Playoffs remain on Hawks' minds for 2018

Playoffs remain on Hawks' minds for 2018

FAIRBURY — Ten months ago, the talk around Prairie Central centered on playoff football.

The Hawks, after all, snapped a five-year absence from the postseason — a welcomed sight for a town and school that had enjoyed deep playoff runs in the past, including a 2003 run to the Class 4A state championship game.

The 2017 version of Prairie Central, which experienced a three-win bump from the previous season, didn't advance past the first round of the Class 4A playoff bracket, suffering a season-ending 42-6 defeat to Rochester on Oct. 27.

There wasn't too much shame in falling to the Rockets, though, considering Rochester and star quarterback Nic Baker — The News-Gazette's All-State Player of the Year — capped a 14-0 season with a state championship.

"I guess if you're going to lose to anybody," Prairie Central coach Kirk Brandenburg said, "it might as well be the state champions."

Prairie Central — fresh off last season's 5-5 campaign, which could easily have been six or seven wins, according to Brandenburg, if not for a pair of eight-point defeats to Monticello and Unity — begins its nine-game slog through the Illini Prairie Conference on Aug. 24 at Rantoul with a clear goal in mind: getting back to the playoffs.

"That'd be a good step for our program," said Brandenburg, who is entering his third season as the head coach of the Hawks and 14th overall in the prep ranks.

Depth remains a concern for the Hawks this season, who carried 29 players on last season's roster. Brandenburg expects something close to that number again in 2018.

Still, Brandenburg is happy about the state of the program.

"I can see some things in the kids that I really like," Brandenburg said. "They know what to expect. I am pretty up front with them. ... They're a good bunch of guys. We've got good camaraderie. They can look each other in the eye and say we're giving it our best. And if somebody's not, they're going to take care of it themselves. That's a good thing."

Prairie Central's option-based attack will have a new leader, after the graduation of dual-threat quarterback Billy Printz, who was responsible for 1,865 combined yards and 21 total touchdowns last season.

Collier Pallmore and Caden King are vying to replace Printz, according to Brandenburg; although, the third-year coach isn't saying which direction he is leaning.

If the Hawks can find the right man under center to complement senior fullback Matt Kerns, Prairie Central could find itself playing the final weekend of October for the second straight season.

"I've already heard them talking about the playoffs," Brandenburg said. "That's all fine and good, but we have to walk the talk. We have to get out fast in this conference. It's a challenge every week. You can think playoffs. You should think playoffs if you're worth your salt, but let's go. Let's get it done."

Prairie Central's 2018 schedule

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 at Rantoul 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. Bloomington Central Catholic 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Unity 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Pontiac 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Chillicothe IVC 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 at St. Joseph-Ogden 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Olympia 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Monticello 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. St. Thomas More 7 p.m.

Sections (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports