In less than two weeks, the IHSA state championship football games will be played at the UI's Memorial Stadium. This will mark the ninth consecutive year that the title games have been played locally.
We don't even have to wait for the semifinal results to know this much: For the seventh time in those nine years, a News-Gazette area team will participate in the championship contest.
It's still to be determined which school that will be, but the winner of next Saturday's Arcola vs. Tuscola game will get a shot at a title.
That school may have company. Westville kept itself in contention by pulling away late to win at Maroa-Forsyth 32-20. Westville's next opponent is Casey-Westfield.
For those curious, here's the rundown of other area schools which have played for a state crown since the event was shifted from Normal to Champaign in time for the 1999 games:
2006--Tuscola, Westville and St. Joseph-Ogden
2003--LeRoy, Iroquois West/Crescent-Iroquois and Prairie Central
I had the chance to watch St. Joseph-Ogden's quarterfinal game on Saturday against Plano's defending 3A state titlists. The visiting Reapers won, 26-22.
I was impressed with the presentation of the SJ-O field. The yard numbers were outlined and there were four sets of hash marks. This was actually the 13th prep game I've covered this season (thanks to watching games on Friday and Saturday of Week 1) and this was the best-looking field I've seen all season.
Those who were responsible for preparing the field should be commended.
Though SJ-O fell short on the scoreboard, the school had several things coaches look for:
--the Spartans had the ball with a chance to win in the final minute;
--the team played hard on the field and then conducted themselves admirably in interviews following the heartbreaking loss.
It's not a stretch to say that this is a group of winners.
Westville's victory at Maroa-Forsyth was possible because of the contributions of numerous unheralded players.
As usual, linebackers Jordan Barney (15 tackles) and Dusty Zaayer (nine tackles) played a yeoman role on defense. Chris Hathaway also provided the team a huge lift. Hathaway had two sacks and a pass deflection on the Trojans' last possession.
Westville's special teams were impressive, too. They recovered an onsides kick, faked a punt that would have been a first down if Alex McMahon hadn't fumbled, and they made Maroa-Forsyth start every drive except the one following Caleb Pratt's fourth-quarter fumble, on its side of the field.
And don't forget about Aaron Johnson's goal-line interception, his area-leading eighth pick of the season.
It's not a stretch to say that this, too, is a group of winners.