The Ottawa Pirates football team takes the field for a game in the early 2010s.
The Ottawa Pirates football team takes the field for a game in the early 2010s. — Shaw Media | file

With the official IHSA release of its 2020 football schedules Monday, a number of storylines emerge for what we hope will be the fall season ahead opening August 28:

Marquette Crusaders

Perennial Class 1A powerhouse Marquette is going independent again.

For the third time in school history, the Crusaders football program finds itself without a conference home, as the Northeastern Athletic Conference that Marquette has dominated since joining in 2012 has dissolved.

Marquette was previously independent until joining the short-lived football Illinois Valley Conference in 1970, and again from 1974 until the Cru joined the Big Northern in 1991.

The Crusaders retain one former NAC rival — Rockford Christian in Week 8 — on the schedule for 2020, but much of the remaining schedule includes new opponents.

Week 1 will be against a familiar foe, however, with Seneca visiting Gould Stadium for the start of the season beginning a three-game homestand which also includes Cerro Gordo-Bement in Week 2 and Deerfield (Wisc.) in Week 3. Marquette hits the road in Week 4 to visit Stark County before returning home for a Week 5 visit from Mercer County.

Down the stretch, Marquette is scheduled to visit Cambridge Ridgewood for a Saturday afternoon meeting and Annawan-Wethersfield for a Friday nighter in Week 7, host Rockford Christian on October 16 and close the regular season visiting Princeville in Week 9.

Marquette made the 1A playoffs and finished 7-3 in 2019.

Streator Bulldogs

Week 1 and Weeks 3-9 may not offer a lot of new for the Streator Bulldogs, but Week 2 sure does offer a lot of old.

The Bulldogs will host longtime rival Ottawa for the first time since 2012 and resume the state's third-oldest high school football rivalry — one which dates back to a Streator victory 1894. The Route 23 rivals haven't met since a 2013 Ottawa victory at King Field.

Ottawa replaces Morton on Streator's slate of games.

Other than that it's more of the same for Streator, which opens August 28 at EastSide Centre to face East Peoria. The all-Friday night slate continues with the visit from Ottawa and then seven straight Illinois Central Eight Conference games — at Wilmington in Week 3, home vs. Reed-Custer in Week 4, at Coal City on September 25, back-to-backs at home against Peotone and Herscher in Weeks 6 and 7, at Manteno in Week 8 and closing the season at the SHS Athletic Fields against Lisle.

Streator went 2-7 in 2019.

Ottawa Pirates

The aforementioned revival of the Pirates' historic rivalry with Streator is the only true change and is the definite highlight of Ottawa's 2020 schedule. The Pirates lead the all-time series against Streator 57-37-2.

Streator replaces what has been an oft-changing series of early-season opponents in recent years on Ottawa's schedule, the most recent being Chicago Juarez — the Pirates' lone win of the 2019 campaign.

The Pirates will open 2020 hosting Woodstock, their former Week 2 opponent, then visit the Bulldogs in Week 2. After that it's seven straight Interstate Eight Conference Friday night tilts — at Plano in Week 3, home against Sycamore on September 18 and Morris on September 25, at archrival La Salle-Peru and Howard Fellows Stadium's new turf field in Week 6, home against first Kaneland in Week 7 and then Sandwich in Week 8, and finishing the regular season with a visit to Rochelle.

Ottawa posted a 1-8 record in 2019.

Sandwich Indians

One through nine, the Indians' 2020 schedule is the exact same as its 2019 slate of games — albeit with the home stadiums switched.

Sandwich opens with its two nonconference contests, visiting Chicago Hope Academy in Week 1 and hosting Harvard in Week 2, before diving into the seven-game Interstate Eight Conference schedule which opens at home in Week 3 against La Salle-Peru. A three-week road stretch at Kaneland, Sycamore and then Rochelle follows before the War on 34 against visiting archrival Plano on October 9, a Week 8 visit to Ottawa and a Week 9 home game versus Morris.

Sandwich finished with a 4-5 record in 2019.

Seneca Fighting Irish

After a nearly-40-year run of uninterrupted membership in a single conference (the Interstate Eight), the Seneca Irish will be playing this final season in the Sangamon Valley after just a three-year stay as the majority of the league is leaving at the close of this coming school year.

As for 2020, the Fighting Irish’s schedule features two new opponents — a visit to Georgetown-Ridge Farm in Week 2 and a home game against Salt Fork in Week 4.

The renewed rivalry game with Marquette will move to Week 1 at Gould Stadium, and a three-game road stretch to start the season concludes September 11 at conference rival Iroquois West. After the Salt Fork game it’s all Sangamon Valley — Week 5 at home vs. Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Week 6 at Clifton Central, Weeks 7 and 8 at home versus Watseka and then Momence, and the regular-season finale at Dwight.

Seneca made the playoffs in 2019, finishing 5-5.

Fieldcrest Knights

Week 1 and Week 5 are changed. Everything else is the same for the Fieldcrest Knights, other than game sites flipping.

Fieldcrest has traded 2019 season-opening opponent Reed-Custer for another former I-8 Conference school, at Dwight, in 2020. Following that, the Knights are home against Tri-Valley, visit Tremont in Week 3 and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley on September 18, host West Hancock for a Saturday afternoon game in Week 5, visit Dee-Mack in Week 6, host Ridgeview-Lexington on October 9, visit Eureka for the Veterans Bowl in Week 8 and host archrival El Paso-Gridley to close the regular season.

The Knights went 12-1 last season, making the Class 2A semifinals.

FCW Falcons

The rapid growth of the Illinois 8-Man Football Association has radically altered Flanagan-Cornell/Woodland’s slate of games for its sophomore year in the expanding league, which split into North and South divisions, with FCW in the North.

The Falcons’ slate starts August 28 at Miilford-Cissna Park. Then comes a home game versus Peoria Heights-Quest, a Saturday visit to Pawnee, home games against Polo and North Fulton, a Week 6 visit to Biggsville West Central, home vs. Carlyle in Week 7, at Blue Ridge/DeLand-Weldon in Week 8 and home against Lowpoint-Washburn/Henry-Senachwine to close the regular season.

FCW went 8-4 last season, making the I8FA semifinals.