It will be No. 15 seed Oregon (5-4) traveling to No. 2 seed Wilmington (8-1) for the first round of the IHSA football playoffs on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Wilmington has a rich grid heritage, having qualified for the playoffs every year since 1996, compiling a 24-17 record, including a state runner-up finish, one semifinal appearance and five times to the quarterfinals.
Oregon returns to the playoffs after sitting out last season. Coach John Bothe knows the Hawks can’t have type of letdown against such a strong program
“I think it will be one of the most interesting environments to play in,” Bothe said. “We need to be ready for the hype with the pre-game show and the passion their fans have. We can’t come out flat or intimidated.”
In their only previous meeting, Oregon defeated Wilmington 21-14 in the 3A quarterfinals in 2008. The following year, Wilmington had an even better team, but was beaten by Carthage Illini West 43-41 in a wild game.
“The system they run is similar to 2008,” Bothe said. “It’s a double wing offense that is heavy on the run.”
Leading the offense is Mason Southall, a 6-1, 175-pound junior. His strengths are running the bootleg, scrambling and the ability to throw. The feature running back is another junior, 5-9, 188-pound Nick McWilliams.
“They’re a young team, all of the backs are juniors,” Bothe said. “They have good size up front.”
The roster lists four players at 280 pounds. The Wildcats have always been noted for their defense and play a 5-man front.
“They’re very aggressive with an attack personality,” Bothe said. “It’s more of a team defense. There’s not that one player that stands out. They’re all around the ball.”
Jeff Reents has coached Wilmington all through the 18-year playoff run and will have his team prepared, both mentally and physically.
“It’s obvious on film that Oregon is very well-coached and their players play hard for four quarters,” Reents said.
Reents knows the key for the Wildcats is shutting down Oregon’s ground game.
“The three players that stand out most are Nick Newman, Sawyer Reynolds and lineman Travis Burke,” Reents said. “I’m very impressed with their run game.”
There are many similarities between the two teams.
“We are very much like Oregon,” Reents said. “We like to run the football from our double wing formation, and we do not throw much. We are not as big as in the past, but I feel we have some good team speed.”
Game time is 6 pm on Saturday. The winner plays the winner between defending state champ Aurora Christian and Elmhurst Immaculate Conception.