6. Mercer County (7-3) at 3. Central (10-0)
Gametime: 3 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: QB/LB Jay Lemenager, OL/DL Caleb Toberman
Preview: These two teams met two seasons ago, when running back Kollin Krumweide ran the Comets past the Golden Eagles by three touchdowns. But the Golden Eagles will see a much different offense this week, with Lemenager and the quarterback position serving as the focal point of the offense.
That doesn’t mean the Comets don’t have a tremendous ground game. Garrett Graham and his bruising style will look to wear down Mercer County’s defense just as often as Lemenager and his arm will look to throw past it.
Don’t put much stock in the 28 points the Comets surrendered last week in a game that was out of hand well before the halftime whistle. There are several ballhawks on the back end of the defense, and the front end has a special blend of size, strength and speed, with Toberman representing that.
Pick: Central 42, Mercer County 17
8. Watseka (7-3) at 1. Knoxville (10-0)
Gametime: 1 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: LB Tylor Durflinger, WR/DB Conner Curry
Preview: Hopefully, the Warriors have gotten their 30-plus years of celebration over after last week’s win because they’re going to have to be on their A-game from the opening kickoff if they want to upset the Blue Bullets on the road.
Knoxville is celebrating its second-best season in school history and counting, all thanks to a lethal ground game that has accounted for more yards (3,612) than the Warriors’ entire offense (3,014).
Durflinger leads the front seven of the Warriors’ defense, and his expertise will be leaned heavily Saturday to keep the Warriors in the game, but the offense will have to make plays to win it. The Blue Bullets only have allowed double-digit points three times this season and never more than two touchdowns.
Pick: Knoxville 24, Watseka 13
6. Eureka (8-2) at 3. Wilmington (9-1)
Gametime: 5 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: OL/DL Hunter Doherty, QB/CB Keaton Hopwood
Preview: The Wildcats showed drives of dominance against Lisle last week but also some hiccups. Under an experienced coaching staff led by Jeff Reents, expect those hiccups to be cured before this weekend.
The Hornets have a fairly balanced offense and will look to attack the Wildcats through the air and ground equally. Quarterback Matt Martin has more than 1,600 yards and 17 scores, and the running game has amassed more than 2,000 yards. Luckily, the Wildcats offer one of the area’s most complete defensive units.
Offensively, the ‘Cats and offensive coordinator Barry Southall showed a willingness to divert from the norm last week, running plenty of plays from a winged I-formation rather than the usual double wing. That creativity eventually will lead to some playaction passes from Hopwood, although that might be saved for a more competitive game.
Pick: Wilmington 28, Eureka 14
8. Kewanee (7-3) at 1. Coal City (10-0)
Gametime: 1 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: RB/LB Daniel Jezik, OL/DL Jacob Jasnoz
Preview: The Coalers have their eyes set on a much larger prize than winning just this week, but they will have to put away a Boilermakers squad that averages four touchdowns per game first.
A good blend and balance of skill position players means the Coaler defense will have a handful of players to account for, but not many offenses have been able to solve this defense in quite some time. With guys such as Pullara presumably back this week, the defense should be a lock for a stout performance.
On the other side of the ball, it’s pretty much the same thing. The Coalers just have more talent than their opponents. Jezik is vastly approaching the 2,000 yard mark and will look to surpass it with the Coalers grabbing an early lead and holding on from there.
Pick: Coal City 28, Kewanee 0
4. Tolono Unity (9-1) at 12. Bishop McNamara (7-3)
Gametime: 1:30 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: RB/LB Owen Jackson, WR/LB/S Damien Thornton
Preview: The Rockets are back in the playoffs for the 24th time in the last 25 years after missing out in 2018, and they showed they were making up for lost time with a blowout against Clinton last week.
The Irish are going to be a much tougher test. Despite some sloppy play off the bus out of a long road trip, the Irish still overwhelmed Paris last week and showed how deep and talented they are when at full strength.
Unity boasts a balanced offense, as quarterback Nate Reinhardt has thrown for more than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns, and leading rusher Hank Cain has more than 1,500 rushing yards and 10 scores. Thornton and his ability to defend both the run and the pass could be the key defensively for the Irish, and simply avoiding turnovers and penalties will be vital offensively.
Pick: Bishop McNamara 35, Tolono Unity 21
4. Kankakee (9-1) at 12. Mascoutah (7-3)
Gametime: 5 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: QB Tyjuane Stewart, DL Fernando Barrera
Preview: The Kays were exuberant to finally have a playoff win again for the first time since 2008, which was also the last time the Indians won in the postseason until they surprised Carbondale last week.
The atmosphere in Mascoutah, a bit southeast of St. Louis, will be electric, and the Kays have to be ready as soon as they get off the bus. Fortunately, a lengthy road trip to Macomb earlier this season might be something they can look back on in that regard.
If the Kays can clean up a few bad snaps and penalties from last week, they will hit the quarterfinals as one of the scariest surprises in the playoff field. If the Kays can get a big run busted off by either Stewart or Mattias Clark, the defense and that lethal running attack can spend the rest of the evening making that lead bigger, but this will be a tough road test for Kankakee.
Pick: Kankakee 21, Mascoutah 14
Illinois 8-Man Football Association
14. Bunker Hill (1-9) at 1. Milford-Cissna Park (9-0)
Gametime: 2 p.m. Saturday
Players to watch: WR/DB Keegan Boyle, WR/DB Nick Allen
Preview: The Bearcats had the week off as the top seed of the I8FA playoffs, earning one of two by weeks. Against a Bunker Hill team that didn’t win a game until the first round of the postseason, they essentially have another week off this weekend.
The question for this game isn’t whether the Bearcats will win or not but how much playing time the starters and key contributors get. With a week off last week, coach Clint Schwartz might be inclined to get his kids some extra reps in preparation for the state semis, or he might elect to let them recuperate a little more.
Either way, this one won’t be very close for very long.
Pick: Milford-Cissna Park 69, Bunker Hill 12