ON THE BUBBLE
High school football pairings will be announced Saturday, which creates do-or-die time for several area teams who will be seeking their fifth wins Friday and hoping they have the playoff points to reach the 32-team field in each of the IHSA's eight classes. Those teams include Carlyle, which will have to go through 5-3 Wesclin, and Belleville West, which travels to 1-7 Alton. O'Fallon, meanwhile, has been on the bubble since starting its season 0-4. Four straight wins, including a 38-28 thriller at Belleville East last week, sets the Panthers up for a Week 9 conference showdown with East St. Louis Friday — or an automatic win if the Flyers have to forfeit due to a lingering teachers strike. Belleville East, Central, Marquette, Sparta and Wesclin can each clinch their post-season spots by picking up their sixth wins.
BATTLE OF UNBEATENS
Two of the metro-east's four remaining undefeated teams square off Friday night when the Althoff Crusaders visit the Triad Knights. Althoff is ranked No. 4 in Illinois Class 4A, while Triad holds No. 6 in 5A. The game presents a contrast of teams which, strategically, couldn't be more different. Althoff averages nearly 47 points per game on the arm of senior quarterback Jordan Augustine, who has completed 762.6 percent of 179 pass attempts for a St. Louis-area best 2,141 yards and 23 touchdowns. Triad, meanwhile, has passed a grand total of 17 times the entire season, choosing instead to ground-and-pound with a triple-option offense that features the metro-east's third-leading ball carrier, Adam Nelson. Nelson averages 9.9 yards per carry and his 1,151 yards are close to school records for season and career yardage.
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The Rams early schedule put them through a gauntlet of games that included the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers and road games against the previously unbeaten Arizona Cardinals and still undefeated Packers. Mistakes cost them in Green Bay, but they emerged from the rugged stretch respectably at 2-3. Beginning Sunday at home with the 2-3 Cleveland Browns, the Rams play nine of their remaining 11 games against teams that curently have losing records. With the emergence of Todd Gurley — who has rushed for 305 yards in two starts since returning from an injury — can the Rams take advantage of their remaining schedule to launch a playoff push? If so, it begins Sunday.
BIG DAY OF SOCCER
Tuesday will feature an abundance of high school soccer playoff games in the metro-east, including the Class 1A Gibault Sectional semifinals at Oerter Park in Columbia, the Class 2A Columbia Regional at Columbia High and the Class 3A Edwardsville Regional at the Edwardsville Sports Complex. Collinsville also will be at home against Granite City, part of the Class 3A Quincy Regional.
The IHSA Girls State Tennis Tournament begins on Thursday and runs through Saturday at sites throughout the suburban Chicago area. Sectional champions Edwardsville and Belleville East will lead the local contingent with four entries and three respectively. Sectional singles champions Emma Melichar of Althoff and Callaghan Adams of Edwardsville are the metro east area's top hopes while the doubles teams of Kaylie Comley and Ellen Binnion of Belleville West and Edwardsville's Morgtan Colbert and Grace Desse could also win some matches in the main draw.