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Mount Carmel and Loyola could potentially meet in the Class 8A state final in Champaign. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
The picks in the Class 8A bracket below are probably going to surprise some people.
These selections are merely my best guess about what will happen in what most experts believe is a loaded bracket. Coaches will use them for motivation, fans will let me hear about them on the message boards and in five weeks, we’ll know how accurate they were.
In a sense, the picks were a rush job because we didn’t get the pairings till Saturday night. But they’re also the product of a season’s worth of observation both in person and from afar.
There are more than a few games I’d consider a toss-up, and that’s not even factoring in the injuries to key players we know about now — and the ones that could happen in the next month.
I have to make the calls. But I can make a case for several scenarios and here they are. This is why several schools, in no particular order, could wind up raising the Class 8A trophy Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend in Champaign.
* Bolingbrook (7-2, No. 9 seed in the south bracket): Throw out the seed. The Raiders won the 8A title last year and return most of the skill players. But they stumbled against Lincoln-Way East and Sandburg after Illinois-bound quarterback Aaron Bailey got hurt. If there was any doubt about Bailey’s impact, they should be gone now. Bottom line, if Bailey is back and healthy, Bolingbrook — ranked No. 1 by more than a few people this year — could win another trophy.
* Maine South (9-0, No. 1 seed in the north): This will be the second straight year I had the Hawks ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season and didn’t pick them to win state. I guessed right last year when they were knocked out early by Stevenson and I could be wrong this year. Maine South hasn’t lost a conference game in coach David Inserra’s 12 seasons, but was tested frequently this year. That could mean the Central Suburban South is better than usual; more evidence of that is that it produced five playoff teams. And somehow, Northwestern-bound quarterback Matt Alviti and two-way standout Pat Maloney — called by Inserra the best lineman he’s coached — keep finding ways to win while other top teams have stumbled. Would five more wins surprise me? No.
* Loyola (8-1, No. 2 seed in the north): The Ramblers lost two epic semifinals to Maine South in 2009 and ’10, games that some in the north suburbs considered the de facto championship games. They didn’t meet last year, when the Hawks got knocked out early, and Loyola made it to the final before losing in the rain to Bolingbrook. Loyola is mostly new on offense, but as effective as usual. And the Ramblers, whose only loss was by a point to Dallas Jesuit in Ireland in Week 2, have their own two-way X-factor in Luke Ford. Could they go one step further this season? Sure.
* Mount Carmel (8-1, No. 3 seed in the south): The Caravan is an overtime loss to Loyola away from a 9-0 regular season. In that game, Loyola scored twice after Caravan fumbles, another time on a fake punt and kicked the field goal that forced overtime as time ran out in the fourth quarter. Good teams like Loyola capitalize in those situations, and good teams like Mount Carmel learn from their mistakes. The Caravan defense, like Loyola’s, has been a cut above all year. And it’s been 10 years since Frank Lenti, who has won more games and more state titles than anyone else in Illinois history, won the big prize. Will the drought end? We’ll see.
(1) Maine South over (16) Lane
(8) Conant over (9) New Trier
(4) Glenbard North over (13) Fremd
(5) Stevenson over (12) Warren
(6) Schaumburg over (11) Glenbrook South
(3) Palatine over (14) Niles West
(7) Leyden over (10) Bartlett
(2) Loyola over (15) Evanston
(1) Neuqua Valley over (16) Naperville North
(9) Bolingbrook over (8) Sandburg
(12) Oak Park-River Forest over (5) Hinsdale Central
(4) Waubonsie Valley over (13) Proviso West
(6) Simeon over (11) Bloom
(3) Mount Carmel over (14) Brother Rice
(7) Homewood-Flossmoor over (10) O'Fallon
(2) Marist over (15) Lyons
(1) Maine South over (8) Conant
(4) Glenbard North over (5) Stevenson
(3) Palatine over (6) Schaumburg
(2) Loyola over (7) Leyden
(9) Bolingbrook over (1) Neuqua Valley
(4) Waubonsie Valley over (12) Oak Park-River Forest
(3) Mount Carmel over (6) Simeon
(7) Homewood-Flossmoor over (2) Marist
(1) Maine South over (4) Glenbard North
(2) Loyola over (3) Palatine
(9) Bolingbrook over (4) Waubonsie Valley
(3) Mount Carmel over (7) Homewood-Flossmoor
(1) Maine South over (2) Loyola
(3) Mount Carmel over (9) Bolingbrook
Class 8A State Championship
(3) Mount Carmel over (1) Maine South