IHSA football pairings: Small schools, big deal

IHSA football pairings: Small schools, big deal

For this year, the area balance of power in high school football falls in Class 1A.
Overall, 16 area teams received postseason invitations Saturday from the IHSA.

Eight of those are in Class 1A. That represents one-fourth of the entire 1A field.

Three area teams were assigned to Class 2A. Four others are in 3A, and Mahomet-Seymour is the lone area entry in Class 4A.

Deja vu
Tuscola can get a head start on preparing scouting reports. The Warriors open with a familiar foe.

Tuscola’s return to the playoffs after a one-year absence finds the Warriors heading to Maroa-Forsyth in a Class 1A first-round game. The Trojans are the defending 1A state champs and topped Tuscola 48-7 in Week 7 in Tuscola.

Tuscola coach Rick Reinhart expected his 5-4 team to open against an unbeaten opponent, but he’s not happy with the rematch.

“The thing I don’t like is the playoffs are supposed be about playing different people,” Reinhart said. “I have never agreed playing someone you just played a couple weeks ago. It’s about the experience of playing programs you haven’t seen before.”

Reinhart concedes that a rematch is better than not playing in Week 10.
“We’re playing the best team in 1A, 2A or 3A,” he said. “It’s a tough draw, but last year we didn’t have a draw. We’re in the dance with a group of seniors who have been great. They deserve to be in the playoffs.”

Tuscola’s last first-round playoff loss was in 2003.

Deja vu, part II
In Class 3A, Unity (7-2) opens at home with revenge as a possible motivating factor against St. Teresa (6-3), a school that topped the Rockets 31-21 in Week 6 in Tolono.

The game will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Unity coach Scott Hamilton won’t focus on the revenge aspect, however.

“That’s one way to look at it, but rather than look back, we’ll talk about things we’ve gotten better at,” Hamilton said. “We’ll try to get things going. This time of year, there are no more second chances.”

Uneven brackets
Five unbeaten teams are alive in Class 2A. Four are in the upper bracket, which includes 9-0 Bismarck-Henning. B-H is in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year under head coach Mark Dodd.

In the lower bracket of 16 teams, only Cerro Gordo/DeLand-Weldon/Bement is 9-0. The Broncos open against New Berlin (5-4) in Cerro Gordo. Five New Berlin opponents qualified for the playoffs.

Two other unbeaten teams that were state-ranked in 2A wound up in 1A: Maroa-Forsyth and Tri-Valley.

CG/D-W/B won’t play Maroa-Forsyth this year, but that will change in 2014.

“We’re going up there in Week 9,” said Broncos coach Andy Kerley, whose team has a 24-game regular-season winning streak.

Kerley can relate to how Bismarck-Henning feels about being in a loaded bracket.

“Last year, there were five unbeatens in the South (bracket), and at 10-0, we went on the road to play 10-0 Camp Point in Round 2,” he said.

The Broncos will play in Cerro Gordo this weekend for the first time since Sept. 27. If the team gets a second home playoff game, it will be played in Bement.

All-Area matchup
Monticello and St. Thomas More will meet for the first time in football in their Class 3A  playoff opener, but they’ll see each other annually starting next fall.

Both schools will be in the realigned Okaw Valley Conference.

“We might as well get used to it,” Monticello coach Cully Welter said.

The Sages will entertain the Sabers on Saturday. The winner could potentially face another future conference foe. The winner between St. Joseph-Ogden and Petersburg Porta would be the second-round opponent. SJ-O’s home game against Porta will start at 5 p.m. Saturday.

SJ-O is heading to the Okaw Valley next season.

“As long as it continues to be in quadrants, we’ll see a lot of the same cast of characters every year,” Welter said.

STM coach Dan Hennessey said he anticipated the matchup against Monticello (8-1).

The Sabers’ season is easy to divide into thirds.

“We won our first three and our last three,” Hennessey said. “I haven’t seen Monticello play, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about them. Cully has done a great job of building the program back up.”

It will be a busy next few days for Hennessey. “There’s a lot of film to be watched,” he said. “We’ll have to learn a lot.”

All-Area matchup, part II
An additional first-round game between area squads is in Class 1A. Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond (7-2) will play Salt Fork (8-1) at Jamaica High School.

The results against one common opponent provide an indication how close the game could be. A-L/A-H lost to Bismarck-Henning by six points. Salt Fork lost to the Blue Devils by three points.

Arthur-Lovington/A-H is back in the playoffs following a five-year absence.

“They are a very formidable opponent,” Salt Fork coach Brian Plotner said.

Plotner expects all of his athletes to be in uniform, including senior linebacker Steven Meade, who suffered a torn medial collateral ligament against Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman but followed up with a 20-tackle game a week later. On Friday, Meade suffered a hand injury.

“He’ll try to gut it out,” Plotner said.

The winner of the Salt Fork vs. A-L/A-H game likely will get defending state champion Maroa-Forsyth.

“We can’t worry about the future,” said Plotner, whose teams have won at least one playoff game eight of the last 12 years.

In last week’s state poll, Salt Fork was sixth and A-L/A-H was ninth.

In regular season games, the Storm was 2-0 against opponents from the Little Okaw Valley Conference. A-L/A-H was 2-1 against teams from the Vermilion Valley Conference. The loss to B-H was on Friday in Bismarck.

Notebook items
— Bismarck-Henning was within one student of being the third state-ranked 9-0 team to drop from 2A to 1A. The Blue Devils are the smallest team in 2A with an enrollment of 324. The Villa Grove/Heritage program is the largest in 1A with 323 students;

— Milford/Cissna Park (5-4), which opens in Class 1A at 9-0 Ottawa Marquette is seeking the school’s first playoff win since 1994;

— Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley is a 7-2 team that will entertain another 7-2 team in Class 2A, seventh-ranked Chicago Leo. “We get a home game, and we’re playing someone different,” GCMS coach Mike Allen said. “We’re excited about that.” Allen’s teams have been in the playoffs nine of the last 10 years;

— Mahomet-Seymour (8-1), which is trying to advance past the first round for the first time since 2008, opens at home against Manteno (5-4). “We’re pleased by our draw and think we have a chance to make a pretty good run,” M-S coach Keith Pogue said;

— Villa Grove/Heritage has a postseason game for the sixth time in Chad Musselman’s seven years as coach. The Blue Devils (6-3) travel to Casey-Westfield (9-0), which was ranked No. 2 last week in Class 1A;

— Argenta-Oreana (7-2), despite a No. 10 state ranking last week in 1A, starts on the road against another 7-2 foe, Greenfield;

— Also set to travel are Fisher (to Carrollton in 1A) and Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman (to Carlinville in 2A). Fisher is making its ninth playoff appearance in Matt Leng’s 12 years as coach. G-RF/C is in the playoffs for a third straight year in coach Josh Cavanaugh’s tenure. The Buffaloes held a 379-81 rushing edge against Westville on Friday;

— Sangamon Valley foes Clifton Central and Momence played Friday in Clifton. The Comets won 21-0. They will play each other again in a first-round Class 3A contest;

— Top-ranked Lombard Montini (Class 5A) played eight teams that made the playoffs.

Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 and at fkroner@news-gazette.com. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.