This is a nerve-racking week for Illinois high school football coaches, most notably the ones coaching 4-4 teams.
While others have their state playoff bids securely locked up, the majority of 4-4 teams are in must-win situations. Some of those still may need some help from their previous opponents even if they are fortunate enough to win their regular-season finale.
Such is the case for 4-4 teams like Belleville East, Althoff, Alton, Waterloo, Freeburg and Dupo. O'Fallon is also 4-4, but will be favored against Southwestern Conference rival Granite City (2-6).
Belleville East's playoff hopes ride on beating unbeaten SWC champ and state-ranked Edwardsville (8-0) --and doing it on the road.
"Beating those guys is going to be a pretty tall order, but it's exciting to try to put something together to try it," Belleville East coach Tim Funk, whose team knocked off O'Fallon 17-14 Saturday in double-overtime. "That's what makes it fun, it's high school sports. You never know.
"It's going to be an uphill battle, but anything can happen."
Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel and Waterloo coach Dan Rose are old friends, but that friendship won't matter when their teams Friday meet with a likely playoff berth going to the winner.
"We're not getting in without a win," Rose said. "This is a playoff game."
Mater Dei (5-3) could still qualify with a loss, but Stiebel isn't wanting to visit that scenario.
"We're looking to take care of our own destiny and take care of the game," he said. "That takes care of everything. We should be good regardless, but I don't have our boys thinking that way one bit. The playoffs started already for us."
Following is the state playoff outlook for metro-east teams. There are 256 teams that will qualify, 32 in each of eight classes.
Teams are classified by their IHSA enrollment figure, which may include a multiplier for private schools:
Edwardsville (8-0, Southwestern Conference champion) An enrollment figure of 2,397 could push the Tigers up into 8A; the current 7A cutoff is 2,459. They will be extremely dangerous no matter which bracket they are in.
Belleville West (6-2). The Maroons have struggled since losing injured quarterback Sherand Boyd and will be facing a dangerous and playoff-hungry team in 4-4 Alton on the road.
Class 5A or 4A
Highland (8-0, Mississippi Valley Conference champion). The current IHSA playoff projections have Highland as the largest school in Class 4A with an enrollment figure of 990, but the Bulldogs could easily wind up in 5A.
"I don't know what to think now," Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said. "We thought we had things pretty close to pinned down in 5A. I'm not real good with that type of stuff, I'm a history major."
Highland has its first MVC championship since 1989 and has rolled through every opponent with little difficulty.
"In either class it's going to be a tough road, but I've seen that 5A monster and I'd take my chances in 4A," Warnecke said. "Any class you go in, if you go far enough it's going to be a rough road for anyone."
Columbia (8-0, Cahokia Conference champion). The emergence of running back Lou Isringhaus and two of the top small-school linemen should make the Eagles a tough out.
Marquette (6-2, Prairie State Conference champion.) Explorers dominated the conference again this season.
Jerseyville (6-2). With an enrollment figure of 927, the Panthers could be one of the largest teams in 4A depending on the breakdown.
Carlyle (7-1). The Indians have been a bit under the radar since suffering their only defeat to unbeaten Columbia, but they have plenty of talent at the skill positions.
On The Bubble
(playoff points are the total number of opponents' wins and can be used in tiebreaker situations)
O'Fallon (4-4; 41 playoff points). The Panthers are at home vs. Granite City (2-6) and hope to shake off a rough performance Saturday in the loss at Belleville East. O'Fallon's enrollment figure of 2,499 is on the low end in 8A, so the Panthers could possibly end up in 7A.
Belleville East (4-4, 41 playoff points). Lancers must win at Edwardsville (8-0) or their season is over.
Alton (4-4, 38 playoff points). The Redbirds are home against Belleville West (6-2) and can only qualify with a win.
East St. Louis (5-3, 41 playoff points). Flyers will be overwhelming favorites at home against Collinsville (1-7) and could be a dangerous team in this class.
Mater Dei (5-3; 35 playoff points). Mater Dei is in with a road win over Waterloo (4-4), but a loss could leave the Knights hoping for a lot of help from the other teams on their schedule.
Waterloo (4-4, 43 playoff points). Bulldogs are guaranteed a spot with a win.
Althoff (4-4, 33 playoff points). Crusaders must win on the road against Triad (2-6) to have a shot, and even then may need some help from others on their schedule because of a low playoff point total.
Central (5-3, 35 playoff points). Cougars have an excellent shot at nailing down a playoff spot with a game against Wood River (2-6).
Freeburg (4-4, 33 playoff points). Freeburg is at home against Salem (2-6) needing a win, plus some help from its opponents.
Dupo (4-4, 33 playoff points). Dupo will be on the road against Pinckneyville (4-4). The Tigers' enrollment figure of 314 is on high end of 1A, so they could end up in 2A.