The big picture of high school football in this state is that it takes five wins to be eligible for the playoffs.
The reality is that you play the games one at a time and you have to win the games one at a time.
So far this fall, Waukegan has one of the needed five — a shaky 14-6 win over Zion-Benton last Friday in a game that earned the winners no style points, but still counts the same as a 40-0 blowout.
In splitting its first two games, Waukegan has looked nothing like a playoff-calibre team, with penalties and turnovers the norm and flawless execution the exception.
This Thursday night’s game at Maine West is a must-win for the Bulldogs to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Especially on offense, where the ground game has been stuck in neutral and the passing game has been sporadic. Against Zion, the team scored on its first drive of the game and then had a 90-yard touchdown drive at the end of the game to account for its two scores.
“We had the first drive and the last drive. Now, we need the 15 in between,’’ Waukegan third-year coach Nick Browder said after his team’s victory over Zion. ‘‘I’ve never felt this way after a win. I’m happy we won, but we have a lot to work on.”
Hopefully, that work was done during practice Monday-Wednesday because the Bulldog defense is going to wear down if it’ s asked to carry the entire load on game night.
One of those defensive players is senior defensive end Tim Losch.
He indicated that the defense doesn’t mind playing with its back to its own goal line.
“I feel I play better under pressure, but I think our defense in general plays better under pressure,” Losch said. “It’s not something we’re unfamiliar with. You just have to keep playing.”
Waukegan’s defense did yeoman work against Zion. The Bees’ only score was on a 10-yard drive after a turnover.
The win was secured when sophomore defensive back Charles Pettis picked off a pass near midfield in the final minute.
‘‘We expected them to throw a lot. As defensive backs, we had to make sure we covered our zones and didn’t give up any big plays,” Pettis said after the win. “Our defense did a good job playing through the fourth quarter tonight.”
Pettis spent last year at Washington Park High School in Racine, Wis. “I’m happy to be back home and see the guys I played football with and against growing up,” he said.
He’ll be even happier if his team is playing football in November. But the playoffs are four wins away. They’ve got to get Thursday’s win first.
Teams in Lake County are playing on Thursday this week, because there is a religious holiday that starts at sundown on Friday and continues into Saturday.