Already in uncharted territory, the Normal West High School football team isn’t prepared to stop its Class 6A playoff march quite yet.
“We’re ready for a battle,” Wildcats linebacker Zack Marcotte said of Saturday's 6 p.m. quarterfinal matchup with Oak Lawn Richards at Korhonen Field in Oak Lawn. “It’s going to be a grudge match. That’s what you get when it’s the last eight in state. It only gets harder and harder, and we know that.”
No. 6-ranked West takes a 10-1 record and nine-game winning streak into the first quarterfinal game in school history. No. 2 Richards is 11-0.
“They are big, athletic and play very physical,” said Wildcats coach Nathan Fincham. “They are good at what they do.”
West has defeated Peoria Notre Dame (34-21) and Palos Heights Shepard (26-17) in the first two rounds. The Bulldogs, who downed Shepard 50-13 during the regular season, have banished Rock Island (49-0) and Yorkville (35-21) from the playoffs.
“We have a lot of team speed and we’re bigger this year,” Richards coach Tony Sheehan said. “Last year, we got pushed around a little.”
Richards’ offensive firepower includes an Iowa defensive back recruit who can play quarterback, running back or wide receiver on offense in Sebastian Castro.
Sheehan alternates Castro and starting quarterback Marquel Porter “by feel. They have a similar set of skills. They are both run-pass guys. We haven’t had to throw, but we’re not afraid to.”
Porter has completed 49 of 86 passes for 736 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Castro is 18 of 29 for 237 yards while adding over 500 rushing yards.
The primary ballcarrier is junior Leshon Williams, who has over 1,700 yards on the ground and several Division I scholarship offers.
“He’s a workhorse,” Sheehan said of the 195-pound Williams. “He’s fast and very powerful.”
While scoring 39.8 points per game, the Richards defense has given up a mere 5.8 and has five shutouts. The top Bulldog tacklers are end Eldridge Dockery, linebacker Chris Majdecki and safety Castro.
“The defense has played very well all year, pretty much lights out,” said Sheehan. “We pride ourself on good defense and controlling the ball.”
West defensive lineman Skyler Hufeld believes the Wildcats’ quickness will prove useful.
“We know their offense is pretty good,” Hufeld said. “They’re strong, but we feel like we can out-speed them. After a while I’m pretty sure we can overpower them and do what we do best on defense, beating them to the point of attack.”
West quarterback Carson Camp has completed 129 of 225 passes for 1,980 yards. Receiver Cole Hernandez has reeled in 50 passes for 770 yards. Tailback Davion McQuirter has rushed for 1,406 yards and surpassed 100 yards in nine straight games.
“We’ve got to protect the quarterback and make sure we’re getting man on man in blocking to give Davion some good runs,” said Fincham. “They are a blitzing team that likes to create a lot of chaos at the line of scrimmage.”
The West-Richards winner meets either No. 3 Washington or unranked Crete-Monee in the semifinals.