DeKALB – Not that Willowbrook can't throw the ball – the Warriors' quarterback is approaching 1,700 yards on the season – but the focus of the DeKalb football team is Jack Jessen.
"He's a good rusher, so a lot of hats to him," linebacker Dan Baggett said. "A lot of hats to everybody who gets the ball. Make sure that we're all rallying around the tackle as a team."
The No. 5 Barbs (8-2) head to Villa park to take on No. 4 Willowbrook (9-1) in a Class 6A second-round game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The winner will face No. 1 Prairie Ridge (10-0) or No. 9 Cary-Grove (7-3).
Coach Matt Weckler agreed with Baggett, saying Jessen is a threat every time he gets the ball. He's run for 1,729 yards on 232 carries and 21 touchdowns. No other back has more than 82 carries.
"He's an outstanding, tough runner and we have to get a lot of people to him," Weckler said of Jessen, who has verbally committed to Northwestern for wrestling.
Senior quarterback John Taylor has also had a big year for the Warriors, completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,691 yards, 15 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Overall, the Warriors have scored at least 38 points in all but two games – a 27-21 loss to Hinsdale Central (8-2) and a 20-13 win against Leyden (5-4). Their only other game decided by less than three touchdowns was a 38-33 win against Hinsdale South (6-4). They are coming off a 44-21 win against Deerfield in the playoff opener.
"For us to be victorious our defense has to stop them on offense," Weckler said. "They average 40.8 points per game. The games that have been close or the teams that they've been beat by have held them to under 21 points. So that's what I think our main philosophy is, to hold them down under that 21-point threshold then score more points on offense."
The Barbs are coming into the game fresh off a 38-28 win against six-time state champion Montini. It was the first first-round loss for the Broncos since 2006 – back when they were still one-time state champion Montini.
"It just shows us when we are at our very best we can compete with pretty much anybody," receiver and defensive back Jordan Gandy said. "We have to stay at our highest level of play and we'll give ourselves a chance to win."
Jaylen Hobson enters the game with 1,218 yards on 201 carries with 12 touchdowns for the Barbs. Quarterback Noah Valin has rushed for 788 and thrown for 1,238. He has 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season.
The Barbs were trailing by as much as 14 against the Broncos before coming from behind.
"Our kids came out of the game drained," Weckler said. "It was one of those games where you tell them to leave it all on the field, and they did. They were drained, they were tired, even coming back on Monday there was a lot of sore players. Which is good. I told them that's normal for a good football game against a good football team.
"It's a positive physical soreness. It's a soreness of victory," he said. "Everyone that has played the game up to this level has felt that. It's a great feeling to have, especially knowing you're going to play the next week."
And that leaves the Barbs with confidence heading into the game against Willowbrook.
"If we play well we can play with any team in the state," Baggett said. "A lot of times we falter on offense and defense, but if we have a perfect game I don't think there are many teams that can beat us."