As much as we dislike the manner in which the high school football playoffs are seeded, the complaints lessen by quarterfinal week.
That’s because anyone who has reached this level has won two playoff games — and you would hope at least one was against a quality opponent. It is not always true, but normally anyone alive at this point has something to offer.
As I review the opponents for our seven remaining teams, all of whom will play Saturday, I get the feeling that indeed is the case. None is in for an easy time.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that all our teams can advance. While I am concerned about Coal City, nobody is facing a situation where you feel like saying, “Oh, well, it was nice while it lasted.”
Of course, we have one game where two area teams will collide. Joliet Catholic will visit Lincoln-Way West in a Class 5A quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Saturday. As you might have noticed from previous columns, I believe either is a threat to win 5A, even with Marian Central or Montini coming up in the semifinals.
How will this one go? If Joliet Catholic can maintain the health it will have at kickoff, keep its regular offensive backfield in the game, I give an edge to the Hilltoppers. But that West defense is tough, and if the Warriors offense can control the ball and finish drives, Joliet Catholic may be in for a long day.
I’ll take the Hilltoppers, but in a close one.
Most other games involving our teams should be similarly competitive.
Morris (10-1) is at Washington (9-2) at 3 p.m. Saturday in the other 5A match-up. The Redskins have their offense in gear over the last several weeks — see Reese Sobol’s 321 rushing yards last week against Urbana — and their defense has been a mainstay.
Washington probably is a better team than the one Joliet Catholic went down and waylaid last year, and Washington is home again, so it may be tight. But if Morris continues to play as it has, the Redskins should continue on. As noted previously, they are a candidate to get through the southern bracket and show up in the 5A title game.
Elsewhere Saturday, we have Coal City (10-1) entertaining Alleman (10-1) in Class 4A at 2 p.m., Wilmington (9-2) hosting Sterling Newman (11-0) at 5 p.m. in 3A, Lemont (10-1) visiting Oak Forest (10-1) at 7 p.m. in 6A and Lincoln-Way East (11-0) welcoming Edwardsville (10-1) at 6 p.m. in 7A.
Coal City is a concern largely because Alleman plays against bigger competition in the Western Big 6. The Pioneers have lost only to Rock Island 10-7, and the Rocks were ousted from the 6A playoffs last week 21-20 by unbeaten Ottawa after leading 20-0 at halftime. Alleman’s 42-7 victory last week over always-tough Stillman Valley also is scary.
On the other hand, it will be a madhouse at Coal City. The Coalers, much like Alleman, have been excellent defensively all season. So it would not be a shock if this one is close all the way and comes down to late heroics, similar to the Coalers’ 12-10 win last week at Geneseo.
As for Wilmington, even though the Wildcats may be hurt by playing in the Interstate Eight Small, they have battled more “good” teams, and larger schools, than undefeated Newman, which was multiplied up to 3A. I can’t imagine Newman has faced a tougher assignment than going into Wilmington a week after the Wildcats electrified the home crowd by pounding perennially strong St. Joseph-Ogden 48-8.
Don’t forget, Wilmington’s only losses were 13-12 to Coal City and 24-20 to Plano. Both have larger enrollments than anyone on Newman’s schedule.
Lemont and Oak Forest in 6A are adversaries in the South Suburban Blue, and their first meeting was a dandy, Lemont winning 17-14 on Joe Hehir’s last-second field goal.
With Oak Forest having scored 69 points last week against Shepard and with it always being difficult to beat a good team twice, the Bengals are a logical pick. However, Lemont’s excellence along the line of scrimmage could be the difference as the Indians advance.
Important to remember about Lincoln-Way East’s battle with Edwardsville is that this is a better Edwardsville team than the one the Griffins handily defeated in the 2010 and ’11 season openers at Illinois State. In addition, the Tigers did eliminate East St. Louis 21-18 last week. But with the Griffins playing so well on both sides of the ball and on special teams, they should survive even if they are pushed to the limit.
Six area teams in the semifinals? A definite maybe.