The high school football schedules are out — and the first Friday night is only 50 days away. But who’s counting? Staff writer Matt Daniels, for one. Here’s his week-by-week look at the top games in the area, all the way from the heat of late August to the chilly weather of late October.
Week 1 (Aug. 30)
Normal Community at Urbana
Was 2012 a fluke for the Tigers? Who will Nathan Watson count on to replace all-everything Cameron Mammen? How did the turf at McKinley Field hold up with all the summer rain? Get a chance to find out these answers and more when the Tigers, last year’s Big 12 co-champions who won the first playoff game in school history, open against an Ironmen program that has made the playoffs 17 straight years.
If you can’t make it to Urbana, head to ... Moweaqua. Cully Welter will open his fifth season on the Monticello sidelines. His four previous seasons have resulted in playoff trips. A rowdy atmosphere in Moweaqua, whose Central A&M Raiders are coming off a 9-2 season and another playoff trip, will await the Sages. Nothing like experiencing a playoff atmosphere in the season opener.
Week 2 (Sept. 6)
Danville at Chicago St. Rita
B.J. Luke’s Vikings head north to tangle with the vaunted Mustangs, who uncharacteristically missed the playoffs last year, much like Danville. But Trent Sherfield and his mates will try to avenge the 49-7 blowout St. Rita handed out at Whitesell Field last season.
If you can’t make it to Chicago, head to ... Mahomet. The last time Prairie Central visited Frank Dutton Field, the Hawks came away with a surprising Class 4A first-round playoff win in 2011. Many players on Keith Pogue’s team this fall hardly played in the loss, but this Corn Belt opener is one to watch between two tradition-rich programs.
Week 3 (Sept. 13)
A-L/A-H at Cerro Gordo/B/D-W
Little Okaw Valley Conference play begins this week for two teams that both made the playoffs last season. Knights coach Dale Schuring will turn to his son, Tyler, to handle the quarterback responsibilities once more for A-L/A-H. Broncos coach Andy Kerley will count on the running back tandem of Steve Isbell and Dee Woods to pick up where they left off in 2012.
If you can’t make it to Cerro Gordo, head to ... Watseka. Dan Hennessey always has his St. Thomas More squad ready. Same holds true for Steve Lucas in his two seasons at Watseka. It’s the Sangamon Valley Conference opener for two teams that made the playoffs last year and that put together an instant classic last year during the Warriors’ 24-21 win in Champaign.
Week 4 (Sept. 20)
Maroa-Forsyth at Unity
It’s the only area game all season involving two teams who played last season for state titles at Memorial Stadium. Unity lost in the Class 3A game and Maroa-Forsyth won the 1A championship. Arrive early to Hicks Field. Both teams might wind up playing again in a state championship game, albeit at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb.
If you can’t make it to Tolono, head to ... St. Joseph. Dick Duval’s Spartans won the Sangamon Valley Conference title outright last season with a perfect 6-0 league record. Clifton Central finished second. The two teams meet again, and SJ-O will have to ward off a Comets program that advanced to the 2A semifinals last fall.
Week 5 (Sept. 27)
Bismarck-Henning at Salt Fork
Bismarck-Henning ended Salt Fork’s and Westville’s stranglehold atop the Vermilion Valley Conference with last year’s league championship. If you want to see an offensive spectacle, you might want to find another game. But if you want to see hard-nosed, old-school football, this is the game to attend.
If you can’t make it to Jamaica, head to ... Tommy Stewart Field in Champaign. Jimmy Fitzgerald and his Chargers will go up against Urbana, which could feature Tim Beckman’s son, Alex, as the Tigers’ starting quarterback. By this point, we’ll have a better idea if Mike McDonnell’s team can end a two-year playoff absence or not.
Week 6 (Oct. 4)
St. Joseph-Ogden at STM
It’s not the longest rivalry in the area, but it’s a hotly contested one. SJ-O leads the all-time series 4-3, with each school alternating wins in the last four seasons. The last two games have been decided by a combined nine points. Don’t expect a wider margin of victory this year either.
If you can’t make it to Champaign, head to ... Bement. Villa Grove/Heritage plays Cerro Gordo/Bement/DeLand-Weldon in a matchup of two top Little Okaw Valley teams. Villa Grove let a 14-7 lead evaporate in a 21-14 loss on its home field last year, so the Blue Devils will have plenty of motivation heading into this year’s showdown with the Broncos.
Week 7 (Oct. 11)
Monticello at Unity
Scott Hamilton sure has had Monticello’s number. The veteran Unity coach has beaten the Sages five times in the last three seasons, including last year’s 18-14 win in Monticello. Unity will have its hearty supporters out in full force at Hicks Field, but the Sages contingent will travel well, too. Is this the year the Sages get even for so much misery the last few seasons at the hands of the Rockets? Stay tuned.
If you can’t make it to Tolono, head to ... Tuscola. Coaches say all the time that history doesn’t help teams win football games. But it sure should boost attendance. Maroa-Forsyth will visit the Warriors’ home field for this late-season matchup. Since 2006, both programs have combined to play in nine state title games either in Class 1A or 2A, with four state titles between them.
Week 8 (Oct. 18)
Mahomet-Seymour at U-High
It’s a good bet the winner of this game will win the Corn Belt. What’s not to like about that possibility? Plus, the game is at renovated Hancock Stadium at Illinois State, which should have been chosen as the host of the state championship games in years Memorial Stadium can’t. Alas, Tuscola great Dusty Burk has turned the Pioneers into a bona fide powerhouse in central Illinois while the Bulldogs will come ready to play. Should be a good one.
If you can’t make it to Normal, head to ... Tommy Stewart Field in Champaign. It’s the annual Central-Centennial game between the rivals. Centennial won last year, perhaps resurrecting a six-year stretch from 2001 to ’06 where the Chargers won every meeting. New Central coach Nate Albaugh and his team might have something to say about that, though.
Week 9 (Oct. 25)
Tri-Valley at LeRoy
The top two teams in the Heart of Illinois Conference last season could find themselves in similar positions this season, too. Both teams proved last season that they can score in bunches. Let’s hope the trend continues in 2013.
If you can’t make it to LeRoy, head to ... Westville for the annual Coal Bucket game between the Tigers and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman. The two rivals separated by 5 miles on Route 1 will meet for the 92nd time. If both teams are playoff-bound or fighting for a playoff berth, can’t think of a better way to end the season.