Mike Helfgot on football | Breaking down the state finals

I don't have the vision of a Mike McNamara, Wes Peters or Reese Johnson, but the joke's on them.

All three gents might be better at picking playoff games than I am, but I'm the one who gets paid to watch and write about football.

So for the love of the game — and the need to pay bills — here are some thoughts on the 5A-8A championship games this weekend.

Bracket standings listed below.

8A: Bolingbrook (12-1) vs. Loyola (13-0)

Intelligence and discipline have played a major role in Loyola's rise to No. 1 in everybody's rankings, and those qualities should serve the Ramblers well against the indomitable Aaron Bailey and Bolingbrook's option attack. Bolingbrook scrapped its base option in the fourth quarter of its semifinal against Naperville Central and went run-pass option with Bailey out of the shotgun, and it was out of that formation that Bailey broke off his game-winning 60-yard touchdown run. There's no question Bailey will be the best athlete on the field, but if anybody has the ability and discipline to stop him, it's Loyola. On the other side of the ball, Bolingbrook was good but not great without Florida-bound linebacker Antonio Morrison in its 22-19 victory over Naperville Central. A highly respected source told me Morrison is a far better prospect than player at this point, but clearly the Raiders would be better off with him against Malcolm Weaver and Co.

Pick: Loyola 24-14.

7A: Rockford Boylan (13-0) vs. Wheaton Warrenville South (10-3)

We tend to disregard teams from the Rockford area during the regular season because we have no basis for comparison and they have not been that strong historically in the playoffs. But Boylan deserves major props for moving up a class and reaching the finals again after winning the 6A title in dominant fashion last fall. After beating Wheaton North 37-20 in the second round — Wheaton South beat Wheaton North 27-13 in Week 9 — Boylan went up against two of the best defenses in the Chicago area and came out with a 30-13 victory over Crystal Lake South and a 16-10 triumph over Lake Zurich. Wheaton South has gone on a run for the ages, recovering from a 1-3 hole to win the DuPage Valley Conference before beating Lincoln-Way East, East St. Louis and St. Rita on the road in consecutive weeks without the benefit of good quarterback play. Defense has been the Tigers' calling card, but they're going to need some production from third-string quarterback Jordan Davis, who spent the regular season on the sophomore team, and Northwestern-bound workhorse Dan Vitale. Balanced offenses are more difficult to scheme against because you can't take away everything, and I expect Lamont Toney (87-for-148, 1,408 yards, 22 TDs, 5 INTs), Tyreis Thomas (172 carries, 1,471 yards, 24 TDs) and the Boylan offense to score a minimum of two touchdowns. The question is whether Davis and the Wheaton South offense can do the same.

Pick: Wheaton South 23-21.

6A: Peoria Richwoods (10-3) vs. Prairie Ridge (12-1)

If it's true that defense wins championships, here are some numbers to consider: 29, 35, 63, 28 and 30. Those are the point totals of Richwoods' first five opponents this season. Then there's 36 and 31, the amounts Crete-Monee and Lemont scored in losing efforts against Richwoods in the postseason. Prairie Ridge hasn't given up more than 22 points in a game this season and has held opponents to a touchdown or less seven times. Both offenses like to run and have two dangerous running backs. I like the chances of Jordan Getzelman (101 carries, 1,219 yards, 19 TDs) and Connor Greenwald (165 carries, 1,128 yards, 15 TDs) against Richwoods better than Kendrick Foster (315 carries, 2,362 yards, 30 TDs) and Ryan Moredock (124 carries, 936 yards, 13 TDs) against Prairie Ridge.

Pick: Prairie Ridge 37-21.

5A: Montini (11-2) vs. Joliet Catholic (11-2)

In a reversal of roles from the last two seasons, two-time defending champion Montini was considered the team to beat throughout the fall, even when the Broncos started 2-2. Joliet Catholic, a heavy favorite at the start of the 2009 and 2010 playoffs, was exposed as a mediocre defensive team by Carmel (31 points), Richwoods (34), Nazareth (24) and Marist (56) in the regular season. As was the case the last two seasons, Joliet Catholic has been a different team in the playoffs, and that's a good thing this year. The Hilltoppers' 49-7 victory over Sacred Heart-Griffin last week was as impressive as any in the semifinal round. Montini had been pummeling everybody since quarterback John Rhode's Week 8 return from injury before slipping past Kaneland 35-31 last week. I don't see Joliet Catholic stopping Rhode (140-for-203, 2,447 yards, 35 TDs, 4 INTs in 6 games) and Nebraska-bound receiver Jordan Westerkamp (78 catches, 1,342 yards, 24 TDs). Ditto Montini and Joliet Catholic running backs Ty Isaac (177 carries, 2,114 yards; 45 total TDs) and Malin Jones (168 carries, 1,494 yards; 28 total TDs). I expect at least 80 points and a crucial turnover to be the difference.

Pick: Montini 45-43.

Fan standings

8A

NAME…TOTAL POINTS…(TEAMS REMAINING, STATE CHAMPION IN PARENTHESES)

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