The role of underdog is something the Herscher football team has not been subjected to this season.
The Tigers have dominated most of their opponents this season with no opponent coming closer than 12 points of beating them this season.
From all indications, that streak of cushy victories will be coming to an end this week as the Tigers (11-0), who are making their first state quarterfinal appearance since 1991, challenge powerhouse Chicago Phillips (10-1) on Saturday night at 6 p.m. in a Class 4A playoff matchup.
Phillips, last year's defending Class 4A state champion and first titlist from the Chicago Public League, seems like an incorrect fit in the middle classifications of the IHSA system. The Tigers have placed multiple players at NCAA Division I schools in recent years and are poised to have even more come out of this year's group.
"Right now we have four players with Division I offers," Phillips coach Troy McAlister said. "It's a nice thing to have. And part of it is a by-product of our success. A lot of college programs will look a little deeper at your kids as well."
Phillips surprisingly lost in Week 1 to Fenwick, a team still alive in the Class 7A playoffs. But that loss may have served as the easiest motivator for McAllister in keeping his team on the right path.
"That was a big eye opener for us," McAllister said of the Fenwick loss. "That really got us on the right track and it motivated us to push forward. We got through our three tough non-conference games and went into conference play ready to go. I think this team is peaking kind of at the right time."
Offensively, the team seems to be molding around junior quarterback J'Bore Gibbs. Gibbs is a run-pass threat and scored on three touchdown runs in last week's 50-16 victory over Aurora Central Catholic. Phillips led that game 44-0 at halftime.
"Our last two quarterbacks have gone on to Division I football, and he's the best quarterback of those three," McAllister said of Gibbs.
Gibbs is engineering an offense that has scored 50-plus points in half of their games this season and hasn't failed to score at least 26 points in any game. Other than Gibbs, it is difficult to single out any Wildcats offense player without listing a long list of names, there's that many viable offensive weapons on this team.
If all this sounds daunting for Herscher's fortunes that's probably because it is, but Herscher coach Dan Wetzel knows his team is capable of rising to the challenge at hand.
"We know we're the underdogs and we're going to have to play lights out football to have a chance to be in the game," Wetzel said. "Our kids will accept that challenge. We're going to try to put our best foot forward and see what happens."
Herscher will try to counter with a talented offensive crew paced by run-pass threat Tyler Jones, who has amassed close to 3,000 yards of total offense this season. But the high-flying Herscher attack might not be running at top speed at all times, by design.
"We have to slow it down a little bit for sure, we have to use the clock as much as we can," Wetzel said. "But that being said, we're still going to do what we do and use what has gotten us this far. We know we have to play pretty much mistake free and hope that they make some mistakes along the way."