For two area teams, the first round of the playoffs will bring a rematch with a conference rival.
In Class 2A, Newman will host Three Rivers rival Orion, while in Class 4A, Dixon will once again go head-to-head with Big Northern rival Stillman Valley.
“It’s always tough playing a conference opponent in the playoffs,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said. “[Orion coach] Chip [Filler] does a good job, and we just played them a couple weeks ago.”
In that October 12 game at Roscoe Eades Stadium, the Comets scored the first 28 points in a 28-6 win over the Chargers. Orion’s power rushing attack with Coby Schultz was pretty well bottled up by the Newman defense, but the Chargers were able to move the ball through the air with Ryan Jungwirth connecting on 13 of 24 passes, including the last six he attempted.
“They’re tough, hard-nosed kids,” Kreczmer said of Orion. “Offensively, they’re multi-dimensional, they can go from wishbone to five wide. We have to be ready for the run and the pass.”
Dixon (5-4) will face Stillman Valley (8-1) for the fourth time in the past 2 years.
The Dukes opened this season with a 37-12 loss to the Cardinals. A year ago, Stillman Valley defeated Dixon in the regular-season opener and the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.
There will be few secrets between the teams.
“It’s a Big Northern team, a playoff Big Northern team, which makes it pretty special,” Dixon coach Dave Smith said. “They know us. We know them. We were looking at other possibilities and driving someplace far, and not knowing who they are. You know who Stillman is.
“Coach [Mike] Lalor’s teams – there’s a reason why Coach Lalor is in the hall of fame. He’s one heck of a coach. He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever coached against. His kids will be ready to go. It will be a fun game. It will be at Stillman Valley, and it will be an awesome environment to watch that football game.”
In Class 5A, Sterling is the top seed on the north half of the bracket, and will face Chicago Heights Marian (5-4).
“We were a little bit surprised by the way that it all shook out, but we know they come from a great league and play some great competition,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “We don’t have much of an idea yet, but they play in a great league.”
At least the Golden Warriors have a game. The No. 15 seed is Hyde Park, out of the Chicago Public League. With teachers in the Chicago Public Schools on strike, there is a chance Hyde Park would have to forfeit if the strike continues. Facing a team that had to forfeit out of the bracket due to a strike would have given the Golden Warriors a de facto bye week, but that would have cost Sterling players a chance to play on their home field in front of their fans.
“We want to play,” Schlemmer said. “High school football is only guaranteed a certain amount of weeks, so we want to get our kids out there as much as we can.”
In Class 1A, Morrison (9-0) is taking on a virtual unknown with the Ridgewood co-op (6-3), based in Cambridge. Mustangs coach Ryan Oetting noted he is going in virtually blind.
“We don’t know a whole heck of a lot about Ridgewood,” Oetting said. “They were on our radar, and a few people suggested they would be a possibility for us, but we haven’t done a lot of homework on them as of yet. We’re just happy to still be playing football after a little bit of a hiatus from the playoffs here in Morrison.”
The Mustangs last made the playoffs in 2012, when they finished 6-4.
Fulton (5-4) is back in the playoffs for the fourth straight year, and the Steamers’ first-round draw is a 9-0 Freeport Aquin team that ran the table in the NUIC South this season. The Bulldogs’ potent aerial attack is led by quarterback Will Gustafson.
“We don’t know a lot about [Aquin], other than that they’re a spread team, and we’ve heard about their quarterback,” Fulton coach Patrick Lower said. “First and foremost, they’re a good football team, because anybody that can go 9-0 – especially in this part of the state in 1A – has our attention and respect.
“We’ve lost our last two games to two very good, quality playoff opponents [in Newman and Hall], and we really feel with the schedule that we’ve played this year ... that we’re ready for just about anything. I really feel we are battle-tested and playoff-ready, and we understand that we’ve earned our spot in Week 10.”
The Steamers will travel to Freeport on Saturday for a 1p.m. kickoff.
West Carroll (5-4) is in the playoffs for the third time in past 5 years. The Thunder will hit the road for Minonk and a game against Fieldcrest (9-0). That game will be played at 6 p.m. Friday.
The Illinois 8-man Football Association also held its draw on Saturday, seeding six of the 14 teams in the bracket, then determining where other teams slot into the bracket by drawing names out of a bucket.
Polo (9-0) is the No. 2 seed and will have a first-round bye. The Marcos await the winner of a first-round game between Lowpoint-Washburn (3-4) and Metro-East Lutheran (5-4).
“We’re going to take a day off or so and work in the weight room,” Polo coach Jeff Bumsted said.
The Marcos have already had a week off, when Illinois School for the Deaf elected not to play their scheduled Week 2 game.
“That is a big concern, will we lose our edge?” Bumsted said. “We’ve never really had that. We had Week 2 off and didn’t really come out Week 3 that great.”
Metro East Lutheran will host the first-round game in Edwardsville. The Marcos beat them 52-8 on September 27.
Polo has continued to cruise since then.
“They’ve stepped up to every challenge that’s put in front of them,” Bumsted said. “We played [Saturday] in the rain, cold, wind, and played a really good game.”