The nine-game football regular season has ended.
Salt Fork won all nine games.
Westville won its final six.
Bismarck-Henning ended with a four-game winning streak.
Milford completed its schedule with a three-game winning streak and the school's first winning season in a decade, but despite going 5-4 the Bearcats could not salvage a playoff berth. Milford was one of 12 5-4 teams in the state bypassed for the postseason.
The Vermilion Valley Conference representatives are Salt Fork (9-0), which plays host to Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon (6-3) in a 1 p.m. Class 1A game on Saturday in Catlin and Westville (7-2), which entertains Bridgeport Red Hill (6-3), in a first-round Class 2A game on Saturday.
Among the Big 12 Conference's qualifiers is Danville, which travels to Normal Community for its third successive playoff game in the past three years. The Vikings are 7-2. Normal Community is 8-1 and ranked in a tie for fifth this week among the state's Class 5A teams.
The Danville game will kickoff at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
If you can't decide which game to attend in person, this may make it easier. The K-ROCK (94.9) broadcasting teams will be at all three locations providing coverage throughout the afternoon.
The News-Gazette will compile its annual regular-season recap for the conference schools, where we track down records for the underclassmen teams, list several of the team's top players, look ahead to next year and provide some comments and evaluations from the head coaches.
That will be released at this blog, either later tonight or on Thursday morning.
For now, a look back at the regular-season finales for the VVC schools.
The Tigers hung on to continue its recent mastery over Georgetown-Ridge Farm in the annual Coal Bucket Game, prevailing 28-18 on a wet and soggy night in Georgetown.
"It's tough enough to win two times in a row, let alone six times in a row," Westville coach Guy Goodlove said. "I don't care if it's rainy, messy and sloppy or a dry field, it's a different game with different intensity.
"The only other time we get that intensity is when we play Salt Fork or play in the playoffs."
G-RF scored on its final three possessions as it tried to rally from a 14-0 halftime deficit. Goodlove said the momentum had shifted to the Buffaloes.
"Georgetown really took it to us," he said. "I think they outplayed us. They have a lot to be proud of.
"They wanted it a little more than we did, but we were good enough to hang on."
One of the pleasing aspects is that after three straight games where a running clock was in use in the second half, Westville's players had to remain on the field for the full game.
"We haven't done that for a while, and we had to play well to win," Goodlove said. "We needed to have that type of game. It's nice to have to play four quarters."
Dusty Zaayer had nine tackles against the Buffaloes, Andrew Lovejoy had seven and Ryan Blue six. Matt Maser had an interception.
Offensively, Brandon Pratt rushed for 182 yards on 32 carries and two touchdowns. Maser completed 7 of 13 passes for 84 yards, including a TD-strike to Dustin Billings.
"We faced a lot of adversity, but through all of that, we still found a way to win," Goodlove said.
Saturday's playoff foe, Red Hill, is one Westville played in the postseason in both 2001 and 2005.
"They can play with anybody," Goodlove said. "They are physical, have good size and have some backs who can run well.
"Defensively, they flow very hard to the football. whatever you try to do, they make it difficult to get done. They have the size and muscle to stop anything up the middle and they're quick enough to run anything down to the outside. They present a unique challenge."
The Westville/Red Hill winner will play either top-ranked Casey-Westfield (9-0) or Toledo Cumberland (5-4).
The Buffaloes (3-6) finished the season with a three-game losing streak, but coach Jason Baccadutre was not down about his team's showing against Westville.
"I told the kids, sometimes you will lose games, but if you can go home and look in the mirror and say you did your best, that's all we can ask," Baccadutre said.
"And they did. Our kids played their hearts out."
G-RF lost sophomore Robert Parker in the first half with a groin injury and that prevented the team from alternating quarterbacks. The general pattern was for Parker and senior chase Vire to share time.
"We had a two-platoon system and Chase was not used to carrying the whole load the whole time," Baccadutre said. "He did a really good job."
Vire completed 12 of 24 passes for a season-high 222 yards and three touchdowns. All three of his TD tosses were in the final 10 minutes as G-RF stormed back into contention.
Tyler Dill and Aaron Williams each had four receptions in the Coal Bucket game. Dill had a career-high 109 receiving yards.
"Even though the record didn't show it, we were a decent team," Baccadutre said. "After that Milford win (36-35 in Week 6), there was something different, knowing they could come back and score and get stops when they needed to."
On the offensive line, Baccadutre said Cody Seelhymer's development at right tackle enabled Michael Puckett to move to left guard and helped strengthen the unit.
"Cody played fairly solid through the back half of the season," Baccadutre said. "Him taking on that role helped."
The other line regulars included Bryan McDaniels at left tackle, Kyle Greene at center and Eric Hepburn at right guard.
"We have good kids who are willing to play wherever they're asked," Baccadutre said.
Alex Pratt rushed for 118 yards last week, his second 100-yard performance of the season.
Defensively, Hepburn, Pratt and Vire each were in on 10 tackles against the Tigers. Brandon Herrin had nine stops.
The Storm made history in their 26-13 come-from-behind victory over Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac.
The win completed a 9-0 regular season for the Catlin and Jamaica co-op.
"That hadn't been accomplished since 1961 at Catlin and 1959 at Jamaica," Salt Fork coach Brian Plotner said.
The Storm trailed 7-6 in the second quarter and held a tenuous 18-13 fourth-quarter lead before an interception by Chet Moreland locked up the win.
"Chet also had a fumble recovery and a sack on fourth down, but his interception (and TD return) was the single biggest play of the game," Plotner said.
Plotner was pleased that his team ended the regular season with a supreme challenge.
"Oakwood dictated some things tempo-wise," Plotner said. "Our kids had to show some toughness. We got behind and were pushed quite a bit.
"I'm pleased the kids responded and came back to find a way to win."
Matt Ford rushed for 136 yards, his best single-game performance of the season.
"That was the best Matt ran all year, said Plotner, whose team is ranked fourth in Class 1A this week.
J.D. Learnard eclipsed the 100-yard mark in passing for the eighth time. He connected on 8 of 20 attempts for 130 yards.
Chris Wills hauled in four of the completions for 66 yards and one TD.
"We needed a game like that, a four-quarter contest like we will need to play this week," Plotner said.
Brandon Tuggle had a season-high 17 tackles against the Comets. Cody Nicholson was in on 13 stops.
Plotner is impressed by Salt Fork's first-round playoff foe.
"It's pretty obvious they are a couple of plays away from being 8-1," he said. "They lost a three-point game early (to Farmington) and to Villa Grove in the final minute.
"We look at this as a very tough draw. They have two running backs who complement each other. (Nash) Ramage is a speed and power guy and (Nick) Farison is elusive. Plus they have a quarterback (Nathan Lawler) who is a running threat and can scramble.
"Those are some very potent offensive weapons. Defensively, they are similar to Westville. They are a pressure-based defense with a lot of blitzes. They attack you. It will require us to be on our ‘A' game."
The Salt Fork/CG-D-W winner will play either 10th-ranked Greenfield-Northwestern (8-1) or Virden (6-3) in the second round.
As games go, O/A-P coach Gary Denhart said the final one wasn't bad ... except for the outcome.
What he had seen in glimpses previously, he saw throughout the four quarters against Salt Fork.
"We played well the second half against Georgetown and the first half against Clifton," Denhart said, "but that was the best total game we've played.
"I really like this senior group. They are a good group of hard workers."
Denhart saw just one way to attack the Storm.
"You can't throw over them and you can't run around them," he said. "The only way to beat them is to run right at them. We executed the game plan pretty well.
"The things we did are the things we wanted to do all year. We ran some different formations and ran the ball well."
J Sutton rushed for a team-high 78 yards and two TDs against Salt Fork.
Denhart can take solace in how the team's 3-6 record was achieved.
In Week 1, his team lost to Arthur-Lovington 20-19.
In Week 6, the Comets dropped a 28-276 decision to Bismarck-Henning.
In Week 8, Milford posted a 21-20 win over O/A-P.
"It's not like we were 3-6 and getting blown out," Denhart said. "We were 3-6 and we were there. I can go through those games and say, ‘if we get this first down and run the clock, Arthur doesn't kick (the field goal)' or something doesn't happen. That drives you crazy."
Senior Blake Warren, who had been sidelined with an injury, was able to play against the Storm. He had three tackles.
The team's defensive leaders in the finale were Sutton (12 tackles), John Garrett (10 tackles), Arlen Kerst (10 tackles) and Ray Withers (nine tackles).
The Blue Devils (4-5) completed their strong late-season surge by handing Schlarman a 20-6 loss in last week's season finale.
After starting 0-5 (with four losses to playoff teams and all five losses to schools with winning records), Bismarck-Henning bounced back.
"We made progress and with a young team, that's what you hope for," B-H coach Mark Dodd said. "Getting four wins in a row is important for our confidence going into next year when most of the team returns."
The winning streak is more impressive since each triumph came after the playoffs had been eliminated as a possibility. Sometimes teams in those positions find it hard to maintain motivation.
"When you take the prize away that all kids want to get, you wonder if they will work hard and perform," Dodd said. "It's a testament to the kids we get here.
"They're a pleasure and it's a great place to coach. They work really, really hard and don't quit. That's the formula for having a good program."
Two of the B-H athletes who won't return are the top two rushers, senior Brian Clapp and Ian Marx.
Clapp amassed 1,220 all-purpose yards, including a team-high 704 rushing. Marx gained 620 on the ground. Clapp rushed for 133 yards in his last prep game.
"We have some kids who will have to be replaced, but we feel we have a good group of young running backs coming back," Dodd said. "We think we can put together a package where, depending on the situation, we can have power, speed or elusiveness."
Senior tight end Jacob Ault and Clapp scored the game's first two TDs against the Hilltoppers. Sophomore Ian Park's kicks lifted B-H into a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
"Then the rains came and completely shut down what both teams were trying to do," Dodd said. "Michael Grant (junior quarterback) handled the team well under adverse conditions."
Also back next year will be the entire offensive line, including upcoming seniors Cody Longest and Luke Thornsbrough as well as Derek Davis, Dakota Patton and Branden Smith. Patton and smith are sophomores who are two-year starters.
"We were the smallest team in the league, but the fact that we were able to do as well as we did is a testament to those kids," Dodd said.
Jordan Abbott had a team-high nine tackles against the Hilltoppers. Clapp, Reed Collins and Ross Darby each had seven stops. Kyle Lamm had an interception.
The Hilltoppers (1-8) completed the season with a four-game losing streak in the school's first year of competition after resuming a varsity schedule.
Due to lack of numbers, Schlarman had a JV-only schedule in 2007.
The Week 9 loss came to a Bismarck-Henning team that interim head coach Jeff Willaman said "was on a roll."
The Hilltoppers, playing at home on Senior Night, didn't back down.
"The kids came to play and we saw some good things," Willaman said. "Steven Kutz raised his level of play (game-high 21 tackles and team-high 82 yards rushing).
"He put together a pretty good portion of the final drive to give us a score."
For the majority of the season, Kutz was Schlarman's free safety. He was moved up last week and "had middle linebacker responsibilities," Willaman said.
It worked out well.
"He had a nose for the ball and was all over the field," Willaman said. "He did an awesome job."
Schlarman's late-game TD was on a 23-yard pass from Heath Goodwin to Kyle Golden. Goodwin had missed the previous two games with a concussion.
He was one of several players who returned for the Week 9 encounter.
Another was senior Michael Callahan, a senior who suffered a knee injury in Week 4 and sat out until last week.
After he received medical clearance to play, Willaman made it a point to get him some game time.
"I owed that Michael for the job he had done and the commitment he had made to the program," Willaman said.
His only reservation was not to create an injury that could limit Callahan's effectiveness during the winter season.
"He played about half the game," Willaman said. "He's a wrestler and I wanted to make sure he had the opportunity to do the sport he loves most."
Anthony Drake had nine tackles and Golden seven against the Blue Devils.
The Bearcats (5-4) did their part to continue their season, becoming playoff eligible by shutting out Hoopeston Area 56-0 in Week 9.
The team's playoff point total (the number of wins by its nine opponents) did not prove to be enough to gain selection as one of the 256 teams whose seasons were extended into the postseason.
"A winning season was nice, and that brings some level of satisfaction, but our goal was to make the playoffs," first-year head coach Nate Albaugh said. "I feel sorry for our seniors.
"They were great leaders, very coachable and paved the way for the years to come. I was really proud of them and what they did."
Within the group, Albaugh said there was not complaining about the ideas he brought in and the changes he implemented.
"They allowed me to lead the way I wanted and never put up any resistance," Albaugh said.
With two one-point losses on the team's resume, Albaugh knows that a 7-2 season was within reach.
"We have a lot of self-respect knowing we were a heck of a tough team this year," he said. "That feels good. Not being in the playoffs is easier to accept if that is the case."
Kyle Evans rushed for 199 yards and Ryan Kunce had 79 yards rushing to go along with 37 yards receiving against the Cornjerkers.
Quarterback Trevor Lucht threw twice and completed each attempt. Jordan Scherf had a 33-yard catch.
"They performed well in an atmosphere that was less than ideal," Albaugh said, referring to the rainy conditions and a slippery field. "We executed well in the nasty weather and our kids stayed excited for the whole game."
Though the season is done, Albaugh plans to "bring as much of our team as we can," to a second-round playoff game involving one of the Vermilion Valley Conference schools.
"I respect both of those coaches and we will make plans to watch Salt Fork or Westville and cheer them on," Albaugh said.
The majority of the Cornjerkers' offense against Milford came through the air. Quarterback Tate Compton completed 6 of 21 passes for 55 yards. Cody Eells and Jason Leigh each had two receptions.
For the season, each had more than 260 receiving yards. Compton, a junior, passed for 639 yards.
Senior Hayden Cornelius was the team's defensive catalyst.
"Hayden had an outstanding game," Hoopeston Area coach Jeff Ohlemeyer said. "He had nine solo tackles and was all over the field. He did a really nice job."
Cornelius had a career-high 11 tackles.
Ohlemeyer gained a new respect for Milford after playing them.
"Milford might be the best 5-4 team in the state," Ohlemeyer said.
Another Hoopeston senior, Tim Hicks, finished as the top tackler for the season. He had 53 stops.