High School: Elk Grove
ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. -- Greg Johnsen didn’t just overhear something or was being told secondhand information about how people were giving Elk Grove’s football team no shot at winning this season.
No, everything Johnsen heard was from people who stood right before him and openly expressed their doubt in him and his teammates.
“There were parents who had seniors last year who said we would be 3-6,” Johnsen said. “There were teachers in our school who didn’t believe in us. I would just accept it. I would say sarcastically, ‘Yeah. We’ll see,’ and go along with it.
“Now we see those people around and they say, ‘Good job,’ and I chuckle.”
Johnsen has been having himself a good old time this season. Unexpected to do anything after losing a bulk of its talent to graduation, the Grenadiers have been of the season’s biggest surprises. They’ve gone 10-1 and have reached the quarterfinals for only the second time in the last 25 years. They’ll play Lake Zurich in Class 7A on Saturday.
One of the main reasons why Elk Grove has had its improbable season is because of Johnsen. He’s been a leader for a young and inexperienced group and has been as a wrecking ball for opposing offenses at nose tackle.
Johnsen was the Mid-Suburban League East Defensive Player of the Year and is now the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week.
“This year has been really special for him,” Elk Grove coach Brian Doll said. “I think defensively he’s just been able to dominate. It’s just his desire. He runs at such a high motor in the games, and he’s been so dominant at the position. You’re talking about a D-lineman with about 90 tackles. That’s not something you’re used to hearing.”
Offensive lines haven’t been to figure out a way to contain Johnsen this season. He’s had 92 tackles, 12 sacks and 25 tackles for loss in 11 games.
Doll and Johnsen largely credited his success to his wrestling background. Johnsen , who is 5-10 and 205 pounds, can get off the ball quickly and from there he understands how to use his body to bypass linemen.
“A lot of it’s about technique and speed,” Johnsen said. “Wrestling helps with balance a lot. It sounds weird, but you know where your body is. You know where you’re stepping. When you’re wrestling someone, you got to feel where you are.”
Doll understood exactly what Johnsen meant.
“There’s the ability to understand leverage with wrestling,” Doll said. “He understands how pressure is applied in one direction and spin off it in another. I see his moves in wrestling just transfer over to the field so well.”
What doesn’t transfer over from off the field to on it is Johnsen’s personality. While he wrestles and is also on the track and field team, football is by far his favorite sport with the reason being it allows him to step the furthest out of his normal self.
“You get to hit people in the face,” said Johnsen, who also plays guard. “You get to become a different person on the field. I’m normally a pretty quiet person. I don’t’ say very much. I’m a very nice person. When I get on the field, I’m all about hitting people and being loud. You get to be a meaner person of yourself when you’re on the field.”
Doll doesn’t mind a bit of meanness out of his nose tackle. But what Doll has been especially impressed by this season has been Johnsen’s leadership.
“His leadership on and off the field for us have been crucial to our success this year,” Doll said. “He’s been a mentor to all of the players.
A lot of people thought this would be a transition year. He’s a big part of the reason why we’ve been so successful.”
Lyons (7-4) at No. 1 Loyola (11-0)
The story: On paper, Loyola should run away with this one. But after last week’s round of upsets, it’s easy to realize that there are no guarantees in the playoffs. The Ramblers haven’t been tested yet through two rounds. They outscored their first two opponents 64-0. Lyons has had some close calls, defeating Bartlett by three points in the opening round and then knocked off Glenbrook South by three points in overtime last week. The Lions’ strength the past three weeks has been putting up points. Their only games of scoring 30 or more points this season came in the last three weeks.
Lyons player to watch: Jaime Jones would have been a great fantasy running back last week. He rushed for five touchdowns on 25 carries.
Loyola player to watch: Wide receiver Peter Pujals is coming off a nine-reception, 181-yard performance against Dunbar.
Prediction: Loyola 31, Lyons 13
No. 12 Downers Grove South (10-1) at No. 2 Bolingbrook (10-1)
When:6 p.m. Saturday
The story: Some of the best football games of the previous four years were Bolingbrook-Downers Grove South matchups. Last season, Bolingbrook won 28-21. In 2009, Bolingbrook won 16-14 in a regular-season matchup, and Downers Grove South won 22-20 in the playoffs. In 2008, Bolingbrook pulled out a 21-20 win. In 2007, Downers Grove South won 10-7. This was the first season their non-conferences meetings ceased, so it’s only fitting they square off in the Class 8A quarterfinals. This could be another classic.
Downers Grove South player to watch: Kaylon Miller is one of the many offensive weapons for the Mustangs.
Bolingbrook player to watch: Offensive lineman Robbie Bain is often responsible for the holes created for Aaron Bailey.
Prediction: Bolingbrook 26, Downers Grove South 24
No. 3 St. Rita (9-2) at O’Fallon (10-1)When:7 p.m. Friday
The story: St. Rita will be making the long drive to the St. Louis area again. The Mustangs made a similar trip in Week 2 when they went to play an out-of-state opponent in East St. Louis. St. Rita is hoping for a better outcome this time after losing that game. O’Fallon has pulled out a couple close wins this season. It narrowly defeated Pekin 34-31 last week. The Panthers’ offense has scored on a consistent basis. St. Rita’s defense will be looking forward to that challenge.
St. Rita player to watch: Max Kurucar had a key interception in last week’s win over Andrew.
O’Fallon player to watch: Running back Ejay Johnson rushed for six touchdowns in the first round.
Prediction: St. Rita 30, O’Fallon 17
No. 4 Stevenson (9-2) at No. 17 Glenbard North (8-3)
When:3 p.m. Saturday
The story: According to the seeding, Stevenson and Glenbard North should not be playing in the quarterfinals. Glenbard North overcame Barrington and Palatine to get here. Stevenson pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs with last week’s win over three-time defending Class 8A state champs Maine South. Stevenson has the been king of close games this season. The Patriots have won six games by a touchdown or less. Glenbard North fell on the wrong side of a couple close games during the regular season, but has been finishing strong late in the season.
Stevenson player to watch: Matt Morrissey is among the capable wide receivers for the Patriots.
Glenbard North player to watch: Phil Jackson makes his presence known on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Stevenson 24, Glenbard North 21
No. 5 Wheaton Warrenville South (8-3) at East St. Louis (9-2)
The story: This is the game everyone had hoped to see last season, but it wasn't to be after East St. Louis was removed from the playoffs due to an ineligible player. Neither team is as talented as it was a year ago, but this should still be an entertaining game. East St. Louis’s defense overwhelmed Oswego with its speed in last week’s win. Its offense also has its share of athletes. Wheaton Warrenville South has been getting by on its defense. The Tigers pulled out a 7-0 win over Lincoln-Way East last week.
Wheaton Warrenville South player to watch: Jack Lipinsky is a threat to get to the quarterback on any play.
East St. Louis player to watch: Natereace Strong is no ordinary freshman running back. He ran for 146 yards and a touchdown against Oswego.
Prediction: Wheaton Warrenville South 17, East St. Louis 13
Elk Grove (10-1) at No. 6 Lake Zurich (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Lake Zurich put together a defensive masterpiece against Glenbard West. If the Bears are playing that well, there are few teams who will be able to beat them. Elk Grove has flown around the radar this season without any wins over ranked teams, but all it has been doing is winning. The Grenadiers are riding a nine-game winning streak into this game. They’ve scored 35-plus points in their two playoff games.
Elk Grove player to watch: Fernando Lozana scored three touchdowns in last week’s victory.
Lake Zurich player to watch: Mike Shield scored the lone touchdown in last week’s win over Glenbard West.
Prediction: Lake Zurich 21, Elk Grove 13
Hubbard (9-2) at No. 7 Lemont (11-0)
When:6 p.m. Saturday
The story: Hubbard is the lone Chicago Public League team to reach the quarterfinals in any class. The Greyhounds’ defense has come up big in the playoffs. It hasn’t allowed more than 13 points. Lemont will be a huge test for Hubbard. The Indians haven’t scored less than 35 points since September. Lemont is also one of the state’s premier defensive teams. It has allowed only two teams more than 14 points.
Hubbard player to watch: Quarterback Quincy Skanes ran for 116 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Richards.
Lemont player to watch: Kyle Krull is one of the defensive stars for the Indians.
Prediction: Lemont 38, Hubbard 17
No. 8 Batavia (11-0) at Lakes (9-2)
When:5 p.m. Saturday
The story: Batavia again looked like one of the area’s best in last week’s win over Lake Forest. The Bulldogs’ run defense especially emerged in the win. That defense will have another challenge this week against Lakes and its bruising running back Direll Clark, who has been one of the biggest stars of the playoffs. He ran for 200-plus yards in last week’s win over Grant.
Batavia player to watch: Alec Lyons had a sack and two tackles for loss in last week’s win over Lake Forest.
Lakes player to watch: Andre Spencer had seven receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown last week.
Prediction: Batavia 38, Lakes 24
No. 9 Nazareth (10-1) at No. 15 Prairie Ridge (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: This game has a state championship feel. Either team could take this game and go onto the win the Class 6A title. Nazareth was expected to be good this season, but no one could have imaged it would be this good. The Roadrunners ran through the gauntlet of the East Suburban Catholic for the league title and has been nearly perfect in the playoffs. Prairie Ridge went through a similarly difficult schedule in the Fox Valley and has cruised in its two playoff games. Both teams have strong run games and can put up points.
Prairie Ridge player to watch: Jordan Getzelman only needed five carries to run for 108 yards and two touchdowns last week.
strong>Nazareth player to watch: Aenas White caught a 56-yard touchdown pass in last week’s win over Cary-Grove.
Prediction: Nazareth 31, Prairie Ridge 21
No. 14 Marian Central (11-0) at No.10 Montini (8-3)
When:2 p.m. Saturday
The story: This is the quarterfinal matchup everyone was waiting for in Class 5A. Marian Central defeated Montini 21-20 when they met in Week 4. The question is whether Marian Central can repeat the feat now that Montini quarterback John Rhode has returned from injury. Rhode missed the first game. He’s thrown 28 touchdowns in his six games back. It’s not as if Marian Central pulled off a fluke win, though. No opponent has come within 15 points of the Hurricanes since their win over Montini.
Marian Central player to watch: Wide receiver Scott Stochal had eight receptions for 147 yards and one touchdown last week.
Montini player to watch: There may not be a better player in the state at any position than wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp.
Prediction: Montini 35, Marian Central 28
Rockford Boylan (11-0) at No. 11 Crystal Lake South (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Like Nazareth-Prairie Ridge, this game could have been a state championship game. Boylan and Crystal Lake South have been two of the state’s premier teams all season. Boylan, which won last year’s Class 6A title, has won all of its games by 14 or more points and has held 10 of its opponents to less than 10 points. Crystal Lake South’s defense has been just as spectacular. The Gators have allowed only one opponent more than 14 points this season. This game could come down to inches.
Rockford Boylan player to watch: Defensive lineman Dean Lowry is a Northwestern recruit.
strong>Crystal Lake South player to watch: Reese Dziedzic rushed for 127 yards in last week’s win over Carmel.
Prediction: Crystal Lake South 20, Boylan 14
No. 15 Joliet Catholic (9-2) at Washington (10-1)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: Joliet Catholic had its season ended unexpectedly by Peoria Richwoods in the Class 5A quarterfinals last season. The Hilltoppers are looking to take another step this season. Joliet Catholic defeated Washington 49-7 in the opening round last season. This is an improved Washington team, though. The Panthers have been especially impressive defensively this year.
Joliet Catholic player to watch: Running back Ty Isaac added to his memorable season with five touchdowns last week.
strong>Washington player to watch: Dakota Bullard returned the opening kick 87 yards in last week’s win over Rich East.
Prediction: Joliet Catholic 38, Washington 24
No. 18 Homewood-Flossmoor (8-3) at No. 19 Naperville Central (8-3)
When:7 p.m. Friday
The story: Homewood-Flossmoor and Naperville Central have been two of the most dominant teams through two rounds of the playoffs. Both teams have scored 40-plus points in both of their wins. Naperville Central’s defense has been more consistent that the Vikings’ defense this season. In Naperville Central’s three losses, it didn’t allow its opponent more than 21 points. In Homewood-Flossmoor’s three losses, it allowed 30-plus points in each game. Homewood-Flossmoor likely has the edge on offense between the two teams.
Homewood-Flossmoor player to watch: Tim Williams has continued to be one of the top quarterbacks in the area.
Naperville Central player to watch: Quarterback Ian Lewandowski ran for two touchdowns and threw for one in last week’s win.
Prediction: Naperville Central 38, Homewood-Flossmoor 28
No. 20 Kaneland (11-0) at Rochelle (8-3)
When:1 p.m. Saturday
The story: The saying “a win is a win” is most apt for the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how you survive, as long you survive. Kaneland and Rochelle are well aware of this. Kaneland got by Belvidere with a 51-45 win the first round and edged St. Francis 31-28 in the second round. Rochelle defeated Urban Prep Charter 43-41 in the first round and Sycamore 21-16 in the second round. The two teams met in the regular season, and Kaneland defeated Rochelle 35-14 in Week 5.
Kaneland player to watch: Cornerback Jacob Razo intercepted his ninth pass of the season last week.
Rochelle player to watch: Quarterback Nick Moore had a 91-yard touchdown run in last week’s win.
Prediction: Kaneland 28, Rochelle 17
Here a look at where things stand in the race to be named ESPNChicago.com's player of the year.1. Wheaton Warrrenville South senior quarterback Reilly O’Toole (previously ranked No. 1)Last week: O’Toole continued picking apart defenses in the Tigers’ 49-7 win over Benet in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs. He was 10-of-12 passing for 143 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 43 yards on four carries. Wheaton Warrenville South improved to 10-0.
Season: 116-of-157 passing for 2,089 yards, 32 touchdowns and one interception; two rushing touchdowns.
Last week: Ferguson rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in Joliet Catholic’s 49-7 win over Washington in the Class 5A playoffs. The Hilltoppers improved to 9-1.
Season: 1,585 yards and 23 touchdowns on 118 carries. He’s averaging 13.4 yards per carry.
3. Simeon junior quarterback Robert Gregory (5)
Last week: Gregory was 8 of 12 for 144 yards and one touchdown and rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns in Simeon’s 47-0 win over St. Ignatius in the Class 7A playoffs. The Wolverines improved to 10-0.
Season: 54-of-89 passing for 1,115 yards and 15 touchdowns; 864 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
4. Plainfield North senior running back Kapri Bibbs (2)
Last week: Bibbs’s season ended with Plainfield North’s 51-12 loss to Glenbard West in the Class 7A playoffs. On the first play from scrimmage, he took off for an 80-yard touchdown, but Glenbard West slowed him down the rest of the day. He finished with 127 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries. He also completed 2-of-2 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Plainfield North fell to 7-3.
Season: 2,646 yards and 38 touchdowns on 301 carries. He averaged 8.8 yards per carry. His indivual season numbers for yards placed him 16th all-time in state history and his touchdowns put him at 14th.
5. Elk Grove senior quarterback Nick Meyer (3)
Last week: Meyer’s season ended with Elk Grove’s 38-21 loss to Schaumburg in the Class 7A playoffs. Meyer was 20-of-36 passing for 143 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and he rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. Elk Grove fell to 7-3.
Season: 179-of-294 passion for 2,235 yards and 20 touchdowns; 1,031 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Elk Grove (2-1) at No. 6 Schaumburg (3-0) on Thursday
The story: It's no surprise the Mid-Suburban League has proven to be among the state's top conferences again. What is surprising is that different teams from a year ago are leading the way. Last year, it was Fremd and Prospect. Now, it's Barrington, Elk Grove and Schaumburg. In Thursday's crossover game, Elk Grove and Schaumburg have dynamic offenses and can put up points. Defense will be the key in this one.
Elk Grove player to watch: Linebacker Joey Bishoff won't be able to contain Schaumburg's offense alone, but he has the ability to do a lot .
Schaumburg player to watch: With a lot of the attention going to running back Shepard Little, it's important to remember the Saxons also have one of the area's top quarterbacks in Mark Iannotti.
Quote: Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling – "We have not had a consistent [offensive line] lineup, but the seven kids who have played there have been steady, which has paved the way for Shepard's performance. ... Our defense has been tackling well individually and collectively, running to the ball very well, executing their assignments. Consequently, we have given up very few big plays."
Prediction: Schaumburg 36, Elk Grove 35
No. 12 Wheaton North (3-0) at No. 9 Glenbard North (3-0) on Friday
The story: After three weeks, we know Wheaton North's offense can score, and Glenbard North's defense doesn't allow offenses to score. Something will have to give in this one. The Falcons have scored 116 points this season and are coming off a 50-7 win over West Chicago. Glenbard North has allowed 17 points this season, and its defense was impressive in last week's 10-3 win over Naperville North.
Wheaton North player to watch: Wide receiver Richard Finley is one of quarterback Reece Butler's favorite targets. He had six catches for 152 yards last week.
Glenbard North player to watch: Safety Sean Fogarty was the difference in last week's win over Naperville North. He picked off two passes with one going for a touchdown and had a diving catch that set up a field goal.
Quote: Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens – "We must establish some type of run game. We need to disrupt their timed-passing game, try to pressure the quarterback and keep their offense off the field."
Prediction: Glenbard North 17, Wheaton North 10
No. 4 Joliet Catholic (3-0) at No. 7 Carmel (3-0) on Friday
The story: This is the game of the week for many reasons. For one, they're two top-10 teams. Secondly, they're East Suburban Catholic foes. Finally, last year's game came down to Joliet Catholic kicking a 35-yard field goal in the final seconds for a 19-16 win. This year's game could be just as exciting. Both teams have been dominant so far and have been led by their talented backfields. Both teams have capable quarterbacks, too.
Joliet Catholic player to watch: Josh Ferguson is one of the state's premier running backs when he's healthy. He was hampered by an injury in Week 1 and had cramps in Week 3. The Hilltoppers will likely need him the whole way this week.
Carmel player to watch: Michael Panico is putting together a memorable season at running back after moving from cornerback. He has 496 yards and five touchdowns.
Quote: Carmel coach Andy Bitto – "We need to run the ball and prevent the big plays."
Prediction: Carmel 24, Joliet Catholic 21
No. 14 Lincoln-Way East (2-1) at Lockport (2-1) on Friday
The story: Lockport fell out of the top-20 rankings with last week's 14-7 loss to Bolingbrook. The Porters will need to get their offense going if they're going to win this game. Lincoln-Way East dropped its first game of the season in Week 2 to Wheaton North and bounced back last week with a victory over Joliet West. The Griffins' defense struggled against Wheaton North and will need to be more consistent against Lockport.
Lincoln-Way East player to watch: Running back Max Bayer is one of the keys to the Griffins' offense. He scored twice last week.
Lockport player to watch: Running back Dan Holman was held to under 100 yards last week. That doesn't happen often. Look for him to try and get back on track this week.
Prediction: Lincoln-Way East 24, Lockport 17
Prairie Ridge (3-0) at No. 11 Crystal Lake South (3-0) on Friday
The story: Prairie Ridge is one of the teams on the cusp of the top 20, and it would improve its stock with a win here. Crystal Lake South is highly ranked, but its schedule isn't the toughest around and could use a quality win like this. Prairie Ridge's offense has been especially strong in the first half of games. It put up 27 points in the opening quarter in last week's win over Jacobs. Crystal Lake South had a scare in Week 2, but came back with a big win last week.
Prairie Ridge player to watch: Senior quarterback Stephen Covalt has found ways in the air and on the ground to score points for Prairie Ridge. He'll be looked at to do the same against Crystal Lake South.
Crystal Lake South player to watch: Kicker Brad Walovitch could come into play in a tight game. He has made three field goals this year, including a 42-yarder.
Prediction: Crystal Lake South 20, Prairie Ridge 14
No. 15 Mount Carmel (2-1) at No. 16 Loyola (3-0) on Saturday
The story: With Providence struggling early on, it appears as if there will be a new Catholic League Blue champion this season. St. Rita is the favorite, but Loyola and Mount Carmel aren't too far behind. Loyola has been solid on both sides of the ball this season and is coming off a win over Providence. The Caravan stumbled in the opening week as they lost to Simeon, but have rebounded nicely since. Loyola beat Mount Carmel twice last season.
Mount Carmel player to watch: Running back Michael Banks is extremely fast. He could give Loyola fits if it allows him to get outside.
Loyola player to watch: Wide receiver E.J. Webb has the size (6-5, 200 pounds) and ability to give defensive backs trouble. He had four catches for 152 yards last week.
Prediction: Loyola 31, Mount Carmel 28
While Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith has taken a bath of criticism from the public and media for going for it fourth-and-goal when his team trailed the Lions 14-13 in the fourth quarter on Sunday, some of the area’s top high school coaches supported Smith when asked their opinion on Tuesday.
Maine South coach David Inserra, who has won back-to-back state titles, approved of the decision.
“I did not hear his interview after it, but I'm sure he talked that his team should have been able to get the TD from that short a distance in four plays,” Inserra said. “It gets to a point where you need to prove yourself as a team to gain that half yard. Also, the defense was playing well and has to do their job. Finally, one point is usually not going to win you the game at that point in the game. That wasn't his decision, it was the offense’s lack of execution that led to it. I like the call.”
Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet, whose team finished second in Class 7A last season, was just as supportive.
"In all fairness to Lovie, none of us were at practice or meetings and have no idea what they may have seen," Hetlet said. "What I mean is they may have seen something that made them think they could get the touchdown. For us it comes down to KYP (Know Your Personnel). Can we get that yard? Honestly, I would have done the same thing … if we can't get a yard when it counts we don't deserve to win.”
Elk Grove coach Brian Doll respects Smith for the call.
"This is a tough question due to the fact that I am not involved in all the intangibles that happened during this game," Doll said. "As a head coach, you are asked to make difficult decisions during a game at crucial times. We all have different philosophies on how to handle this situation. If my kicking
game is sound, I am confident in kicking for the lead when you have the chance while time is running out.
"However, other things could come into play: weather, maybe your kicker is not having a good day, or maybe you want to make a statement to your team that you have the confidence to run the ball from the 1-yard line. I can't guess what was involved in his decision, but it is way more than people realize. While some will disagree with his decision, I respect that he as a professional is putting his team in what he believes is the best position to win."