High School Football

Mater Dei Knights know the playoff scenario - win and they’re in

No state football playoff qualifier or playoff hopeful has more playoff points — the number of wins by their opponents — than the Mater Dei Knights.

The Knights (4-4), who will need to beat Waterloo (5-3) at 7 p.m. Friday to qualify, have a whopping 53 playoff points. That figure is based on the number of wins by the team’ on Mater Dei’s schedule.

By comparison, the typical Illinois High School Association playoff tiebreaker cutoff in most seasons is somewhere around 36 to 38 playoff points.

“It doesn’t matter how many points we have if we don’t have our five wins,” said Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel, whose team reached the Class 4A semifinals last season before losing to Althoff.

Mater Dei is in a different situation that most other teams in the state. The Knights are one of only two true independent football teams with no conference affiliation in Illinois, the other being Blue Ridge from Farmer City.

Mt. Carmel is also listed as an independent in Illinois since the eastern Illinois schools competes in a conference with teams from Indiana. Mater Dei lost to Mt. Carmel 27-20 in a lightning-delayed game Sept. 16.

“We’ve never been this high before,” Stiebel said of the impressive playoff point total. “We knew that going into it and wish we could do something about it, but there’s nothing we can do unless a conference invites us or accepts us.

“It’s something that we prepare for and we talk about it a lot, but we’ve got to look at the big picture. Why waste a lot of energy talking about it when there’s nothing we can do about it?”

As a result, Stiebel’s message to his team each season is clear: just win and get in.

“Does it make it tougher to qualify every year? You bet,” he said.

Mater Dei’s schedule doesn’t include its own GPS system, but it should.

The Knights play Quincy Notre Dame from western Illinois, Mt. Carmel from eastern Illinois, Effingham from the east central portion of the state, plus Althoff, Central Marquette and Waterloo from the metro-east.

The last two weeks, the Knights faced Lutheran North from St. Louis and St. Charles (Mo.) West.

At 5-3 with 42 playoff points, Waterloo is likely already in the playoffs even with a loss. The Bulldogs have beaten Mater Dei in each of the past two seasons and Stiebel and Waterloo coach Dan Rose are good friends, adding to the mix.

Waterloo won 28-21 last season and 40-32 in 2014.

Following is a list of area teams which have already qualified for the state football playoffs or are still in the running, with records and playoff points in parentheses:

Class 8A

Already in: Edwardsville (7-1, 36 points)

On the bubble: O’Fallon (5-3, 37 points; vs. East St. Louis)

Class 7A

Already in: East St. Louis (8-0, 33 points; Southwestern Conference champ)

On the bubble: Belleville West (4-4, 39 points; vs. 0-8 Alton); Granite City (4-4, 30 points; at 7-1 Edwardsville)

Class 5A

Already in: Highland (7-1, 36 points; Mississippi Valley Conference champ); Triad (6-2; 34 points); Centralia (6-2; 26 points)

On the bubble: Waterloo (5-3; 42 points; at 4-4 Mater Dei); Cahokia (4-4, 41 points; vs. 6-2 Crete-Monee)

Class 4A

Already in: Althoff (8-0; 32 points; South Seven Conference champs); Columbia (8-0; 32 points; Cahokia Conference champs); Central (7-1; 35 points); Marquette (6-2; 32 points)

On the bubble: Civic Memorial (4-4, 41 points; at 6-2 Taylorville); Mater Dei (4-4, 53 points; vs. 5-3 Waterloo)

Class 3A

On the bubble: Wood River (5-3; 31 points; at 3-5 Mount Olive)

Class 2A

Already in: Red Bud (6-2; 28 points)

On the bubble: Nashville (5-3; 29 points; at 5-3 West Frankfort)

Another All-American at Edwardsville

Edwardsville defensive end and Iowa recruit A.J. Epenesa, one of the nation’s top senior recruits regardless of position, received his U.S. Army All-American Bowl jersey in an impressive ceremony at the school last week.

The Tigers (7-1) got more good news over the weekend when senior kicker and University of Memphis recruit Riley Patterson announced he had been selected to play in one of the three Blue-Grey All-American Bowls held at various NFL stadiums around the country.

Not only is Patterson Edwardsville’s second All-American this season, he’s the third straight All-American kicker or punter from the Southwestern Conference. Patterson has a 40-yard field goal and has been successful on three of five field goal tries and 28 of his 29 extra points. He also has put 17 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks and is averaging 41 yards on his punts with a season-best of 60 yards.

In the past two years, O’Fallon’s Tucker McCann (a freshman at Missouri) and Belleville West graduate Austin Seibert (a sophomore at Oklahoma) each were named to various All-American teams.

Having a third All-American gives the SWC an unprecedented run of Division I kicking talent.

“He’s done a great job for us and he’s really improved as a punter,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said of Patterson, now in his third year as a starter. “Riley’s a soccer kid and he wanted to do both sports. He actually played football in junior high. He and A.J. were on the same team together and (Riley) was one of the top players as a tailback and he played other positions, too.”

Patterson has hit field goals of 55 and beyond in practice.

“I think when he’s done playing soccer and he can just focus on kicking, he’ll get that much better,” Martin said.

The Miracle of Jersey County

The Highland Bulldogs had to convert two fourth downs on their final possession Friday, then hope that a first-year football player could successfully convert on a 39-yard field goal attempt with five seconds remaining.

Everything worked out as planned and Elliott Prott’s 39-yard field goal sent everyone home happy with a 49-46 victory that locked up the Mississippi Valley Conference championship and a 7-1 record.

“He made the kick and he started running down the field,” said Highland junior quarterback Garrett Marti, who threw for 297 yards and five TDs while running for 120 yards and another score to help fuel the victory. “Our whole team was running after him trying to catch him. Once we caught him, he fell and we all dog-piled on him. It was one heck of an ending.

“It was probably my most exciting game in high school so far.”

Prott may not have had the most confidence going out for the kick after missing two extra-point tries earlier in the game. But Highland coach Jimmy Warnecke had a feeling something good was going to happen and Prott’s kick made its way over the crossbar for the game-winner.

“That kid goes hard every day,” said Warnecke, who worked with former Highland standout kicker Zeke Kaufman, now a freshman kicker at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. “ He knows his role on this team and he stepped up and did his thing when we needed it.”

So did Marti.

He completed a pass to sophomore Sam LaPorta on fourth-and-6 at the Highland 40 on the final drive, then later helped the Bulldogs convert again on fourth down to keep the drive alive.

“I had a played I knew I liked and I knew would be there,” Warnecke said. “Garrett was just on fire throwing to one of the best wide receivers in the area so I said ‘What the heck, let’s give it a shot.’’’

LaPorta had seven catches for 129 yards and a 61-yard TD reception while sophomore Brady Feldman added another five catches for 111 yards and two TDs.

“We knew coming into this week it was like their Super Bowl,” Marti said. “They’d won two games all year so they had nothing to lose. We knew it was going to be a rough one.”

It was, but the Bulldogs made the long trip back to Highland a happy one.

“I’ve been on the losing end of that drive as a player and coach and it’s no fun,” Warnecke said.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

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