When the 2017 season began, Wesclin coach Ric Johns looked at the Warriors schedule with one question on his mind.
“I knew we had a good group coming back from a team which was 4-5 last year,” Johns said. “When I looked at our schedule, I thought, ‘Where can we get six wins?’”
On Friday against a strong Carlyle squad, the Warriors (6-0) answered Johns’ question with plenty of season left to spare. They knocked off the Indians 44-38 to notch their sixth win in six tries and clinch a spot in the Illinois High School Association playoffs.
Senior quarterback Josh DeMage connected with Brandt Goings on a 26-yard scoring pass with under four minutes remaining to provide the difference for the Warriors. Wesclin, which last qualified for the postseason in 2015, joins Highland as the two local teams to lock up postseason bids Friday.
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Highland, ranked third in the Class 5A state poll, also improved to 6-0 with a 50-0 win over Civic Memorial.
The win over the Indians (3-3), coupled with Central’s 27-14 loss to Red Bud, gives Wesclin sole possession of first place in the Cahokia Conference with two league games remaining.
The Warriors play at Freeburg (1-5) on Friday then play host to Central (4-2) on Oct. 13. Wesclin closes its season at home on Oct. 20 against nonconference foe Robinson. First-round playoff pairings for all eight classes will be released Oct. 21.
While the Warriors victory moves them into the playoffs, Johns knows there is still work to be done. Like Salem did in the second half of a 41-22 Warriors win two weeks ago, the Indians used an effective running game to give themselves a chance of pulling off the upset.
“I wasn’t surprised Carlyle was able to run the football on us. Salem had some success running it in the second half against us the previous week. The Carlyle kids played well and their coaching staff had a great game plan. We were fortunate to make enough plays to win the game,” Johns said.
“We aren’t looking ahead. I know it’s a cliche but right now our focus is on Freeburg. We’re just trying to improve each week.”
Highland nears MVC title
The Highland Bulldogs continued to breeze towards a Mississippi Valley Conference title with a lopsided 50-0 win at Civic Memorial.
Led by senior quarterback Garrett Marti, the Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0) lead 29-0 after one quarter and 43-0 at halftime against the Eagles (1-5). Marti led the Bulldogs offense with a pair of touchdown passes.
The senior now has 19 touchdown passes and has thrown just one interception for a Highland squad which appears to be playing a little better each week.
Still, Highland coach Jim Warnecke thinks his team can play even better.
“It all starts with bringing the right attitude every day, being humble, and working hard. Bottom line is we need to continue focusing on our weaknesses and how to improve upon them, rather than feeling too good about our strengths,” Warnecke said. “It’s easy to get caught up in the hype. We just need to stay the course, and focus on our opponent every week. This group has done a real nice job so far this season of doing exactly this.”
Pushed only by MVC rival Triad (28-13) and Marion (45-27), Highland has outscored its six opponents 275-86. The Bulldogs play host to Waterloo on Friday then travel to Mascoutah (Oct. 13) and Charleston (Oct. 20) to close the regular season.
Warnecke said the Bulldogs have faced some obstacles.
“We’ve been pushed pretty good schematically throughout various games of this season. I thought the first couple weeks, we saw a lot of speed and athleticism in playing larger schools in Belleville East and Alton. Marion and Triad have long-standing, experienced coaching staffs, along with players that are disciplined to play within the system that have challenged us schematically,” Warnecke said.
“I realize the scores haven’t been overly close, but I’m not concerned about that with this group. They have competed in multiple sports at a very high level throughout their career. They know how to compete and win close games.”
The rest of the contenders
While Highland and Wesclin have clinched playoff spots with six wins each, 14 other metro east area schools have records of 3-3 or better and retain realistic hopes of earning post-season bids. Teams qualify for the postseason by winning six or more games, winning their conference titles or attaining the necessary amount of playoff points.
These are the local teams with 3-3 records and their remaining games:
Almost in with 5-1 records
▪ Althoff: Carbondale (Oct. 6), at Cahokia (Oct. 13), at Houston, Tx. Christian (Oct. 20)
▪ Triad: Jerseyville (Oct. 6), at Waterloo (Oct. 13), at Mount Zion (Oct. 20)
▪ Marquette: Dupo (Oct. 7), at South Mac (Oct. 13), Kincaide South Fork (Oct. 20)
▪ East St. Louis: Granite City (Oct. 6), at O’Fallon (Oct. 13), Alton (Oct. 20)
In good shape at 4-2
▪ Wood River: at Kincaid South Fork (Oct. 5), Nokomis (Oct. 13), South Mac (Oct. 20)
▪ Madison: at Pawnee (Oct. 6). Kincaid South Fork (Oct. 14), at Dupo (Oct. 20)
▪ Belleville West: at Collinsville (Oct. 6), Edwardsville (Oct. 13), at Belleville East (Oct. 20)
▪ Red Bud: at Portageville, Mo. (Oct. 6), Columbia (Oct. 13), Sparta (Oct. 20)
▪ Central: at Columbia (Oct. 6), at Wesclin (Oct. 13), Herrin (Oct. 20)
▪ Columbia: Central (Oct. 6), at Red Bud (Oct. 13), at Jerseyville (Oct. 20)
Still needing some wins at 3-3
▪ Edwardsville: Belleville East (Oct. 6), at Belleville West (Oct. 13), Collinsville (Oct. 20)
▪ Alton: O’Fallon (Oct. 6), at Granite City (Oct. 13), at East St. Louis (Oct. 20)
▪ Waterloo: at Highland (Oct. 6), Triad (Oct. 13), Mater Dei (Oct. 20)
▪ Carlyle: at Salem (Oct. 6), at Flora (Oct. 13), at Pinckneyville (Oct. 20)