Mike Helfgot of the Tribune recommends No. 19 Neuqua Valley (6-3) at No. 14 Hinsdale Central (7-2), but I think I'll drive just a little farther and see his "dark horse" Bolingbrook travel to Naperville Central, his "team to beat in the bottom half of the bracket."
While Neuqua Valley lost its last two games of the season, to Lake Park (4-5) and Glenbard North (7-2), Hinsdale Central got positively crushed last week by Oak Park River Forest, 39-7, after needing overtime to beat 6A Hinsdale South (6-3) in Week Eight. So neither of these teams is entering the postseason on a positive note.
Bolingbrook, on the other hand, shocked the world last week by upending Homewood-Flossmoor (8-1), 22-21, on the road. The Brook, admittedly, has been a tough one to figure out this year. A perennial contender for the 8A title, the Raiders got beat pretty convincingly by Glenbard West (9-0) -- no shame in that -- Sandburg (6-3), Lincoln-Way East (7-2) at home -- by a shutout! -- and Lockport (5-4) -- who? -- at home again in Week Eight. Bolingbrook lost two home games this year and only won two in a row once. No wonder I had these guys dead and buried; but apparently the rumors of their demise had been greatly exaggerated.
So here they are: a 5-4 squad, with nothing to lose, capable of beating the best team in the state. Just about the last first-round opponent you'd like to face!
Here's their full 2015 schedule (with home team in CAPS):
GLENBARD WEST 28, Bolingbrook 7
BOLINGBROOK 55, Romeoville 6
SANDBURG 38, Bolingbrook 20
BOLINGBROOK 42, Joliet West 6
Lincoln-Way East 28, BOLINGBROOK 0
Bolingbrook 37, STAGG 7
BOLINGBROOK 68, Joliet Central 6
Lockport 33, BOLINGBROOK 16
Bolingbrook 22, HOMEWOOD-FLOSSMOOR 21
Naperville Central, for its part, is one of those schools that always seems to get better as the season progresses. Remember when the Redhawks sneaked into the playoffs in 2013 with a 6-3 record and took the 8A crown? (Who did they beat that year? Oh, yeah -- Loyola. Could that happen again? Maybe.) Other than a one-point loss to Waubonsie Valley in Week Four (fluke?), Central defeated three pretty good teams: Glenbard North, Neuqua Valley and Batavia (8-1).
Here's a look at their schedule:
Naperville Central 13, GLENBARD NORTH 12
NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 14, Neuqua Valley 7
NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 27, Metea Valley 7
WAUBONSIE VALLEY 15, Naperville Central 14
NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 20, Wheaton Warrenville South 8
Naperville Central 34, BATAVIA 14
NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 41, Naperville North 10
NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 34, Wheaton North 14
Naperville Central 28, LAKE PARK 7
Is there any history between these two programs? I'm glad you asked. In 2011, when this year's seniors were in eighth grade, the Raiders rolled into Naperville and beat the Redhawks in the semis (I was there). Before that it's ancient history:
2011: Bolingbrook 22, NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 19
2005: BOLINGBROOK 14, Naperville Central 7
2004: NAPERVILLE CENTRAL 41, Bolingbrook 25
So what happens Friday night? Well, hopefully, I'll meet my sister for an early dinner at Portillo's on Ogden Avenue. As for the game, I'll say the Redhawks take 'em and advance to play the winner of the Warren - Curie contest.
If you'd still rather be at that Neuqua Valley - Hinsdale Central tilt, I'll be live-tweeting the game @BoringOldWhtGuy.