Playoff Preview: (11) Hinsdale Central (7-2) vs (22) Stevenson (6-3)

Stevenson travels to Hinsdale Central on Saturday to take on the Red Devils in the first round of the IHSA state playoff. Here are three things the Patriots need to do if they want to take home the W.

1) Stop Hinsdale Central’s Run Game

The key to Hinsdale Central’s success is their run game. Ever since quarterback Matt Rush went down with an injury, the rushing game has accounted for virtually all of their offensive production. In their win against Lyons, the Red Devils scored three touchdowns on 232 yards, a feat accomplished largely without senior Garrett Oakey, who left the game early due to a leg injury. Backup quarterback Connor Bauer only threw five passes throughout the entire game, but an astounding five different rushers contributed to the Red Devils’ offensive production. Junior running back Luke Skokna is the main backfield threat, as he showed with a 141-yard, three touchdown performance against Hinsdale South. If the Patriots want to move on, Ryan Walsh ’18 and Stevenson’s front seven will have to contain both Oakey and Skokna, and force Bauer to pass.

2) Offensive Line Is Key

While Hinsdale Central may have a phenomenal run game, Stevenson has a star running back of its own. Rushing behind Stevenson’s stellar offensive line, Jean-Marc Etienne ’20 has been putting up gaudy numbers all year. Against Libertyville, he posted 173 yards and two touchdowns; against Palatine, 147 yards and two touchdowns; against Mundelein, 119 yards and two touchdowns. However, when the offensive line fails to win the battle in the trenches, Etienne’s magic suddenly vanishes, and Stevenson’s offense suffers hugely for it. In their 28-7 victory, Muskegon held Stevenson to six yards in total rushing, and the offensive line’s struggles against Muskegon’s monster defensive line showed in the box score. The Red Devils’ defensive line, anchored by defensive end Caleb Lagestee, is a force to be reckoned with, and if Etienne is going to have another superstar performance, the Patriots’ offensive line needs to make the blocks he needs.

3) Score Early

In many ways, the Patriots have been an on-and-off team all year. Other than the final loss against Warren, Stevenson has either won big (42-0 vs Waukegan, 41-7 at Zion-Benton) or lost big (28-0 vs Lake Zurich, 28-7 vs Muskegon). This makes it critical for Stevenson to gain momentum early in the game. The only loss this season where Stevenson scored first was against Muskegon, and that first score was followed by 21 straight points for Muskegon. And, in Stevenson’s loss to Warren, the Blue Devils scored twice before Stevenson could even muster a score. If Stevenson can gain momentum early in the game, they have the potential to win this game handily.But if they can’t come out of the gate with intensity, they risk embarrassment and elimination.

The Stevenson student section cheers on the Patriots during their game against Warren on Oct. 20, 2017. Stevenson faces off against Hinsdale Central on Saturday, Oct. 28, in the first round of the IHSA state playoff. Photo Provided by Xuefeng Bai