Senior returning starting offensive lineman Phillip Vazzana had high expectations for this season’s Riverside-Brookfield High School football team. 

Phillip Vazzana

After a 6-3 regular season, they’ve grown.

“I’ve never felt more confident than what we have right now,” Vazzana said. “I’m very happy with where we’re at. Coming into this year, I knew we had a lot of talent. I feel like this is exactly where I thought we would be at.”

The Bulldogs are returning to the IHSA Class 6A playoffs for the third straight postseason but with even bigger aspirations, starting with their first playoff victory since 2015.

The No. 10 seed in their half of the 32-team bracket, the Bulldogs visit No. 7 Kaneland (6-3) at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28.

“We’ve just got to do what we’ve been doing all year, just bring the intensity. It all starts with us and it’s going to end with us,” Vazzana said.  

Kaneland finished third in the Interstate Eight White with losses to first- and second-place Sycamore and Morris as well as Geneva. In the Knights’ victories, they’ve scored at least 41 points five times and allowed more than one score only once.

“We know they’re a good team. They’re physical, a pretty experienced team,” first-year RBHS coach Sam Styler said. “They’ve got some real good ballplayers on both sides of the ball so it’s going to be a real good game.”

RBHS ended the regular season on Oct. 21 with a convincing 42-7 nonconference victory at Bishop McNamara (3-6).

Quarterback Diego Gutierrez passed for three touchdowns, two to Iggy Bielobradek and one to Luke Kumskis. Ryan Novak rushed for two touchdowns and David Valencia one.

The Bulldogs allowed no more than one score for the fifth straight time in a victory. The offense continues to thrive behind a seasoned line in center David Hernandez, guards Jackson Ramos and Manny Garcia and tackles Joe Midona and Vazzana.

Ryan Novak

“It’s just a sense of brotherhood that this team has right now that I’ve never experienced in the three years I’ve been on varsity,” Vazzana said. “Everybody’s close. Everybody works hard. We compete during practice and most of all we have fun.”

Novak started the season as a two-way starter, rushing for three touchdowns in the opening-week 35-28 victory over Morton, but also suffered an upper ankle sprain that limited his rushing and snaps overall.

Novak said he’s 100 percent for the playoffs.

“I think we just need to play hard and fast. It all starts up front,” Novak said. “The mindset, for me at least, is different because I’m a senior and I know this could potentially be my last game of high school football. We really like our matchup. We don’t mind traveling. We’ll play any place, any time. We’re ready to go.”