Besides being the only football program in state history to reach the playoffs in each year of its existence, Lincoln-Way East has several other accomplishments to be proud of.
Coach Rob Zvonar’s Griffins have gone 33-15 in the postseason, winning at least one game in all but two seasons, which were two of the first three in school history. They’ve reached at least the quarterfinal round 10 times in 17 years, and will be making their fifth semifinal appearance Saturday with the hopes of advancing to a third state championship game.
It’s difficult to play the same team twice in one season, but East has collected four playoff victories over squads that it already had beaten during the regular season, to go along with two postseason wins over teams that it previously had lost to.
The Griffins will get the chance to achieve that difficult feat again at
6 p.m. Saturday, when they host defending Class 8A champion Maine South in a Class 8A semifinal game on its own field. East has gone 2-2 in semifinal games, but is only 1-2 in the contests at home.
East (12-0) handed the Hawks (11-1) their lone defeat in Week 2 by a 28-26 score in Park Ridge. In its past 10 games (one of which was a forfeit win), coach David Inserra’s team has outscored its opponents by a 44.7 to 13.2 margin. Besides a 17-14 win over Palatine, South has scored 37 points a contest while allowing more than 14 only once, a week ago in its quarterfinal win over Naperville Central.
Meanwhile, since pulling out its narrow victory over South in Week 2, East has outscored its opponents by a 35.1 to 7 margin, which included wins of 4 points or fewer over both Bolingbrook and St. Charles East during the past four weeks. But in seven of those contests, the Griffins have yielded 7 points or fewer.
The Griffins and Hawks have split their four meetings throughout the years, which featured regular-season games in 2002 and 2003 and playoff contests in 2005 and again last season.
Most famous among the previous matchups was the 2005 Class 8A championship game between them at the University of Illinois’s Memorial Stadium. The Griffins led, 21-7, in the final quarter before the Hawks forced overtime, where East was able to pull out a 30-24 victory to claim its only state championship.
They met up again in last year’s 8A quarterfinals in Frankfort and this time South captured a 34-31 victory before eventually reaching its seventh title game appearance and fourth state championship during Inserra’s tenure, which like Zvonar, is also 17 years at his school.
Maine South owns an impressive 9-1 record in semifinal games, which includes a 7-1 mark under Inserra. His first team fell in the 2001 semifinals but they have won the next seven.
The winner of Saturday’s clash advances to next Saturday’s 7 p.m. championship game against either Loyola Academy (11-1) or Edwardsville (9-3) at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. East hopes to advance to its second championship and its first since 2012, when it dropped a 10-8 decision to Glenbard West in the Class 7A finals.