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LSU recruit Ethan Pocic blocks for Lemont against Oak Forest at Oak Forest, Sunday, September 21st, 2012 in Oak Forest, IL. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
The high school football playoffs have produced some stunning moments, both good and unfortunate for our local squads.
From teams making unsuspecting quarterfinal runs to perennial powers being ushered out the playoff door quicker than anticipated, these playoffs have been as unpredictable as a midnight Las Vegas buffet.
But lets’s focus on the positives, shall we?
Lincoln-Way West, just four years old, has advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals and left in its wake No. 1 seed Kaneland, which likely still doesn’t know what hit them Saturday.
Evergreen Park, which finished the regular season above .500 for a third straight time, finds itself in the Class 4A quarterfinals party for a second straight year.
Crete-Monee, a regular season wrecking ball under coach Jerry Verde, is participating in the Class 6A quarterfinals for a third time in six years.
Mount Carmel, which has qualified for the postseason 27 straight seasons, finds itself three wins away from an 11th state championship.
Lincoln-Way East, bounced from the Class 7A playoffs in the second round the past four seasons, removed that monkey from its back and finds itself in the quarterfinals.
Oak Forest, with 13 consecutive playoff season under its belt, including a pair of trips to the Class 6A semifinals in 2006 and ‘07, is one win away from another semis appearance.
Ironically, standing in the way of Oak Forest advancing to the semis is Lemont, which owns stock in “early playoff exit repellent.”
It hasn’t mattered who runs, catches or throws the ball; who blocks, tackles or kicks; Lemont gets the job done.
There hasn’t been any one-and-done playoff appearances during coach Eric Michaelsen’s 11 years. Heck, there hasn’t even been a second round ouster the past six seasons.
It’s been quarterfinals or bust since 2007, a model of consistency few others in the area can match.
The Indians have advanced to the playoffs nine consecutive years, the last six resulting in at least 10 victories.
In 2007 and ‘08, Lemont advanced to the 6A state title game, only to fall short. Still, at least Lemont can say it’s experienced the thrill of a state championship, something a great many others from our talent rich region cannot.
“It’s not something we talk about,” said Michaelsen, of reaching the quarterfinals the past six years. “We talk about making the playoffs, winning conference and winning as many games as possible in the playoffs.”
It’s worked, in large part, with the benefit of some oversized, skilled linemen and a relentless supporting cast.
Lemont has developed some of the most skilled lineman the Southland has ever produced, including seniors Ethan Pocic, an LSU recruit, and Bowling Green bound Tim McAuliffe.
But their presence hardly guarantees a trip to the quarters. In truth, the Indians have rarely had Division 1 skill players to line up with those beefy linemen.
The running backs they do have, though, like Chris Giatras this year and Mike Andreotti in 2011, run with vengeance and passion.
“Generally, those kids are not that fast but they give you every ounce of energy and effort each week,” Michaelsen said. “We’ve had really good players who are willing to sacrifice and work hard to be a part of the program. It would be nice to have the Division 1 skill kid. But I’m happy with what we have — kids who listen and want to be successful. I wouldn’t trade them.”
Lemont has been criticized, even in this space, for putting together a less than imposing nonconference schedule.
You know what? It’s hasn’t affected the Indians adversely on the field.
There are also plenty of critics of the South Suburban Blue Conference, me not being one of them. The truth of that matter is the Blue had five of its teams qualify for the postseason, three of whom advanced to the second round, and two that are still standing in the quarterfinals.
“I think we have a very good conference and one of our top goals is to win conference,” Michaelsen said. “It prepares us for the postseason.”
Lemont is striving to beat Oak Forest Saturday for a second time this season and punch its ticket to the semis. It’s a game that has all the makings of a classic.
The first encounter in Week 5, the Indians received a last-second field goal from Joe Hehir to pull out a 17-14 win.
Win or lose, this much is fairly certain: Lemont will not beat itself. It has a knack of allowing other teams do that.
“We like to play strong defense and control the clock by running the ball,” he said. “We can throw it, but the more you throw it, the more high risk the offense.”