2022 IHSA football state championship games: What to watch and predictions

The Illinois High School Association football state championships are here.

Sixteen of the state's best teams will meet in eight title games scheduled for Friday at Saturday at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois.

Below is information about each title game plus predictions from one of the sports reporters from Gannett Illinois family of newspapers in Rockford, Peoria or Springfield.

Here are their records headed into championship weekend: Jay Taft (Rockford Register Star) is 81-22 overall; Adam Duvall (Peoria Journal Star) 130-40 overall; and Bill Welt (Springfield State Journal-Register) is 210-30 overall. Ryan Mahan (State Journal-Register) and Matt Trowbridge (Register-Star) also selected games.

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Lena-Winslow's Gunar Lobdell finds an opening and picks up a few yards against Forreston on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at Freeport High School in Freeport.

CLASS 1A

Lena-Winslow (13-0) vs. Camp Point Central (13-0), 10 a.m. Friday

Camp Point Central is gunning for its first-ever state title in any sport, having made it to the championship game in football once before, back in 2018 when Forreston handed them a 44-6 loss. This time, it will be Le-Win, which just eliminated Forreston in the last round. Central rushed for 4,191 yards as a team this year but hasn't had a back go over 1,000 on the season yet. Le-Win has rushed for 4,465 yards as a whole, but the Panthers have three backs that have gone over 1,000 yards, led by Gunar Lobdell who has 1,488 yards and 24 touchdowns and Gage Dunker who has 1,325 yards and 25 TDs. Jake Zeal has exactly 1,000 yards and 14 TDs. Le-Win's three-headed backfield will be way too much in this one. I'm calling a blowout.

Jay Taft's prediction: Lena-Winslow 52, Central 20

Eureka's Rylan Bachman (25) and Dakota Wiegand (52) team up on Downs Tri-Valley ballcarrier Blake Regenold in the first half Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Eureka. The Hornets fell to the Vikings 29-7.

CLASS 2A

Decatur St. Teresa (13-0) vs. Downs Tri-Valley (11-2), 1 p.m. Friday

St. Teresa broke through to the title game after three consecutive semifinal losses. The Bulldogs of the Central Illinois Conference took second statewide in 2016, the first season under now seventh-year coach Mark Ramsey. St. T has four previous title game appearances including three titles. Royce Harper leads the run game with 1,424 yards and 20 TDs. The Bulldogs' stout defense, led by Amare Wallace (11 sacks), has given up more than two TDs just once in 13 games. That defense will have its hands full with Tri-Valley RB Blake Regenald, who has run for 2,368 and 33 TDs. The Vikings of the Heart of Illinois Conference are in their third title game under 16th-year coach Josh Ropp.

Bill Welt's prediction: Downs Tri-Valley 28, St. Teresa 21

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Williamsville's Jake Seman runs the ball against Tolono Unity during the game Saturday Nov. 19, 2022.

CLASS 3A

Elmhurst IC Catholic (12-1) vs. Williamsville (12-1), 4 p.m. Friday

Elmhurst IC Catholic just exacted revenge on Byron by the tune of a 35-0 whipping in last weekend’s semifinals, and it’s hard to see them coming back down to Earth until the job is finished. Led by quarterback Dennis Mandala, who has thrown for 2,451 yards and 33 TDs, and has completed 121 of his 178 passes, this is one of the most balanced teams in the entire state tourney. If the weather holds off, Mandala will carve up Williamsville, which has had a strong defense all year, but hasn't faced an offense like this. Williamsville also has a strong passing attack, however, led by QB Jake Seman, who has 2,500 yards through the air and 33 TDs. Seman has also led the team in rushing with 828 yards and 15 touchdowns. IC Catholic has too much talent, however.

Jay Taft's prediction: Elmhurst IC Catholic 34, Williamsville 24

Sacred Heart-Griffin's KeShon Singleton runs the ball during the game against Rochester Friday Nov. 18, 2022.

CLASS 4A

Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin (13-0) vs. New Lenox Providence Catholic (9-4), 7 p.m. Friday

The No. 2 Cyclones have had two major scares in these playoffs. In the second round, SHG trailed Waterloo 9-0 and 16-7 in the second half before rebounding for a 28-16 win. Two weeks later, the Cyclones were behind Rochester 28-0 and there was subdued talk of a possible running-clock loss to end Ken Leonard’s final season after 499 games and 417 wins. Instead, the winningest coach in Illinois history has a chance for a sixth state title in final game of his 43-year coaching career. SHG was in the 4A title game last year and returns almost all of its skilled positions on offense (including two-time all-state QB Ty Lott and 2022 honorable mention all-state receiver Madixx Morris) and much of its defense (which includes a two-time all-state linebacker, Cory West). Meanwhile, the No. 13 Celtics don’t have any all-state or even all-Chicago Catholic League players but first-year coach Tyler Plantz says his team’s key has been a shared team-wide effort. SHG’s experience in the biggest game will be the determining factor.  

Ryan Mahan's prediction: Sacred Heart-Griffin 38, Providence Catholic 35 

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Peoria High's Malachi Washington (6) maneuvers through the Morris defense during their Class 5A football state semifinal Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 at Peoria Stadium.

CLASS 5A

LaGrange Park Nazareth (9-4) vs. Peoria High (12-1), 10 a.m. Saturday

The Lions, ranked No. 7 in the final AP poll, head into the program’s third title game and second since winning the 2016 5A crown. Peoria High is coming off a 76-point semifinal victory, bumping its season average to 50.5 points per game. Seven times the Lions have scored 50 points or more, including four games in a row with at least 62 points. RB Malachi Washington, who ran for 383 yards and five TDs in the semi, has been the workhorse for the Lions. Tenth-ranked Nazareth started the season 2-4 and now rides a seven-game win streak into the program’s sixth title game since 2014. The Roadrunners have a stout defense, allowing 15.1 points per game. Nazareth QB Logan Malachuk hit Zach Hayes for a 7-yard TD pass in the final minutes to secure the victory.

Adam Duvall’s prediction: Peoria High 56, Nazareth 27

Prairie Ridge's Tyler Vasey follows his blocker John Fallaw on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022, at Harlem High School in Machesney Park.

CLASS 6A

Crystal Lake Prairie Ridge (12-1) vs. East St. Louis (11-2), 1 p.m. Saturday

These teams met in the 2019 6A title game with East St. Louis winning 43-21. ESL is one of the state’s premier programs, having won nine state championships. The Flyers score 45.5 points a game and held their first three playoff opponents scoreless. RB TaRyan Martin rushed for 375 yards and four TDs in a three-point semifinal win over Lemont. Fifth-ranked Prairie Ridge made it to the title game off the foot of Brogan Amherdt. His first-ever field goal came with under 10 seconds to play gave the Wolves their ninth win in a row. Prairie Ridge QB Tyler Vasey set the state's all-time single-season rushing mark this year with 3,766 yards in 13 games. The Wolves score 46.7 a game including six games with at least 56 points.

Adam Duvall’s prediction: East St. Louis 42, Prairie Ridge 41

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Guilford's Jayvon Jones gets tackled by Batavias J.P. Chaney on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, at Guilford High School in Rockford.

CLASS 7A

Chicago Mt. Carmel (13-0) vs. Batavia (10-3), 4 p.m. Saturday

Chicago Mt. Carmel has won 13 state titles and is 126-23 lifetime in the playoffs. The Caravan could tie Joliet Catholic for the state record of 14 titles. Former Heisman finalist NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch has coached Mt. Carmel to a 46-6 record in his four years. The Caravan won the CCL/ESCC Blue conference title by handing 8A finalist Wilmette Loyola its only loss, 42-37, in the regular-season finale. Batavia has won two state titles, its last in 2017. Since then Batavia has lost to three teams that made the state finals, including a 16-14 second-round upset to Mt. Carmel last year. Batavia plays strong defense but has been held to 19, 17 and 24 points in its last three playoff games. Batavia has outlasted two of the teams it lost to, Wheaton North and St. Charles North, which bowed out in the second and third rounds of the 7A playoffs. After beating Loyola, Lynch summed up Mt. Carmel, then, now and always, by telling reporters: “You come to Mount Carmel to win championships. You don’t just come here to play games." How do you pick against that?

Matt Trowbridge's prediction: Mt. Carmel 28, Batavia 14.

Loyola Academy quarterback Jake Stearney (15) launches a pass against Rochester in the first half at Hoerster Field in Wilmette, Ill., Saturday, September 4, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

CLASS 8A

Frankfort Lincoln-Way East (13-0) vs. Wilmette Loyola Academy (12-1), 7 p.m. Saturday

Fitting: The biggest class has the biggest heavyweight matchup. Lincoln-Way East is ranked No. 1 by The Associated Press and Loyola is No. 2. They have the highest career playoff winning percentages in Class 8A, with Lincoln-Way East at .742 (49-17 lifetime) and Loyola at .723 (73-28). A win would give Lincoln-Way its fourth undefeated season (counting the shortened COVID year) in the last six years. Loyola beat Lincoln-Way 3-0 last year in the quarterfinals and is 2-1 against them in the playoffs since 2017. Loyola’s only loss was 42-37 to 7A finalist Chicago Mt. Carmel while Lincoln-Way has beaten the other 7A finalist, 31-16 over Batavia. Loyola is a remarkably balanced team, with 2,349 yards passing and 2,369 rushing. Lincoln-Way East is led by running back James Kwiecinski, but QB Braden Tischer and WR Jimmy Curtin are also a dangerous duo. In frigid, windy condition last week, they hooked up for 19- and 57-yard TDs in a 31-7 win over Glenbard West. Tischer also scored on an unheard-of 99-yard quarterback sneak.

Matt Trowbridge's prediction: Lincoln-Way East 21, Wilmette Loyola 17 (I love the quarterback sneak).

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