahead 22-14.

“That’s part of our defense, reading the patterns and picking them off,” said Drake Emanuel, who had Hononegah’s third interception. Isaiah Houi made the fourth.

Seymour jumped an earlier route but saw the pass slip through his fingers. A few plays later, Plainfield East scored. That didn’t get Seymour down. It just made him even more determined to get a pick.

“I had a chance at the beginning and didn’t make it,” Seymour said. “That stayed in my head. I saw that chance again, and I had to make that pick.”

Le-Win-Forreston rematch already here

Lena-Winslow senior Marey Roby catches a pass in the end zone against Durand/Pecatonica on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, on his team's road to the playoffs. Now Roby and the Panthers will seek revenge against Forreston in the second round of the Class 1A playoffs.

Lena-Winslow had no trouble disposing of Aurora Christian 54-7 in a Class 1A playoff opener on Saturday, and now the Panthers get another shot at Forreston.

Forreston had to rally late, but the Cardinals moved on with a 22-14 Round 1 victory over Galena on Friday night as well.

Now the two NUIC rivals will tangle in the second round of the 1A playoffs next week, just two weeks removed from a 22-20 Forreston win over Le-Win on a 22-play, game-winning drive and a last-second touchdown.

"That (win over Le-Win) was kind of an ego boost, but we came back down this week and had to work for it," Forreston coach Keynon Janicke said. "We didn't want to come crashing back down in this one. … And we don't want to next week, either."

Le-Win (8-2) was ranked fifth in the latest 1A state polls, and they easily knocked off Aurora Christian (6-4), which was ranked 10th. Le-Win intercepted Aurora Christian quarterback Max Bray (13-for-33 for 135 yards) four times and held Aurora Christian to 80 yards rushing.

Forreston (8-2) was ranked fourth last week, and the deep backfield accounted for 360 yards on the ground Friday night, with three guys going for 73 or more. Now the Panthers get another chance to prove what they have against the Cardinals.

North’s explosive young runners

Belvidere North sophomore Joseph Brown breaks loose on a 47-yard run in the first half against Grayslake Central in Friday's 27-22 first-round Class 6A playoff loss.

East has two of the most productive young running backs in NIC-10 history in sophomores Javius Catlin and Deterrace Dotson. Catlin is just the second sophomore in league history to rush for 1,000 yards. And Dotson has around 600. Belvidere North’s sophomore duo haven’t gotten the ball as much, but have been even more explosive when they have.

Nico Bertolino ran for 126 yards on only seven carries in North’s 27-22 loss to Grayslake Central on Friday, and Joseph Brown had 47 yards on his only carry. Brown also had a run of around 30 yards wiped out by an illegal shift penalty. Bertolino finished with 595 yards, averaging a league-high 9.9 yards per carry, while Brown had 302 yards and averaged 7.4.

“He’s a fast little guy, and he’s only a sophomore,” North quarterback Mason Weckler said. “He’s got great things to come when he gets to his senior year.”

Bertolino and Brown are a great outside pair to work with North’s typical bruising fullback and the strong inside running of Weckler, who ran for 105 yards Friday and finished with 796 in this, his senior season. If North’s next quarterback runs as well as Weckler, it will be harder than ever to stop Bertolino and Brown on the edges.

“It’s a really good combo,” Bertolino said. “When you have that, it’s hard to stop.”

East isn’t going away

The E-Rabs lost 41-8 in the first round in Class 6A to No. 1 seed Cary-Grove. East has now lost in the first round by more than 30 points all three times it has made the playoffs under coach Gary Griffin. And this team had 10 three-year starters on defense.

But that doesn’t mean East (5-5) won’t be a playoff contender again next year. Yes, the E-Rabs graduate 23 seniors, one of their bigger senior classes, but four freshmen and seven sophomores played in Friday’s playoff loss, including star running backs Javius Catlin and Deterrace Dotson.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back,” Griffin said. “We’re going to get bigger and faster in the offseason. We still have two of the most dynamic guys in northern Illinois. We will build around those guys (Catlin and Dotson) and keep pushing.”

But the E-Rabs won’t get far if they have to play the likes of Cary-Grove again. The Trojans have made the playoffs 17 years in a row — and won in the first round 17 years in a row. They’ve also won in the second round all but three times.

“When you make the playoffs 17 years in a row and always win a game, you are doing something right,” Griffin said. “That’s a program like we want to be. Maybe it would have been different if we were 6-3 — it’s a lot easier to win when you get a higher seed. When you go in 5-4, you have to be the luckiest team on the planet to win a game.”

Du/Pec slams into No. 1 IC Catholic …

Durand/Pecatonica's Will Howard breaks up a pass intended for Mendota's Garret Zinkle during the Rivermen's 44-0 first-round win in Pecatonica on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

Durand/Pecatonica looked good in every phase of the game while steamrolling over Mendota 44-0 on Saturday in 3A first-round playoff action.

The reward for the Rivermen: a date with No. 1-ranked Elmhurst Immaculate Conception Catholic. 

"They're a good team, we know that," Du/Pec coach Tyler Hoffman said right after his team's first-round victory. "But so are we. We can compete with them."

Du/Pec held Mendota to 89 yards rushing and 3 yards passing and earned its fourth shutout of the season. Elmhurst IC, however, averaged 31.1 points per game in the regular season and kickstarted its playoff run with a 48-0 whipping of Monmouth-Roseville.

Du/Pec has also shown a lot more balance this season than in the past, and the Rivermen may need to rely on that versatility if they're in for an upset next week. Trenton Taylor, who led the NUIC in rushing this season, had 172 yards and three TDs rushing Saturday. QB Hunter Hoffman, who led the NUIC in pass this season, threw for 186 yards and a score and rushed for two more TDs.

The last time the state playoffs were held (in 2019), Elmhurst IC was up in 4A, and it knocked off Stillman Valley 35-14 in the second round, and went on to lose the eventual 4A state champs from Richmond-Burton 24-14 in the next round.

… and Stillman Valley will face the defending champs

Stillman Valley obliterated Chicago Hyde Park 62-14 in its first-round 4A playoff game Friday night, and the Cardinals will now attempt to become the first team to knock off Richmond-Burton in three years.

R-B is the reigning 4A state champs after winning it all in 2019, and it went 6-0 in the shortened spring season. This season the Rockets had three shutouts and outscored their foes 376-91 headed into the playoffs.

On Friday night, R-B rushed for 358 yards and held Chicago Sullivan to minus-10 total yards in its 56-0 first-round win. It was the Rockets' 30th straight victory.