As cooler temperatures approach and leaves begin to fall, the attention of area high school football fans turns to the state playoffs.
According to the Illinois High School Association eight metro-east teams have already clinched state playoff spots led by conference champs Althoff (7-0, South Seven Conference champ) and Columbia (7-0, Cahokia Conference champ.)
Other teams that have already clinched playoff berths are Edwardsville (7-0), Triad (7-0), Nashville (6-1), Highland (6-1), Civic Memorial (6-1) and Centralia (6-1).
There are 110 teams that have qualified for the playoffs and 146 spots remaining.
Probably getting in: Mater Dei (5-2), Belleville East (5-2), Central (5-2), Roxana (5-2), Sparta (5-2).
Needs wins and maybe some help, too: Wesclin (4-3), Carlyle (4-3), Marquette (4-3).
On the bubble: East St. Louis (3-4), O’Fallon (3-4), Belleville West (3-4), Cahokia (3-4), Freeburg (3-4).
East St. Louis is in a tough spot since District 189 remains on strike and the Flyers (3-4) have already endured two forfeit losses because of the labor situation. One more loss and they will miss the playoffs.
The Flyers are scheduled to play at Collinsville on Friday and then finish up the regular season at home against O’Fallon on Oct. 23. If the strike is settled early this week, the Flyers still must also satisfy IHSA by-law requirements of three organized practices approved by the East St. Louis school board and administration with approved personnel in charge per IHSA by-laws.
“I am hopeful that something good will come out of the meetings that they have this week,” East St. Louis Athletic Director Leonard Manley said Monday. “Hopefully there’s something before Wednesday so we can prepare for Friday.”
The last time East St. Louis missed the playoffs altogether was 1999, when the Flyers were 3-5.
In 2010, the Flyers qualified for the playoffs initially but were ordered by the IHSA to forfeit a playoff victory over Belleville West — plus five of its eight wins in 2010 and 10 in 2009 — for using an ineligible player.
The Flyers have won more state football championships (seven) than any area school and also own the most playoff victories, going 82-28 in 110 postseason contests.
If Althoff and Columbia both finish 9-0, they would wind up as the top two seeds in the 16-team south bracket of Class 4A, providing five-time defending 4A state champion Rochester loses to fellow Central State 8 Conference powerhouse Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin in the regular-season finale Oct. 23.
Griffin has won back-to-back 5A state titles and has five state championships since 2005.
Roxana has won five straight after an 0-2 start and O’Fallon has won three straight after an 0-4 start. The Panthers have Belleville East and East St. Louis remaining.
Fly like an Eagle
Columbia wrapped up its fourth straight Cahokia Conference championship Friday, but the Central Cougars made sure it was as difficult as possible.
The Eagles were held to their lowest season point total in a 28-27 victory over the Cougars, but still found a way to stretch their conference winning streak to 23 games. Columbia’s last conference defeats came on back-to-back weeks in October, 2011 against Red Bud and Central.
“Early on we had trouble slowing them down,” Columbia coach Scott Horner said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage a little bit and we were fortunate to get on top.”
The Eagles also resorted to a bit of trickery, completing a big pass on a fake punt late in the first half near midfield that kept a drive alive. Eagles quarterback Drew Huebner is also the punter.
Huebner was at it again with 55 seconds remaining in the first half, throwing a TD pass to lineman Cole Napier on a tackle eligible play to give Columbia a 21-13 lead
“They didn’t puck up on it, so he released in the end zone and caught a pass,” Horner said. “That gave us a little bit of breathing room at halftime.”
Central lost starting quarterback Hunter Toeben to an apparent leg injury in the second quarter and finished up with Brock Nunn at quarterback.
Columbia (41 carries, 188 yards) and Central (43 carries, 176 yards) fought to a standstill in the ground game, but Huebner’s passing night included a 12-for-18 performance for 137 yards and three TDs.
Nunn scored on a 4-yard run late in the first half, then threw a 7-yard TD pass to Brice Haselhorst with 2:32 remaining. Nunn was also successful on a 2-point conversion pass that cut Columbia’s lead to one, but the Eagles recovered the onside kick and held on from there.
“Central’s good,” Horner said. “We fumbled a punt and had a bunch of penalties, but those things happen when you play a good football team. They exposed our hand on a lot of things, so it was good to really see our kids respond in some adverse situations.”
Horner said senior running back Kenny Fields did some of his best work even though it wasn’t one of his trademark 200-yard nights. Fields carried the ball 29 times for 161 yards and had a 24-yard TD run in the opening quarter.
“Every yard that he got was earned,” Horner said. “He ran as hard Friday and as hard as I’ve seen him run all year and was still getting yards after contact. That’s saying something because that defense is pretty solid.
Columbia junior linebacker Owen Suedkamp racked up 19 tackles.
“There were times where if he wasn’t tmaking the tackle I’m not sure if anybody was going to make it,” Horner said. “He’s as strong as an ox. He’s able to fight off blocks and still make the tackles. He’s definitely one of the top five linebackers we’ve had here, for sure.”
Patterson’s booming kick
Edwardsville junior Riley Patterson booted his fourth and fifth field goals of the season Friday in a 27-6 conference win at Belleville West and it was No. 4 that got everyone’s attention.
With a bit of a wind at his back, Patterson really got into one and drilled a 54-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. He also had a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
“He’s got some potential, he can be a good one,” Edwardsville coach Matt Martin said. “He’s already a good one, but if he continues to work hard he can definitely kick at the next level.”
The 54-yarder was tied for 10th longest in Illinois history and was the third-longest by a metro-east kicker. O’Fallon’s University of Missouri recruit Tucker McCann, kicked a state-record 60-yarder last October.
Former Alton Marquette, Notre Dame and NFL kicker and punter Craig Hentrich had a 55-yard field goal for Marquette in 1988. Current Granite City High Principal Daren DePew booted a 54-yard field goal in 1981 while playing for Granite City North. Ironically, one of DePew’s high school football teammates was Patterson’s father, Kevin Patterson.
Two of the metro east’s best high school running backs in recent years are on the verge of making history at their respective schools.
With his 191-yards in a win over Collinsville on Friday, O’Fallon senior Kentrail Moran needs just seven yards this week against Belleville East to pass Duane Bennett for the Panthers’ all-time rushing record. Bennett went on to a successful college career at Minnesota and Moran will follow him to the Big Ten next season at Illinois.
Moran and O’Fallon coach Brandon Joggerst have lauded the Panthers’ offensive line for the runner’s success this season, but Moran has created some yards for himself as well.
“Give credit to the guys up front for creating a crease,” Joggerst said. “Kentrail is creating some positive yards for himself after first contact, too. He’s running as hard as I’ve seen him run.”
Moran missed half of last season with injuries and is finally back to feeling 100 percent.
Triad’s Adam Nelson was held to just 42 yards on nine carries in the undefeated Knights’ key win over Highland. That puts him at 1,025 yards on the season, and 336 yards shy of his school record. Triad has two tough games remaining against Civic Memorial (6-1) and Althoff (7-0).
(Todd Eschman also provided information for this story).
BND High School Football Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through last week’s action.
Large school rankings (Class 5A-8A)
East St. Louis
Also receiving votes: O’Fallon (3-4), Highland (6-1), Collinsville (2-5), Cahokia (3-4)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Nashville (6-1), Carlyle (4-3), Wesclin (4-3), Roxana (5-2)