We’ve been spoiled this season with plenty of tremendous football in the area, and last weekend was no exception, as six of our eight local IHSA football playoff qualifiers moved on to the second round.
Not only that, but four teams entered the postseason ranked in their respective AP polls — Central earned the top spot in Class 2A; Wilmington came in second in Class 3A; Coal City led the pack in Class 4A; and Kankakee rounded out the Top 10 in Class 5A. Bishop McNamara finished just outside the Top 10 in Class 4A.
Add the undefeated and defending state champions of the Illinois 8-Man Football Association, Milford-Cissna Park, and that gives the area six teams that have received some well-earned recognition, and the other team standing, Watseka, lingered around the polls earlier this season as well.
It’s a good problem to be this busy this deep into the fall. We still have a plethora of runners headed to the cross country state finals this weekend. Milford and Herscher volleyball are in the Sweet Sixteen and can start to smell trips to state.
This is my third school year covering sports in the area, and this fall has been the busiest of the three this late into the season. I’ve been proud of all we have been able to cover this fall, and there are plenty of people who have helped make that possible.
Our stringers, Matt Russell and Kevin Newberry, have been as dependable as one could ask. Matt even is going to pull double duty Saturday, and Kevin has made some lengthy drives to extend our coverage as much as possible. Newly minted associate editor Chris Breach has popped up across local gridirons this season and will continue that added duty this weekend.
Photo editor Tiffany Blanchette has the job of about four people and still found time to shoot three football games last weekend, and stringers Nick Holstein and David Volden have become some of our area teams’ biggest fans as they’ve captured the moments that will be remembered for a lifetime.
To those people, thank you. I’ve been extremely proud of the sports sections we have been able to provide to our readers as of late, and it’s because of your extra efforts we’re able to do so.
Here are the area’s scores from the first week of the playoffs:
• Central 62, Mendon Unity 28 (Class 2A)
• Watseka 19, Tremont 8 (Class 2A)
• Wilmington 24, Lisle 12 (Class 3A)
• Hall 20, Peotone 0 (Class 3A)
• Coal City 49, Chicago Phoenix 0 (Class 4A)
• Bishop McNamara 34, Paris 14 (Class 4A)
• Marengo 48, Manteno 0 (Class 4A)
• Kankakee 30, Peoria Notre Dame 23 (Class 5A)
Shoutout of the week
A couple of area schools snapped some postseason droughts Saturday, and both were able to even do so in front of their home crowds. Watseka won its first home game since 1986 and first playoff game of any kind since 2003 with its win against Tremont, and Kankakee won its first playoff game since 2008 with its one-score win against Notre Dame.
The potential for a playoff push from the Warriors has been evident in coach Aaron Hilgendorf’s four years, but tough first-round draws, including matchups with eventual state champions in 2017 and 2018, meant Hilgendorf had to wait patiently.
Meanwhile, first-year coach Derek Hart gave Kays fans not just a return to the playoffs after a couple of years away but also snapped an 11-year winless streak in the postseason. The Kays have been one of Chicagoland’s most fun stories this season, going from a middling 4-5 mark last year to a 9-1 record this season.
The Bearcats’ road to a repeat
Milford-Cissna Park was rewarded for its 9-0 regular season with a bye week in the first round of the I8FA playoffs and now officially have started their postseason drive.
And the second round, their first playoff game, shouldn’t figure to be much more strenuous than the bye week. The Bearcats will host Bunker Hill, a team that entered the post season winless before topping Alden-Hebron last week.
During the next two weeks of the postseason (the quarterfinals and semifinals of the I8FA), the Bearcats will host the 1-9 Minutemen and then face either Pawnee of Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland, two squads the Bearcats handled with ease during the season.
But the state championship could be interesting. Opposite the unblemished Bearcats are the 9-0 Polo Marcos (yes, Polo High School uses Marcos as its nickname, and it’s amazing), a rookie team to the I8FA.
The Marcos have handled a similar schedule as the Bearcats have seen in a similar fashion. It seems as though Polo and M-CP are on a collision course to Nov. 22’s state title at Monmouth College.
And that’s a collision I like coach Clint Schwartz and company to win.