POWER RANKINGS: The stretch run

Central defenders close in on Watseka quarterback Drew Wittenborn for the tackle during last week's 33-7 Comets victory. Central stayed at No. 3 in this week's power rankings.

I truly can’t figure out where the time has gone this fall. The regular season is two-thirds of the way done, and we already have seen a handful of teams lock up playoff spots.

One of the area’s undefeated teams put its first loss on the board when Watseka fell to Central, and we will have at least one more undefeated team fall when Coal City and Wilmington collide in Week 8.

But for now, we have four unbeaten squads — the Comets, the Coalers, the Wildcats and Milford-Cissna Park. Kankakee, Peotone and Watseka all sit at 5-1 and have locked up playoff spots. Bishop McNamara sits at an even 3-3 and likely will reach the five required wins for a playoff berth.

Manteno and Bradley-Bourbonnais are each 2-4 and presumably need to win out to reach the five-win playoff threshold. But even if each team were to go 2-1 down the stretch and finish 4-5, they still could find themselves in the postseason.

As it stands, there are enough teams that still can reach five wins to secure spots, but with three weeks left to play, that could change on its own. But the biggest factor here could be a potential strike by the Chicago Teachers Union. A strike would mean extra-curricular activities are put on hold and could prevent several Chicago Public Schools from playing in the mandatory eight games required for the playoffs, as well as hindering their chances to reach five wins.

With the quality conferences the Boilers (SouthWest Suburban Conference) and Panthers (Illinois Central Eight Conferece) are in, as well as the quality of nonconference schedules, both teams could rack up enough points (opponents wins) to sneak in the playoffs at 4-5 in a scenario such as this.

But neither team will bank on an occurrence such as that, and you can bet both programs will do all they can to win out during the final three weeks.

Anyway, on to the rankings.

1. Coal City (6-0)

It finally happened. After three shutouts, the Coalers allowed a point in ICE play, seven of them to be exact, to Manteno last week. But one touchdown was all the Coalers surrendered, as they improved to 6-0 with a 41-7 blowout win. The Coalers can’t look too far ahead to next week’s matchup with Wilmington, as Lisle will be a worthy opponent this week.

2. Wilmington (6-0)

Speaking of the Wildcats, they have enjoyed just a fruitful a season as their ICE counterparts through a month and a half. Despite one of the most old-school offenses that is more run-heavy than almost any area team, the Wildcats still lead all area 11-Man teams in scoring, averaging more than six touchdowns per game. Add that to a lockdown defense, and you have yet another Wilmington juggernaut.

3. Central (6-0)

The Comets have been tested the past two weeks and aced each test, knocking off Seneca on the road two weeks ago before their big win against Watseka. A third test awaits this weekend in Paxton-Buckley-Loda, but a win there would all but wrap up what has been an impressive Sangamon Valley Conference. The defense had arguably its best performance of the season against the Warriors, and Jay Lemenager and that offense are capable of big plays each and every time they step on the field.

4. Kankakee (5-1)

The Kays sure were eager to get back on the field after their off week, and Thornridge had to face the brunt of that eagerness. My favorite thing about this Kays team is they don’t care who lines up across from them — they’re going to bring it to the best of their abilities every time they’re on the field. That mentality, combined with the athleticism and ability that is found at about every position, will have the Kays well positioned in the Class 5A gauntlet.

5. Bishop McNamara (3-3)

Not many teams needed a victory as badly as the Irish last week. After a pair of stinging losses, they made the 90-minute trek to Wheaton Academy on just five days of rest and were able to get some players rested in the second half of a 28-7 win that could have been a lot bigger. Their three losses have come by a combined 20 points to three teams in the Class 4A AP polls, and if the Irish get any of those teams in a playoff rematch, you can bet they’ll be ready for revenge.

6. Peotone (5-1)

The Blue Devils overcame a sluggish start at Streator to pull away late with a three-score win. As the weather gets colder and playoff season heats up, the Blue Devils have a solid formula for postseason play, leaning on their running game and defense like the two unbeaten squads in their conference atop the rankings. But Max Gesswein also has shown he can get the Blue Devils going through the air if need be, which could be crucial if Peotone finds itself chasing points in November.

7. Bradley-Bourbonnais (2-4)

The Boilers easily could be 4-2 and near the top of the rankings, as they’ve lost a pair of games in dramatic fashion. They also could be 0-6, as both wins came in just as dramatic a fashion. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle where they currently stand at 2-4, although last week’s loss to Andrew could prove to be one of the most haunting in the Mike Kohl era. The Boilers were just as good, if not better, than the Thunderbolts for about 47 minutes and 30 seconds, but those last 30 seconds were the most important.

8. Milford-Cissna Park (6-0)

I’m curious to see how the Bearcats would stack up against some of our other smaller schools in 11-Man football with the way they continue to roll through the Illinois 8-Man Football Association. Their ridiculous offense has been no secret to the state, but M-CP turned it up another level, even by its own new standard, by dropping 78 last week. More open space obviously allows more scoring opportunities, but even then, 78 is an absurd number. And no team has proven capable of doing the same thing to the Bearcats’ defense.

9. Watseka (5-1)

Games such as last Friday’s happen from time to time, and the Warriors should take no shame in losing to an uber-quality Central team. Drew Wittenborn and his offensive weapons will look to get back on the horse and ride out the rest of the regular season unbeaten, although the schedule continues to be tougher than the first half of the season was, as matchups with Seneca and P-B-L await in the next two weeks.

10. Manteno (2-4)

The Panthers are in all-in mode as they hope to finish the season with a three-game winning streak to ensure their postseason placement. The Blue Devils will be the biggest test they face on that journey, and that one comes this week for the Panthers’ Homecoming game. All things considered, the energy in Manteno on Friday will be unlike any other game on the schedule.

11. Dwight (1-5)

The Trojans finally got one in the win column when they put up a 50-burger on Momence last week. Carson Crouch ran for three scores and threw another, and William Bergstron, Daniel Gutierrez and Wilton Jackman also joined in on the scoring. The Trojans will look to keep their momentum during the rest of the season.

12. Herscher (1-5)

It’s been a step back for the Tigers this season after back-to-back playoff runs, with their 42-point loss to Wilmington putting any comeback attempts at a playoff spot to bed. But the Tigers have a chance to pile up a few wins to end the season with matchups against Streator and Reed-Custer in the next two weeks.

13. Reed-Custer (1-5)

The Comets were the first to score in last week’s meeting with Lisle, but the Lions proceeded to score the game’s last 49 points. They’ve scored a total of 33 points in their four games since putting up 35 against Dwight, and it won’t get easier from here. Matchups on the road against both Wilmington and Coal City still loom.

14. Momence (1-5)

Momence won the time of possession battle and scored more than twice as many points as any of its previous five games, but Dwight had its best offensive game of the year as well in Friday’s matchup. Different players are stepping up each week, with Dawson Petkunas and his two touchdowns last week the latest such case, which is an encouraging sign for coach Wayne Walker moving forward.

15. Iroquois West (1-5)

The Raiders’ 14 points last week were the most they’ve scored in a game since Week 2’s 32-0 blowout of Hoopeston. A matchup with Dwight, which just had its best performance of the season, means the offense will have to have another week of progress to keep up in a game that will feature two interesting offenses.

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