Here we go, Marty. I won’t remind you that I lead 1-0 in our predictions. I picked OPRF against Glenbard West. Here’s my breakdown of Oak Park and River Forest at Brother Rice.
The intriguing matchup is one of the IHSA’s top football playoff games this weekend. Despite the considerable disparity in seeding (BR is No. 1; OPRF No. 16), the Huskies and Crusaders appear to be evenly matched, therefore making this a winnable game for the Huskies.
A key to victory for OPRF will be exercising great discipline. In last week’s Class 8A first-round 34-16 win over New Trier, the Huskies committed nine penalties. This was a stark departure from the normal tendency of this year’s team.
In 2013, 15 penalties hampered the team’s chances to defeat Maine South as OPRF lost a second-round game 34-21 despite getting big games from quarterback Lloyd Yates and wide receiver Simmie Cobbs. Granted that was five years ago, but the best thing about history is to learn from it.
In terms of penalties, I’m not talking about holding, illegal block, or interference calls because those mistakes happen occasionally. What I’m really referring to are undisciplined penalties such as false starts, offsides, illegal procedures, personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conducts.
A pair of unsportsmanlike conduct calls against OPRF late set up New Trier’s final touchdown. Simply put, this type of undisciplined play is likely to keep a team from advancing deeper in the playoffs. Smart, disciplined play is a must for the Huskies against Brother Rice.
Another key to victory will be continuing to strive for increased balance offensively. As current Illinois head coach Lovie Smith once said while leading the Chicago Bears a few years ago, “we get off the bus running.” With running backs like Nazareth Bryant and Keith Robinson and quarterback Jaden McGill, the Huskies have been successful with their running game.
OPRF has to make plays in the passing game against the Crusaders. I look for wide receivers Trevon Brown, Craig Shelton and Erik Skala to become more involved Saturday night.
Brother Rice will likely stack the box in an effort to contain McGill. Earlier this season, that strategy likely would’ve been quite effective. McGill, a running back last season, has improved his throwing. He’ll need to make a few good throws to keep the chains moving against the Crusaders’ stout defense.
Next, the team that creates the more big plays will be in good position to win. OPRF has several players on both sides of the ball capable of making a difference.
Top playmakers include: McGill, Bryant, Robinson, Brown and Shelton on offense; Izaiah Ruffin, Ashford Hollis, Cedric Cheatham, Aidan Shea and Machi Young on defense.
Additionally, if the game comes down to pressure punts or field goal attempts, OPRF punter Ethan Reinhardt and placekicker Henry Darrow have been clutch throughout the season, highlighted by Darrow’s game-winning 41-yard field goal at Glenbard West.
Brother Rice is favored by many to win this second-round matchup. But they’re not considering the heart and determination OPRF has shown this season. In a very close game that will probably be low scoring, I’m going with the Huskies.
The Huskies haven’t been to the football state quarterfinals since 1985. That’s far too long for a historic program like OPRF. The drought ends Saturday as the Huskies get it done in Chicago. The floor is yours, Marty
Tate’s Take pick: OPRF 21, Brother Rice 14
Thanks, Melvin. You gave an excellent summation as always. Here’s my closing argument.
I preface my prediction by asking readers (in the spirit of Halloween), please no threatening letters or claims “they know what I did last summer” if they don’t like my prognostication. Furthermore, the Wednesday Journal sports department will be vacant this weekend in case disgruntled locals seek me out with pitchforks and lanterns.
Of course, I write the above requests kiddingly as Melvin and me make our picks with a sense of fun.
To be clear, I hope OPRF wins this weekend but it won’t be easy.
My biggest concern for the Huskies entering their second-round matchup against Brother Rice is a factor the former has no control over.
The Crusaders’ brutal schedule and their subsequent obliteration of it caught my attention. Granted games are not played “on paper,” but Brother Rice is battled tested against the some of the best teams in the state. The Crusaders are 10-0 and have outscored their last four opponents by a combined score of 168-0. Overall, the Crusaders hold a 353-52 scoring advantage this season. I was never good in math but those numbers will play.
While OPRF has been very impressive defensively, the Crusaders have been even better, No team has scored more than 16 points against Brother Rice. That list includes high-powered squads like Marist, Loyola, Providence, St. Rita and Montini.
The Huskies have fared very well on the scoreboard, too, with a 304-121 points for/against ledger through 10 games.
In terms of intangibles, I think it’s a wash. The Huskies are playing with confidence and chemistry. A boatload of talent helps their cause as well. Hopefully, OPRF fans come out en masse to support the team.
On the flipside, Brother Rice has a tremendous fan base, momentum as well, and the benefit of playing at home. The Crusaders went 2-7 in 2017. As soon as that debacle of a regular season was done, several players talked about circling the date of the 2018 state title game. Brother Rice is on a mission.
In past years, Mount Carmel, Loyola, St. Rita and Providence took turns as the big boys of the Chicago Catholic League. The Crusaders have been the best team in CCL this fall. It just seems like this is their year.
There doesn’t appear to be a signature star on Brother Rice. Sure, dual threat quarterback John Bean is a leader and playmaker. Cornell-bound receiver Dylan Summers puts up big numbers. In past playoff appearances, the Huskies have been victimized by outstanding efforts from one or two top offensive players from other teams. Bean and Summers look the guys to watch for Brother Rice.
Ultimately though, strength in numbers is reason the Crusaders’ record is unblemished. Furthermore, and with all due respect to Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central and New Trier, Brother Rice is the best team the Huskies will see at this point of the season.
From the Huskies’ perspective, there are ample reasons for optimism. The team has won seven games in a row with contributions from all three phases: offense, defense and special teams.
OPRF appears to match up well against Brother Rice. Based on his time coaching at Mount Carmel, Huskies head coach John Hoerster is familiar with Brother Rice (specifically) and the Catholic League (generally).
And last time I checked defensive studs like Izaiah Ruffin and Cedric Cheatham haven’t gotten any smaller or slower. Shout out as well to Huskies’ interior defensive lineman Ashford Hollis, one of the team’s unsung leaders. He clogs the line of scrimmage so linebackers can roam free to make plays. The OPRF roster is littered with selfless players like Hollis, which has translated to the Huskies’ winning culture.
McGill is maturing rapidly at quarterback. A home run ball or two from Bryant, Robinson, Brown or Craig Shelton in terms of touchdowns would come in handy against Brother Rice. I think it happens. Put me down for a touchdown each from McGill and Brown.
Unfortunately, I respectfully disagree with Melvin in terms of Saturday’s winner. The Huskies are capable of beating Brother Rice. They are capable of beating any team as Melvin believes based on his 8A semifinals pick for OPRF
The Crusaders’ body of work sticks with me. That’s why I am picking them to pull off the victory in a very hard-hitting game.
Fearless Farmer’s pick: Brother Rice 24, OPRF 14