Class 8A football playoff preview

Naperville North linebacker Nick Lifka is considered one of the state's top junior prospects Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

Upper bracket

No. 16 Naperville North (5-4) at No. 1 Fremd (9-0)

Fremd had two early close games -- a 10-7 win over Lake Zurich and a 21-20 win over Rolling Meadows -- but otherwise the Vikings have been as dominant as they come. Fremd's offensive line has been strong all season. Running back Evan Wright has benefited from that line but also has shown he is a big-time player. He will be in the running for ESPNChicago.com's High School Football Player of the Year. The Vikings' defense has allowed just one opponent more than 14 points this season. … Naperville North clinched its 13th consecutive playoff appearance with a win in its final game of the regular season. The Huskies' losses this season have included Glenbard North, Naperville Central, Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South. Linebacker Nick Lifka is considered one of the state's top junior prospects.

No. 9 Lake Park (7-2) at No. 8 Belleville East (7-2)

Belleville East will certainly have the home-field advantage as Lake Park has travel to five hours to reach its destination. Belleville East won seven games, but struggled against the top competition in its area. The Lancers lost to East St. Louis 35-7 and O'Fallon 17-7. … Lake Park, which is also nicknamed the Lancers, has relied on its running game this season. Senior running backs Clay Cooper, Jack McNamara and Artie Monaco have shared the team's carries with success. Lake Park's two losses were to Glenbard East and Waubonsie Valley.

No. 13 Schaumburg (6-3) at No. 4 Marist (7-2)

Marist shocked many when it knocked off Joliet Catholic, but then also surprised when it lost to St. Patrick. When quarterback Mike Perish and the Redhawks' offense are clicking, Marist is at its best. In the loss to St. Patrick they struggled. The RedHawks do enter the playoffs on a high note, as they defeated Marian Catholic 49-0 last week. … There's no shame in Schaumburg's three losses this season, as the Saxons lost to Fremd, Maine South and Prospect. Lately, the Saxons have shown what they are capable of against other teams. They enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. Running back Warren Brewer and quarterback Mark Iannotti have had plenty of success this season. Schaumburg's defense has shown it can give up points. Fremd, Maine South and Prospect each scored 38 or more points against the Saxons.

No. 12 Lockport (6-3) at No. 5 Naperville Central (7-2)

This has the potential to be a close game, and Naperville Central knows a lot about close games. The Redhawks had games decided by eight points or fewer five times this season. All five of those they won. Their two losses came to Glenbard North and Wheaton Warrenville South. Nick Linne has been of the area's most consistent quarterbacks. … Lockport took a step toward rebuilding its football tradition this season. The Porters are returning to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Their biggest win of the season was handing Bolingbrook its only loss. Running back Dan Holman has been a major reason for this season's success.

No. 15 Lyons (5-4) at No. 2 Bolingbrook (8-1)

Ever since Bolingbrook lost to Lockport in Week 3, the Raiders have been among the area's best. Their defense is stacked with Division I players. Their offense has been putting up big numbers behind the play of running back Jamel Martin and quarterback Brad Geever. … Lyons returns to the playoffs after not reaching them last season. The Lions enter the first round on a two-game losing streak after falling to Glenbard West and Leyden to end the regular season. Running back Nick Brown has big-play ability.

No. 2 Waubonsie Valley (6-3) at No. 7 Downers Grove South (7-2)

Downers Grove South has been one of the hottest teams in the area. After falling to highly ranked Bolingbrook and Glenbard West in the first two weeks, the Mustangs have won their past seven games. Downers Grove South quarterback Chandler Whitmer is committed to Illinois and is one of the best in the country. … Two of Waubonsie Valley's three losses were determined by eight points or fewer. In the Warriors' season opener, they played Naperville Central close only to lose 25-18. Quarterback Kenny Clay can run and pass. He has rushed for nearly 500 yards and passed for more than 1,000.

No. 14 Andrew (6-3) at No. 3 Glenbard North (8-1)

Glenbard North took second in the DuPage Valley, arguably the toughest conference in the state. The Panthers were able to secure that spot with a 27-14 win over Naperville Central last week. Evan Natick was one of the area's top running backs before an injury sidelined him midway through the season. He is back now and rushed for 175 yards and three touchdowns in the regular-season finale. The Panthers' lone loss was to Wheaton Warrenville South. … Andrew's season started off rocky with back-to-back losses to Sandburg and Lincoln-Way Central, but the Thunderbolts bounced back with six wins in their past seven games. Defensively, Andrew held six of its opponents to 10 points or fewer. Andre Gahan has been the team's top running back.

No. 11 Sandburg (6-3) at No. 6 Hinsdale Central (7-2)

Hinsdale Central has been ranked in the top 5 all season. The Red Devils' losses came to Glenbard West and Wheaton Warrenville South. Quarterback John Whitelaw is versatile and one of the state's best. Hinsdale Central will put up plenty of points. If it is going to make a deep run, the defense will need to step up. Here is a variety of reading material on the team:

Sandburg will look to feed off the momentum of its last game when the Eagles scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and stunned Lockport with a 14-10 win. Sandburg's losses this season were respectable as it fell to Bolingbrook, Lincoln-Way Central and Lincoln-Way East. Kicker Taylor Zalewski has made some big field goals this season.

Lower bracket

No. 16 Oak Park (5-4) at No. 1 Mane South (9-0)

Maine South was the best team in the area all season. The Hawks have an explosive one-two punch in running back Matt Perez, a front-runner for ESPNChicago.com's High School Football Player of the Year, and quarterback Tyler Benz. No one has gotten closer than 11 points to Maine South all season. Coach David Inserra talks about his team here. … Oak Park could be a scary draw for the Hawks. The Huskies won four out of their past five to reach the playoffs, and if it weren't for a fluke play, they would have defeated highly ranked Hinsdale Central. Running back Tony Stapleton is durable. Against Lyons, he carried the ball 42 times for 243 yards.

No. 9 Leyden (7-2) at No. 8 Palatine (7-2)

Palatine has relied on its high-scoring offense this season. The Pirates have scored 21 or more points in eight of their nine games. Palatine quarterback Cody Bobbit missed three weeks because of a shoulder injury, but now has been playing the past two weeks. He, Nick McHugh, James Smearman, Joe Pelnar and Mike Luschen have all led to the offense's success. In the Pirates' two losses, they gave up 28 and 31 points. … Leyden enters the matchup on a five-game winning streak. Downers Grove South and Proviso West had the Eagles' number early in the season. Leyden running back Angel Maldanado has been leading the way lately. He had 313 yards and four touchdowns in the team's final regular-season game. The Eagles' biggest win of the season was a 14-10 victory over Lyons.

No. 13 Proviso West (5-4) at No. 4 Taft (8-1)

Despite Taft's seed and record, it will be the underdog in this matchup, coming from the Public League's Big Shoulders conference. Still, Taft is having one of its best seasons in school history. A major reason for that has been the play of quarterback Michael Shewchuck and wide receiver Anthony Hardeman. … Proviso West was riding high early in the season as the Panthers were off a 4-0 start. Since then, they lost to Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central, Lyons and Oak Park, all respectable playoff teams. This is a major step for the program, as Proviso West has never reached the playoffs before. Kyle Prater, one of the top wide receivers in the country, is what drives the Panthers. Read more about him and the Panthers here and here.

No. 12 Notre Dame (6-3) at No. 5 Glenbrook South (7-2)

Glenbrook South's two losses came to two teams that didn't lose all season -- Maine South and Stevenson. In both games, the Titans hung with their opponents. Against Stevenson, it came down to a 2-point conversion in overtime. Fullback Michael Hirsch can run over defenses. He has been good for 100-plus yards and a few touchdowns every game. … Notre Dame was feeling good about itself until the regular-season finale when the Dons lost to Joliet Catholic 55-14. Running back Julian Burgos has been consistent all season. He even rushed for 141 yards and a 50-yard score against Joliet Catholic. Anthony Jahns is one of the team's top defensive players.

No. 15 New Trier (5-4) at No. 2 Stevenson (9-0)

Stevenson has been one of the season's biggest surprises. The Patriots were expected to be good, but not this good. Stevenson has the perfect mixture of running and passing in its offense. Mark Weisman and Matt Harris are both capable running backs. Junior quarterback Kevin Earl could be among the area's best next season. Wide receiver Nate Johnson can make big-time plays. Here's coverage from Stevenson's win over rival Libertyville. Here's a Q&A with Stevenson coach Bill Mitz. … New Trier has had an up-and-down season, but the Trevians have shown flashes of where they can compete with the area's best. They stayed within 14 points of Maine South. They were right there with St. Patrick and Warren. Quarterback Stu Brown is a threat to run or pass.

No. 10 Mount Carmel (6-3) at No. 7 Simeon (7-2)

This is a tough first-round draw for Simeon. The Wolverines lost to Mount Carmel 53-27 in the season opener at Soldier Field. For Simeon to have a chance this time, it must do a better job of containing Mount Carmel's offense. Simeon quarterback Robert Gregory and wide receiver Demarius Reed can make big plays. In the regular-season finale, Reed had a 21-yard touchdown pass reception and returned a punt for a score. … Mount Carmel hasn't had the typical Caravan season, but a lot of that has been a result of failing to capitalize on opportunities. In the Caravan's St. Rita loss, they were within 8 points in the third quarter before a fumble cost them dearly. Against Providence, they just had to run out the game's final four minutes, but threw an interception and allowed the Celtics to drive the field. Running backs Milton Greer and Denzel Thompson are among the area's best. Here's coverage from the team's Providence loss, its loss to St. Rita and its win over Fenwick.

No. 14 St. Patrick (5-4) at No. 3 Loyola (8-1)

Loyola is another one of the season's surprises. The Ramblers were probably thought to be behind Mount Carmel, Providence and St. Rita in the Catholic League Blue before the season began. Instead, they finished behind only Providence, and that game was close (10-3). Loyola's defense is one of the best in the state. It is led by Northwestern-bound defensive end Chance Carter, but the Ramblers have plenty of other talent. Here's a Q&A with Loyola coach John Holocek from earlier in the season. … St. Patrick has had a roller-coaster type of season. The Shamrocks endured a 52-14 loss to St. Viator and a 45-9 defeat to Joliet Catholic. They also hung with Carmel only to lose 14-7 and upset Marist 24-20. St. Patrick has a couple different running backs who can move the chains. Here's video from that Marist win.

No. 11 Curie (6-3) at No. 6 Warren (7-2)

The return of senior running Greg Kennedy, who missed last season for disciplinary reasons, made the biggest difference this season for Warren. Kennedy has been one of the most dangerous backs in the state. He had 223 yards and four touchdowns against Libertyville. He had 192 yards and three scores against New Trier. He had 175 yard and three touchdowns against Antioch. As running back Tom Lindal showedagainst Lake Forest, he has ability, too. … Curie was strong in Public League play, but struggled when it went outside the city. The Condors lost to highly-ranked Bolingbrook 40-6 and Andrew 41-20. Kevin Buchanan has made plays for Curie in a variety of ways this season.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.