With the postseason a week away, we asked prep sports coordinator Fred Kroner for his thoughts on area playoff teams:
Villa Grove stays strong
Chad Musselman won’t take playoff appearances for granted. After guiding Villa Grove into the postseason each of his first four years at the school, his team fell short in 2011.
The reward now for an 8-1 regular season is a first-round Class 1A home game against 6-3 Winchester.
“That’s a different direction than I thought we would go,” he said. “Last year was the worst experience of my life, so if we’re playing anyone in the playoffs, I’ll say I feel great.”
Musselman hopes the same can be said for senior Ryan Pearce, the area rushing leader. He sat out the last two games with a knee injury and may learn his availability Tuesday. In his absence, junior Terrion Price has stepped in at fullback.
“Ryan is a difference-maker, but we haven’t changed what we do,” Musselman said. “Terrion has done a remarkable job.”
So, too, has John Henderson, a second-year starter at quarterback.
“Every play, he has to check us into a play,” Musselman said. “His decision-making the last four weeks has really impressed me.”
Without knowledge of Winchester, Musselman likes the matchup.
“Playing someone absolutely new is so much more motivating,” he said. “It adds life during the week.”
The likely opponent for the Villa Grove/Winchester winner is Maroa-Forsyth, which played in the 2A state finals two of the last three years but now has dropped into 1A.
Spartans limp into postseason
St. Joseph-Ogden has an 8-1 record and a first-round Class 3A home playoff game against 6-3 Aurora Central Catholic, but the Spartans may not be at full strength. Three starters were sidelined for Friday’s 21-6 win against Paxton-Buckley-Loda, including rusher leader Chase Patton (shoulder). Two-way starter Josh Poulter (ankle) and tight end Bryce Stewart (foot), Poulter’s backup at middle linebacker, were also missing.
“We had a lot of people in there for the first time last week,” said SJ-O coach Duck Duval, who said all are questionable for the playoffs.
Duval was surprised by the pairing. “I thought for sure we would play St. Thomas More again,” Duval said. “It’s nice to have a home game, but I’m not sure our draw is really great.”
Deja vu for 9-0 B-H
The last time Bismarck-Henning played a football game two weeks ago, the opponent was Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman.
The game was in Bismarck.
The next time the Blue Devils (9-0) play, the opponent will be Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman (6-3). The first-round Class 2A playoff game will be in Bismarck (1 p.m. Saturday).
“It’s always tougher the second time,” said B-H coach Mark Dodd, whose squad posted a 42-0 victory in Week 8 and is coming off a Week 9 forfeit. “As experienced as we are, that won’t be a problem. We’ve shown the ability to focus at the right time.”
B-H has plenty of incentive for the rematch. Since the district implemented football in 1961-62, there has never been a 10-win season.
“We’re excited to be where we’re at,” said Dodd, who scouted the Buffaloes’ Coal Bucket win Friday against Westville. “This could be the first time in history. There are a lot of things we still want to accomplish.”
The senior class has already accomplished one first: qualifying for the playoffs four consecutive years.
Familiar foe for M-S
Mahomet-Seymour’s Class 4A playoff opener is against a school that was in the Corn Belt Conference for football when the current M-S seniors were freshmen. M-S (6-3) travels to Rochester (8-1), the two-time defending 4A state champs.
M-S (enrollment 900) was the largest school to make Class 4A.
“It’s good that we’re in 4A, but it’s a tough draw,” coach Keith Pogue said.
Though he said, “our defense has been playing really well,” Pogue also knows the unit faces a stiff test.
Rochester hasn’t scored fewer than 26 points in any of its games and is averaging 45.5 points per game.
Salt Fork relies on defense
The most consistent aspect of Salt Fork’s team during its run to a 12th straight playoff berth has been defense. Just two schools have managed more than one touchdown against the Storm, which shut out its final two opponents.
“Offensively, we have a lot of work to do, but defensively, we’ve played well all year,” said Brian Plotner, whose 8-1 team faces Oblong (6-3) in a first-round 1A game at Catlin.
The defense didn’t let down when linebacker Steven Meade suffered a season-ending knee injury. He was the area leader in tackling and, Plotner said, “there’s no doubt in my mind he would have been all-state this year.”
The continued production proves Meade was surrounded by good quality. “That shows the caliber of the other kids,” Plotner said.
In the IHSA seedings, No. 6 Salt Fork is just behind Central A&M, which it played in 2011 and 2010.
“This is exactly what we wanted,” Plotner said. “Someone new. We didn’t want a conference school. We get a fresh face, and this is something that will excite the kids.”
Rockets streak into playoffs
Unity’s high-powered Rockets carry a six-game winning streak into the playoffs and a Class 3A first-round Saturday home game at Hicks Field against Pana, a 5-4 opponent that lost twice to sub-.500 teams.
Coach Scott Hamilton’s Rockets are averaging 38.8 points per game. The best news, the coach said, is “we’re playing well, but more importantly, we’re pretty healthy. We should have everyone available.”
Anyone looking ahead to a possible playoff showdown between Unity and SJ-O will have to look far down the road. The schools are in opposite brackets and could only meet in the state championship game Nov. 23.
“That would be nice,” Hamilton said, “but there’s a lot of work to do between now and then.”
Sabers’ draw not a surprise
When the IHSA 3A brackets were released Saturday night, one of the first two teams mentioned was St. Thomas More. As the No. 16 seed, the Sabers will go on the road at 3 p.m. Saturday to play unbeaten Elmwood-Brimfield, rated fourth in the final regular season poll.
“When you’re 5-4, you know you’re going to get a 9-0,” STM coach Dan Hennessey said.
The Sabers had a day of anxiety, waiting to learn if they were one of the bubble teams picked. Sixteen five-win teams did not advance. STM wound up as the 249th of 256 teams that made the postseason.
Tigers continue quest
Here’s an indication of the strength of the Class 5A bracket: an 8-1 Urbana team opens at home against 7-2 East Peoria. “It’s a fair matchup,” Tigers head coach Nathan Watson said, “but 5A is loaded.”
The other 8-1 teams in 5A will start with either a 6-3 or a 5-4 foe.