Althoff, O'Fallon and Freeburg all qualify for state football playoffs

News-DemocratOctober 27, 2013 

After reaching the Class 2A state football championship game last season, the Althoff Crusaders find themselves in the Class 4A bracket this season.

Althoff (5-4), the No. 8 seed, will travel to top-seeded Columbia (9-0) for its first-round game in what will be the first football meeting between the schools.

"That's the way we figured it," Althoff coach Ken Turner said. "We're happy to be in, we had to win three straight games just to get there."

Columbia was seeded ahead of top-ranked 4A powerhouse Rochester (8-1) in the bracket. Rochester was forced to forfeit one of its wins for violating Illinois High School Association rules.

Belleville West (7-2) has a No. 2 seed in its Class 7A bracket and will be at home against No. 7 seed Oswego East (6-3).

If the Maroons advance to the second round and third-seeded (Frankfort) Lincoln-Way East beats sixth-seeded Plainfield East, they'll get another home game in the second round.

"Awesome,'' West coach Cameron Pettus said of being the No. 2 seed. "It's very exciting."

Pettus said he knows little about the Wolves, who finished in a three-way tie for third place in the Southwest Prairie Conference, but he prefers unfamiliar foe rather than playing another team from the Southwestern Conference.

"It's better than playing somebody in our conference, that's for sure,'' Pettus said.

Unbeaten Edwardsville (9-0) is the top seed in its 7A quadrant and will be at home against No. 8 (Tinley Park) Andrew (5-4).

The Tigers went Class 7A after being on the bubble between 7A and 8A.

Edwardsville coach Matt Martin and his staff thought the Tigers might draw Andrew, which finished fourth in the Southwest Suburban Red Conference.

"You have all these experts tell you that you are going to 8A or 7A and after a while I just stopped listening because it was wearing me out,'' Martin said. "Now we know.''

Martin said the Tigers enter the playoffs a banged and bruised team after their 20-0 win over Belleville East on Friday.

"Belleville East was one the worst games to have in Week 9 to try to stay healthy,'' Martin said. "They're so dang physical. You have to play physical against them or you are going to get beat.''

The Tigers rolled to the championship of the Southwestern Conference, but Martin feels like they're capable of playing better.

"We're doing a lot of good things, but I think we can definitely improve,'' Martin said. "I don't think we've played our best game yet.''

Venturing into Class 6A this season, the East St. Louis Flyers (6-3) are a No. 6 seed and will be on the road against No. 3 Normal West (8-1).

Once 1-3, the Flyers have won five straight.

"I'm very proud of this football team," East St. Louis coach Darren Sunkett said. "We struggled a little bit early against some good teams. But the guys hung in there and continued to play hard.

"We don't know much about Normal West and I'm sure they don't know much about us either. We'll be getting very familiar with each other in the next week.''

Sunkett said dropping from Class 7A to 6A isn't a big deal.

"Whether it be 6A, 7A or whatever class we're in, everybody puts the shoulder pads on the same way and everybody's goal is to be playing for a state championship on Thanksgiving weekend," Sunkett said.

O'Fallon (5-4) is a No. 14 seed in Class 8A and will travel to third-seeded (Naperville) Neuqua Valley (8-1).

Highland (9-0) drew a No. 4 seed in its loaded Class 5A quadrant and will play host to No. 13 Carbondale (5-4).

O'Fallon will be making a 265-mile bus ride to Naperville to play the Wildcats.

"We seem to have to do it every year,'' O'Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst said. "We actually haven't lost on the road in five years. Every playoff loss has been at home.''

The Wildcats are ranked fourth in the 8A state rankings. Their lone defeat was a 58-35 decision to Naperville Central.

The Panthers beat Granite City 63-33 Friday night to qualify for the playoffs.

"We've got some confidence after getting through last night,'' Joggerst said. "We got the offense rolling a little bit, and that was good to see. I tell the kids, 'It's a 0-0 record right now.'''

The unbeaten Highland Bulldogs (9-0) will play at home against the Carbondale Terriers (5-4) in the Class 5A playoffs.

The Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 452-99 this season.

"I think we have a lot to show in our offense yet,'' Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke said. "I feel like we haven't showed a whole lot, but we haven't had to this year. We've kept a lot of stuff kind of hidden back for the postseason. There's no sense to break it out if you don't have to."

This is Columbia's third unbeaten regular season in school history and second under coach Scott Horner. Horner's projections led to a first-round date with Althoff.

"We kind of figured we were going to get them anyway," Horner said. "You're going to have to beat them to get out of your quadrant no matter where you land.

"We know they're a quality program with a lot of guys back from last year's team that had a big taste of winning and winning playoff games."

In other 4A matchups, No. 6 Mater Dei (6-3) travels to Olney East Richland (7-2), while No. 5 Marquette (7-2) is at No. 4 Herrin (7-2).

In Class 3A, No. 6 seed Central (6-3) gets to visit the famous "Snake Pit" stadium of the third-seeded Mount Carmel Golden Aces (8-1). Freeburg (5-4) also drew a tough first-round opponent as a No. 8 seed and will travel to unbeaten No. 1 seed Greenville (9-0).

"Getting any opportunity in the playoffs is better than sitting at home in Week 10," Central coach Brian Short said. "It gives our kids an opportunity to see an atmosphere that's much talked about and to see what the next level's all about."

Fourth-seeded Carlyle (7-2) will be at home against No. 5 Eldorado (7-2) in a Class 2A first-round matchup.

News-Democrat sportswriter Dean Criddle also contributed to this story.

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