Home » 2023 IHSA football state championship games: Players to watch and predictions

2023 IHSA football state championship games: Players to watch and predictions

NORMAL — 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 and Saturday at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University.

Below is everything you need to know about each title game, plus predictions from the Journal Star’s Adam Duvall. Last week, he went 0-1 in his predictions and is 140-49 (.741) for the season.

Want to watch?: How to watch IHSA football playoffs on TV

CLASS 1A

Lena-Winslow vs. Camp Point Central

  • When: 10 a.m. Friday
  • Ranks, records: No. 1 L-W (13-0), No. 2 CPC (13-0)
  • Championship record (last title): L-W — 6-0 (2022). CPC — 0-2.
  • Coaches: L-W — Ric Arand (247-66 in 27 years). CPC — Brad Dixon (124-55 in 13 years).
  • Players to watch: L-W — RB Gage Dunker (2,492 rush yards, 41 TDs); RB Cobryn Lynch (1,158 total yards, 17 TDs). CPC — QB Nick Moore (31-for-46, 481 yards, 4 TDs); RB Drew Paben (1,287 total yards, 16 TDs); RB Elijah Genenbacher (971 rush yards, 20 TDs); WR Jack Thompson (20 catches, 481 yards, 4 TDs).
  • Did you know? Lena-Winslow has won 19 consecutive playoff games, including the last three 1A title games.
  • Prediction: Lena-Winslow 28, Camp Point Central 21

CLASS 2A

Athens vs. Wilmington

  • When: 1 p.m. Friday
  • Ranks, records: No. 8 Athens (11-2), No. 5 Wilmington (12-1)
  • Championship record (last title): Athens — 0-0. Wilmington — 2-1 (2021).
  • Coaches: Athens — Ryan Knox (112-52 in 15 years). Wilmington — Jeff Reents (271-64 in 30 years).
  • Players to watch: Athens — RB Cory Craig Jr (1,684 rush yards, 28 TDs); RB Camren Bigard (1,864 rush yards, 18 TDs); WR Zac Laird (14 catches, 278 yards, 11 total TDs). Wilmington — RB Kyle Farrell (2,157 total yards, 31 TDs); RB Ryan Kettman (680 rush yards, 11 TDs).
  • Did you know? Athens is the only one of 16 state finalists playing in its first title game.
  • Prediction: Wilmington 35, Athens 14

CLASS 3A

Byron vs. Mt. Carmel

  • When: 4 p.m. Friday
  • Ranks, records: No. 1 Byron (13-0), No. 8 Mt. Carmel (12-1)
  • Championship record (last title): Byron — 2-2 (2021). MC — 1-4 (1981).
  • Coaches: Byron — Jeff Boyer (114-27 in 12 years). MC — Michael Brewer (56-16 in 7 years).
  • Players to watch: Byron — RB Caden Considine (1,477 rush yards, 25 TDs); RB Brayden Knoll (1,235 total yards, 22 TDs); QB Ayden Shank (26-for-27, 344 yards, 5 TDs). MC — QB Blayne Sisson (2,081 rush yards, 36 TDs; 117-for-204 passing, 1,762 yards, 15 TDs); RB Asher Kight (1,156 total yards, 14 TDs).
  • Did you know? Byron’s 754 points are second all-time for a single season, behind only Peoria High (805 in 2016).
  • Prediction: Byron 42, Mt. Carmel 18

CLASS 4A

Burbank St. Laurence vs. Rochester

  • When: 7 p.m. Friday
  • Ranks, records: No. 7 St. Laurence (10-3), No. 1 Rochester (13-0).
  • Championship record (last title): SL — 1-1 (1976). Rochester — 8-0 (2019).
  • Coaches: SL — Adam Nissen (29-25 in 5 years). Rochester — Derek Leonard (197-36 in 19 years).
  • Players to watch: SL — RB Aaron Ball (1,484 rush yards, 21 total TDs); QB Evan Les (95-for-148, 1,037 yards, 9 TDs); WR Connor Engstrom (37 catches, 284 yards, 3 TDs). Rochester — QB Bryan Zalauf (133-for-197, 2,234 pass yards, 29 TDs; 289 rush yards, 5 TDs); RB Nolan Mcozowski (1,141 rush yards, 24 TDs); WY Henry Buecker (57 catches, 1,030 yards, 14 TDs).
  • Did you know? Rochester has made the state quarterfinals or better 14 consecutive seasons.
  • Prediction: Rochester 49, Burbank St. Laurence 20

CLASS 5A

LaGrange Park Nazareth vs. Joliet Catholic

  • When: 10 a.m. Saturday
  • Ranks, records: UR Nazareth (8-5), No. 10 JCA (10-3)
  • Championship record (last title): Naz — 4-2 (2022). JCA — 15-4 (2021).
  • Coaches: Naz — Tim Racki (226-78 in 26 years overall; 150-65 in 19 years at Naz). JCA — Jake Jaworski (59-20 in 7 years).
  • Players to watch: Naz — QB Logan Malachuk (229-for-379, 3,062 pass yards, 29 TDs; 398 rush yards, 9 TDs); RB Lesroy Tittle (408 rush yards, 8 TDs); WR James Penley (65 catches, 992 yards, 7 TDs); WR Jake Cestone (48 catches, 733 yards, 11 TDs). JCA — RB HJ Grigsby (1,490 rush yards, 13 TDs); QB Andy Hunoz (77-for-145, 1,366 pass yards, 17 TDs); RB Keegan Farnaus (737 rush yards, 10 TDs); WR Adrian Washington (35 catches, 700 yards, 10 TDs).
  • Did you know? Nazareth is the first team to make the state championship game after coming into the playoffs with a losing record.
  • Prediction: Joliet Catholic 35, Nazareth 27

CLASS 6A

Cary-Grove vs. East St. Louis

  • When: 1 p.m. Saturday
  • Ranks, records: No. 5 Cary-Grove (11-2), No. 1 East St. Louis (11-2)
  • Championship record (last title): C-G — 3-3 (2021). ESL — 10-4 (2022).
  • Coaches: C-G — Brad Seaburg (124-28 in 13 years). ESL — Darren Sunkett (252-76 in 28 years overall; 218-65 in 24 years at ESL).
  • Players to watch: C-G — RB Logan Abrams (1,493 rush yards, 24 TDs); RB Andre Prio (1,331 total yards, 17 TDs); QB Peyton Seaburg (16-for-28, 336 yards, 10 TDs; 683 rush yards, 6 TDs). ESL — QB Robert Battle (122-for-204, 2,034 pass yards, 26 TDs; 734 rush yards, 8 TDs); RB Larevious Woods (934 total yards, 18 TDs); RB TaRyan Martin (523 total yards, 12 TDs); WR Christopher Bennett Jr (35 catches, 638 yards, 7 TDs); WR Jesse Watson (33 catches, 576 yards, 8 TDs); WR Rico Bond (31 catches, 483 yards, 6 TDs).
  • Did you know? East St. Louis has 832 program victories, the most all-time in Illinois.
  • Prediction: East St. Louis 27, Cary-Grove 22

Public vs. private: Why the IHSA launched a dialogue on this decades-long debate

CLASS 7A

Downers Grove North vs. Chicago Mt. Carmel

  • When: 4 p.m. Saturday
  • Ranks, records: No. 10 DGN (11-2), No. 1 MC (12-1)
  • Championship record (last title): DGN — 1-1 (2004). MC — 14-5 (2022).
  • Coaches: DGN — Joe Horeni (49-36 in 9 years overall; 34-22 in 6 years at DGN). MC — Jordan Lynch (63-9 in 6 years).
  • Players to watch: DGN — QB Owen Thulin, RB Noah Battle (statistics unavailable). MC — QB Jack Elliott (184-for-267, 2,723 pass yards, 30 TDs; 684 rush yards, 6 TDs), RB Darrion Dupree (1,700 total yards, 23 TDs); WR Maurice Densmore (725 total yards, 8 TDs).
  • Did you know? Mount Carmel QB Jack Elliott has thrown for 814 yards and 9 TDs in the last two games.
  • Prediction: Chicago Mt. Carmel 35, Downers Grove North 28

CLASS 8A

Wilmette Loyola vs. Frankfort Lincoln-Way East

  • When: 7 p.m. Saturday
  • Ranks, records: No. 1 Loyola (13-0), No. 2 LWE (13-0)
  • Championship record (last title): Loyola — 4-5 (2022). LWE — 3-2 (2019).
  • Coaches: Loyola — Beau Descherow (13-0 in 1 year). LWE — Rob Zvonar (232-43 in 23 years)
  • Players to watch: Loyola — QB Ryan Fitzgerald (119-for-193, 1,853 yards, 18 TDs; 545 rush yards, 13 TDs); RB Drew McPherson (1,202 total yards, 10 TDs); WR Nicholas Arogundade (42 catches, 671 yards, 7 TDs). LWE — RB Nuri Muhammad (1,307 rush yards, 20 TDs); QB Braden Tischer (114-for-187, 1,672 pass yards, 17 TDs); 360 rush yards, 3 TDs); RB Zion Gist (809 rush yards, 12 TDs); WR Ryan Usher (29 catches, 433 yards, 6 TDs).
  • Did you know? Loyola’s Beau Descherow would be the first rookie coach to lead a team to a Class 8A state championship.
  • Prediction: Loyola 42, Lincoln-Way East 40