Class 1A Semifinals: Le-Win vs Ridgeview-Lexington
We enter the the state semifinals, and the Panthers enter the game for the 7th time since 2009. This is just the 2nd time they enter the semifinals with at least 2 losses, as a week 7 loss to Du-Pec and a week 9 loss to Forreston have been the two setbacks for the Panthers this year. During this playoff run, the Panthers appear to have returned to their early and mid-season form.
Ridgeview and Lexington formed a co-op entering the 2015 season. Ridgeview last made the playoffs in 2012, while Lexington was last in it in 2010, just a year after defeating Le-Win 27-20 in the 2009 semifinals. The Mustangs only had 2 seasons where they reached the quarterfinals; 1997 and 2003. The Minutemen of Lexington have a much larger playoff history, having reached the state finals 5 times, but never winning the title. They were runner-up in 1980, 1989 (lost to Orangeville), 1994, 2001, and 2009. The current head coach, Hal Chiodo, guided that 1994 team to the finals where they would go up against the freight train in the Newman Comets.
This is the first time the co-op of Ridgeview-Lexington has had a winning record and made the playoffs. They entered these playoffs with a 5-4 record hailing out of the HOIC Small conference. The HOIC has been in the state title game 5 times since 2013, with Tri-Valley losing to Le-Win in the Class 1A finals in 2013, and then winning the 2015 Class 2A state championship. Dee-Mack won the 2016 Class 2A title, while GCMS took home back to back undefeated seasons in Class 2A in 2017 and 2018.
The Mustangs 4 losses have come to Tremont (lost 2nd round to Farmington 2A), Dee-Mack (lost 2nd round to Tri-Valley 2A), Eureka (lost 1st round Paxton-Buckley-Loda 3A), and Tri-Valley (competing in 2A semifinals) on the season.
They are led by All-Staters Evan Antonio and Kaden Farrell. The Mustang offense goes by way of Farrell, who has rushed for 1,977 yards and 22 TD's on the season behind an offensive line that features Antonio, along with Sawyer Hilt, Tyler Atkins, Will Pearce, and Tanner Laesch. They like to use a variation of the Power I offense, and the lead blockers are Jacob Whitehill and Cal Thomas. The TE is Zach Bork.
They will spread it out and put QB Carter Coffman in the shotgun, and run a jet sweep with Logan Friedmansky or run the HB screen to get the ball in the hands of Farrell in other ways. They will keep you honest with fullback dives with Thomas and Whitehill, but this offense runs through the legs of Farrell. They are averaging 35.3 points per game on the season, and against opponents who made the playoffs they are scoring on average 33.4 points per game.
The defense is led by Antonio at linebacker, and Farrell roams as a linebacker and free safety. Up front, the defensive line gets the rush going with Bork, Hilt, Pearce, and Jordan Reimer. Whitehill and Atkins join Antonio at linebacker, along with Connor Feit. Friedmansky and Cale Hoffman are on the perimeter. The defense has allowed 14.8 points per game on the season, but against their opponents who have made the postseason they have given up another score on average, allowing 22.2 points per game.
The Panthers attack that with their rushing trio of Marey Roby (1,362 yards), Ethan Fye (1,066 yards), and Brady Eilders (663 yards) who have combined to rush for 42 TD's on the season. Behind an offensive line that features Maddex Sargent, Ross Stabenow, Henry Engel, Tyler Croatt, and Jake Tippett, the Panthers have been a tough team to stop for the majority of the season. Add TE's Brody Mahon, Zach White, and Kam Klever, they can get downfield and to the second level to get those extra blocks that lead almost 8 yards per carry.
The offense averages 41.8 points per game on the season, and against teams who have made the playoffs they are averaging 37.7 points per game. As the Road to DeKalb has taken off, the Panthers have upped that scoring average to 48.7 points per game.
Defensively, Lena-Winslow is led by All-State linebacker Brody Mahon. Helping him out up front are Sargent, Ross Stabenow, Henry Engel, and Maisen Smith. Joining him at linebacker are Eilders, Fye, and Gage Dunker. The perimeter guys are Roby, Benson, and White. The defense will rely on a heavy rush from the line, but will increase that pressure with different attacks from the linebacking corp where, and when needed. The defense has allowed 11.8 points per game on the season, and against teams who have made the playoffs they have allowed slightly more at 14.6, which is about what they have allowed per game in the playoffs due to allowing 2 late TD's against Fulton last week with subs in the game.
The CalPreps prediction on this game has Le-Win favored 42-14. When you take a look at the gap difference between scoring averages, the Panthers are 10 point favorites. You breakdown those differences against teams who have made the playoffs, and the Panthers are 12 point favorites. I had to take a look at conference ratings and strength of schedule, as the one common team on the season is GCMS. The Mustangs defeated GCMS 20-0 in the regular season, and Forreston beat GCMS 36-7, but could have had a running clock in that game. Le-Win rocked Forreston in the playoffs 38-8, just 2 weeks after taking a loss at home, 22-20, but that game could have been a larger deficit had the Panthers stayed on the gas.
When you look at conference ratings among all conferences in Illinois, the NUIC is the highest rated small school conference at 19 overall. The HOIC Small conference is rated 57th overall, or 17th best in the small school ranks. Due to this, I put on a multiplier to the score differentials to base my line on. I have Lena-Winslow as the favorite at -20.5 odds.
My projection: Lena-Winslow 46 Ridgeview-Lexington 21
Side note: The state title game will be held at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. NIU has played host to the state title game in odd years since 2013. Lena-Winslow has been there 3 times out of the 4 years the state championship has been held at NIU. The only year they failed to get there was in 2015, when they entered the playoffs ranked #1 in state, but fell in the 2nd round to Orion.