- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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There was little hope of winning the Class 8A state championship the past two years if your team name wasn’t Maine South.
The Hawks possessed the state’s best offensive weapon in 2008 (quarterback Charlie Goro) and 2009 (running back Matt Perez) and had plenty of talent around them to roll through their competition. Maine South went undefeated both years and won the state title in 2008 with a 41-21 win over Hinsdale Central and in 2009 with a 41-17 win over Marist.
In 2010, there’s finally hope for everyone else. While Maine South is still a state contender, the Hawks aren’t the same dominating team they were the past two seasons.
So who steps into the Hawks’ place? It’s up in the air. There are nearly a dozen teams capable of going all the way.
Here’s a deeper look at Class 8A.
Best opening round game
No. 9 Naperville North at No. 8 Marist: Both teams experienced similar seasons. They come from elite conferences. Both finished third behind highly-ranked teams. Both lost two close games. For Naperville North, it lost by seven points each to Glenbard North and Wheaton North and ended up third in the DuPage Valley. For Marist, it lost to Carmel and Joliet Catholic by a combined 11 points to take third in the East Suburban Catholic.
Top 10 Class 8A teams
1. Loyola (8-1): Earned a share of the Catholic League title with upset of St. Rita
2. Glenbard North (8-1): Only loss to Wheaton Warrenville South
3. Stevenson (9-0): Finished regular season undefeated for second consecutive season
4. Lyons (8-1): Earned a lot of respect with Week 9 win over Glenbard West
5. Mount Carmel (7-2): Caravan roll into 25th consecutive playoff appearance
6. York (8-1): Defeated Lyons during the regular season
7. Maine South (7-2): Has won seven straight since rough start
8. Marist (6-3): Experienced a few tough breaks this season
9. Naperville North (6-3): One of the best defensive teams in the area
10. Downers Grove South (7-2): Playing well after losing first two games of the season
Top 5 players to watch
1. Nick Lifka, SR, LB, Naperville North:A Boston College recruit, he may be the state’s best defensive player. He had 18 tackles against Glenbard North this season.
2. Malcolm Weaver, JR, QB, Loyola: He has flourished in his first year starting for the Ramblers, throwing for almost 30 touchdowns.
3. Chris Sujka, SR, QB, Mount Carmel: He operates the Caravan’s option to perfection, breaking off runs of 50-plus yards nearly every game.
4. Stephen Salata, SR, WR, Stevenson: He has been one of the area’s top receivers this season with 100 yards receiving in almost every game.
5. Brian Bobek, SR, OL, Fremd: At 6 foot 3 and 275 pounds, he is considered one of the nation’s top offensive linemen and is committed to Ohio State.
Fremd (5-4): After being highly ranked to start the season, the Vikings dropped four of their first five games. With their backs against the wall, Fremd won its last four games, including a 26-12 victory over Barrington, and reached the playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. No one wants to face them right now.
Road for defending champions
Maine South began the season No. 1 in ESPNChicago.com’s rankings. Young and inexperienced, the Hawks probably didn’t deserve that ranking. There was an assumption that because they had won 28 consecutive games and back-to-back state titles that they would continue winning this season. They lost their first two games -- including a lopsided one to Wheaton Warrenville South -- and fell out of the rankings. Since then, Maine South has gained that needed experience and turned itself into a quality team. Led by sophomore quarterback Matt Alviti, the Hawks have won their last seven games all by 21 points or more and are heading into the playoffs with some momentum. They have the highest scoring average of all 8A teams with 40.4 points a game. Being a No. 4 seed, the road isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible.
The Class 8A playoffs would like to welcome back Barrington, Bartlett, Brother Rice, Dunbar, Evanston, Homewood-Flossmoor, Neuqua Valley, Vocational, Whitney Young and York. All 10 teams missed the playoffs last season. Homewood-Flossmoor made the biggest turnaround from last year. After a 1-8 season in 2009, the Vikings were 7-2 this year.
Maine South coach David Inserra: “We must continue to take care of the ball offensively and generate the big play. Defensively, we must be able to defend the pass and provide field position for the offense. Mainly, we must keep doing what we have been doing for the last seven games -- play Hawk football and take care of ourselves. Hopefully, two years and 10 games of playoff experience for these seniors will help in the big picture of the playoffs -- high energy, intensity, focus -- that it takes to compete and survive.”
Stevenson coach Bill McNamara:“Honestly, I think this can be a wide-open class. There are a lot of great football teams in 8A this year. You always have to take a close look at Maine South as the defending 8A champs. Their 7-2 record is very deceiving. Also, Loyola has had a very strong season. They are always a team that is very talented and well-coached. The Stevenson Patriots are looking forward to the IHSA state football playoffs. This is by far the best time of the year in high school athletics. Good luck to all the qualifying teams. Enjoy every moment.”
Loyola coach John Holecek:“A Lyons-Mount Carmel quarterfinal likely will decide the South bracket. Stevenson-Maine South decides the semis with Glenbard North and us also as contenders. Fremd is playing extremely well and will be a good underdog.”
State championship prediction: Loyola defeats Mount Carmel