Unbeaten Edwardsville, Althoff and Columbia topped a list of 15 state football playoff qualifiers in the metro-east announced Saturday by the Illinois High School Association.
Althoff (9-0) and Columbia (9-0) each qualified in Class 4A while Edwardsville (9-0) qualified in Class 8A.
Other playoff qualifiers were Belleville East (6-3) and O’Fallon (5-4) in 8A, Belleville West (5-4) in 7A and Triad (8-1) and Highland (8-1) in 5A. Althoff and Columbia were among six qualifiers in Class 4A along with Mater Dei (6-3), Civic Memorial (7-2), Central (5-4) and Marquette (6-3).
Wesclin (6-3) qualified in Class 3A and will making its sixth playoff appearance and first since 2008 while Roxana (7-2) also qualified in 3A. Nashville (6-3) qualified in Class 2A.
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Mater Dei’s 24 playoff appearances are the most of any of the current qualifiers. Althoff, Edwardsville and Marquette will be making their 22nd playoff appearances.
Althoff, the No. 1 seed in the southern 4A bracket will play host to No. 16 seed Clinton (5-4) from the Central Illinois Conference. Clinton finished tied for fourth in a conference won by 9-0 Tuscola, but did manage to score 40 or more points in six of its nine games.
“It’s fun when you play teams you haven’t seen before and they haven’t seen before, I think that’s what the playoffs should be about,” said Althoff coach Ken Turner, whose team got a big playoff tune-up game Friday night in a 33-21 victory over Triad (8-1). “That was as good of a playoff atmosphere as we’ve played in the last few years. It felt like a true road game and the crowd was getting after it.”
Althoff closed out its fourth unbeaten regular season in school history with a 33-21 victory Friday over previously unbeaten and state ranked Triad.
The Crusaders also went 9-0 during the regular season in 2003, 2002 and 1990. Althoff’s three state championships rank second behind East St. Louis, but to win a fourth they would have to emerge from a bracket that includes five-time defending state champ Rochester.
Edwardsville nailed down its third straight unbeaten Southwestern Conference championship on Friday with a 49-0 victory over Granite City. Edwardsville has a 27-game SWC winning streak dating back to a 14-7 loss to East St. Louis on Sept. 7, 2012.
The Tigers have enjoyed good playoff runs in recent years that included a trip to the 7A semifinals (2013), 7A quarterfinals (2012) and the second round (2014)
While the bottom six classes were split into two north-south brackets of 16 seeded teams each, Class 7A and Class 8A each were seeded 1 through 32 regardless of geography.
FLYERS STREAK ENDS
The District 189 teachers strike ended a 15-year streak of qualifying for the playoffs by the East St. Louis Flyers. They finished the season 3-6 with four forfeit losses at the end of the season because of the strike.
The Flyers own an area-best seven state football championships, the first six under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Bob Shannon. Current coach Darren Sunkett led East Side to its seventh state title in 2008.
MAROONS TO CARY
Belleville West will travel to Cary-Grove (8-1) for its first-round 7A game, while Belleville East also is headed to the Chicago suburbs and wil ltake on Oswego (7-2) in an 8A game.
O’Fallon is the third metro-east team headed to Chicago as the Panthers, seeded 25th in 8A, have the rough task of taking on No. 8 seed Homewood-Flossmoor (8-1).
Belleville West has the furthest trip at 322 miles one-way, but the combined round-trip mileage for West, East and O’Fallon is 1,738 miles.
It’s been an up-and-down season for West, which put itself in line for a Southwestern Conference championship with a win over East St. Louis, only to put itself on the playoff bubble with a loss to Belleville East.
Now the Maroons’ playoff lives depend on their performance following a trip to to Cary-Grove High School north of Chicago near the Wisconsin border.
“There was chatter and we had an idea that’s where we might be headed,” West coach Cameron Pettus said. “I checked it out on the map and was like ‘holy cow, they’re five hours from Belleville.’ But, what the heck, we’re in the show and it’s what you prepare for. Anytime you can have a good week at practice when you know other teams are sitting at home it’s a good thing. It’s just fun. The kids are going to have a great time with it.”
Cary-Grove was the Class 7A runner-up last season, falling in the state championship game to Providence. The Trojans also were runners-up in 2013 and state champions in 2009.
“We know it’s a great program up there and we’re going to have to get to work this week,” Pettus said of Cary-Grove, which outgained Crystal Lake South 496-42 in a 43-0 victory on Friday.
O’FALLON TO FLOSSMOOR
With an 0-4 start, O’Fallon had the steepest hill to climb to reach the 8A field of 32 qualifiers. But five straight wins and 43 playoff points afforded by a strong schedule got them there.
“It’s a testament to the kids for not listening to what everybody outside the program was saying for for taking it one game at a time,” O’Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst said. “I’m happy for them that there is some payoff for their determination.”
Included on the Panthers’ winning streak is a Week 9 forfeit win from East St. Louis teachers strike. The week off gives O’Fallon more prep time prior to facing the 8-1 Vikings.
“I think any team is bruised up and sore by the time it gets to Week 9,” Joggerst said. “Having a sort of bye week helps us heal up a little, which can work in our favor.”
Homewood-Flossmoor was the Class 8A state runner up last year, falling 31-25 in the state championship game to Stevenson. Its path to the title game came through the metro-east and a second-round win over second-seeded Edwardsville.
That wasn’t the Vikings’ introduction to the Southwestern Conference or even to O’Fallon. As the No. 10 seed in 8A in 2012, the Panthers defeated Homewood-Flossmoor in the first round.
Mississippi Valley Conference rivals Triad and Highland each got first-round home games in Class 5A, but are in opposite brackets.
Triad, the No. 2 seed in the southern bracket, plays host to No. 15 Mattoon (5-4) while fifth-seeded Highland plays host to No. 12 Decatur Eisenhower (6-3).
In 4A, No. 15 seed Central (5-4) gets a rematch against Cahokia Conference champ Columbia, the No. 2 seed. Columbia won a hard-fought 28-27 victory in the previous meeting.
“I didn’t expect that,” Columbia coach Scott Horner said of the playoff matchup of a conference rival. “From a preparation standpoint it’s easier. You know what they do, so you’re familiar with it. The advantage in some of those situations goes to the team that didn’t win, especially in a close game, because they have added motivation.”
There’s little doubt about that from Central’s standpoint.
“You can’t complain about getting a team you’ve already played and lost by one point,” Central coach Brian Short said. “Being a 5-4 team to draw a team you’ve got a lot of information on already and played pretty well against them, we don’t have to make a David vs. Goliath speech like most 5-4 teams are going to have to.
“Our guys know that we can compete with them and that will be a good feeling for us. But I guarantee they won’t overlook us and want to prove that the one-point game we had against them was a fluke.”
No. 10 seed Mater Dei will travel to seventh-seeded Civic Memorial in another all-metro-east first-round matchup.
Wesclin, the No. 11 seed in the 3A southern bracket, is on the road against No. 6 Monticello (8-1) in the first round. No. 9 Roxana will be at No. 8 seed Carlinville (7-2).
Nashville drew the No. 11 seed in 2A and will travel to No. 6 New Berlin (7-2).
Sparta was one of 10 teams with five wins that did not qualify for the playoffs. The Bulldogs were kept out because of their low number of playoff points (32). The cutoff tiebreaker for five-win teams was 35 this season.
(Sports Editor Todd Eschman also supplied information for this story)
State Football Playoff Qualifiers
(playoff seeds and records in parentheses; times and dates announced Monday)
(18) Belleville East (6-3) at (15) Oswego (7-2), 7 p.m. Friday
(25) O'Fallon (5-4) at (8) Homewood-Flossmoor (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday
(30) Waubonsie Valley (5-4) at (3) Edwardsville (9-0), 1:30 p.m. Saturday
(28) Belleville West (5-4) at (5) Cary-Grove (8-1), 6:30 p.m. Friday
(12) Decatur Eisenhower (6-3) at (5) Highland (8-1), 1 p.m. Saturday
(15) Mattoon (5-4) at (2) Triad (8-1), 7 p.m. Friday
(16) Clinton (5-4) at (1) Althoff (9-0), Friday, time TBA
(15) Central (5-4) at (2) Columbia (9-0), 1 p.m. Saturday
(10) Mater Dei (6-3) at (7) Civic Memorial (7-2), 1 p.m. Saturday
(13) Marquette (6-3) at (4) Rochester (8-1), 1:30 p.m. Saturday
(11) Wesclin (6-3) at (6) Monticello (8-1), 1 p.m. Saturday
(9) Roxana (7-2) at (8) Carlinville (7-2)
(11) Nashville (6-3) at (6) New Berlin (7-2)