High School Football

Area coaches hoping state title experience pays off for their teams

Mater Dei quarterback Colin Schuetz will lead his team against Columbia in a 4A playoff game Saturday.
Mater Dei quarterback Colin Schuetz will lead his team against Columbia in a 4A playoff game Saturday.

Winning a pair of state football championships during his playing days at Althoff went a long way toward preparing Jim Stiebel for what has become a successful coaching career with the Mater Dei Knights.

Stiebel was an all-state offensive lineman on Althoff’s 1989 and 1990 Class 3A state championship teams. He also was a standout player on Althoff’s 1991 Class A state baseball championship team, so he knows what it takes to get to the pinnacle of high school success in Illinois.

Now he tries to pass along that knowledge and experience to players who want a state title to call their own.

“Having been through it, the same schools that were good in football then are the same schools that are good now with long-lasting traditions,” said Stiebel, whose 7-3 Knights play host to Columbia (10-0) in a Class 4A second-round game at 1 p.m. Saturday. “We like the layout of the bracket that we received, but it’s one game at a time. You can’t look past anybody.

“Columbia is 10-0 for a reason, nobody’s beat them yet. You don’t look at the next game or who that might be, you focus on what’s right ahead of you.”

Speaking of Columbia, Eagles coach Scott Horner won a state football championship as a quarterback at Carlyle during his senior year in 1988. He followed that up with another state title in basketball as a point guard a few months later.

Current Mater Dei assistant Randy Dooley was an assistant coach on both of those Carlyle teams, so he and Stiebel have the experience and knowledge of five state titles between them.

Only five of the 14 metro-east football teams that qualified for the playoffs are still alive as the state football playoffs move into the second round.

Throughout his coaching career, Stiebel has continued trying to sell his players on doing the hard work and making the type of commitment it takes to make long playoff trips that might result in the ultimate goal.

“I try not to bring that up very often, but in this situation it’s fitting,” said Stiebel, who played college football at Nebraska and Kansas. “We do talk about the experience that I had as a player and what that meant to me. How that success kind of rolled over into life, which I thought was really important to what I wanted to do.

“(At Althoff) we had 10 guys go D-1 in two years and a Division III All-American, but every one of those guys are successful in their own right.”

Stiebel said he remembered following Horner’s teams in the paper and recalled a memorable 12-0 Carlyle playoff win over a favored Assumption squad in the 1988 2A quarterfinals.

“It was a smaller class than us, but we still followed them and knew they beat some good teams, too,” Stiebel said of Horner’s Carlyle teams. “They beat an Assumption team that had one of the most intimidating players I’ve ever seen in Vernon Slaughter. They were doing something right to be able to knock those guys out of the playoffs.”

Triad coach Paul Bassler, whose 8-1 team will be at home against Lincoln-Way West on Saturday, coached the running backs and defensive backs on Althoff’s 1990 state title team.

“When I played (at Althoff) I was soaking up as much knowledge from him as I possibly could and still talk to him today,” Stiebel said. “What an outstanding coaching career that he’s put together.”

Bassler has guided Triad to the playoffs 12 times as a head coach, but still is searching for that elusive state championship.

He speaks to each one of his teams about setting the bar high when it comes not only to the games, but off-season training and preparation.

“I re-live it with them all the time,” he said of the state title. “You try to get them to understand what kind of commitment there is behind it. It’s also the preparation in the playoffs because you’re playing different people and that’s the fun of it, getting an opportunity to play people you don’t see on a regular basis.”

Nashville assistants Mike Borowiak (1978 Class A state basketball title with Nashville as a player) and Chad Malawy (softball state title at Nashville as a coach) also own state titles.

Rochester on the horizon

No matter which area 4A team advances in the bracket, looming ahead is a probable date with five-time defending state champion Rochester. The Rockets (9-1), who face this week, are 84-8 since 2009 under coach Derek Leonard and have been held below 49 points only once all season.

That came in a 53-34 loss in Week 9 to 6A top-ranked Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.

If Althoff and Rochester both win their games this week, Rochester would be at Althoff for the quarterfinals. The Mater Dei-Columbia winner wouldn’t meet Rochester until the semifinals.

“You get in the playoffs in the south and these teams are battle-tested and physical,” Stiebel said. “It goes through them. If you won it the last five years in a row, you can’t look at anyone else other than them. Eventually, you’ve got to play them and beat them.

“They’re as well-coached and as gifted athletically as you can find. Not just this year but every year.”

Quick exit for the SWC

Four Southwestern Conference teams entered the state playoffs with high hopes and each were eliminated in the opening round.

Previously unbeaten Edwardsville lost 20-17 in overtime to Waubonsie Valley, while Belleville East dropped a 28-20 decision to OSwego. O’Fallon lost 55-17 to Homewood-Flossmoor and Belleville West lost 48-7 to Cary-Grove.

Three of the four losses were in Chicago, with Edwardsville’s defeat coming at home.

Heartbreaking defeat

Central lost to Columbia by one point for the second time this season, dropping a 21-20 decision in Saturday’s first-round playoff game. The Cougars (5-5) controlled play much of the second half, but couldn’t execute a 2-point conversion with a little over four minutes remaining that would have given them the lead.

“Our guys showed a tremendous amount of heart and determination in the second half,” Central coach Brian Short said. “We very easily could have picked it in and not came out in the second half (fired up), but we did. It’s not the heart and it’s not the effort. Sometimes you’ve got to execute to win games like this and unfortunately we didn’t do that for four quarters.”

Each state playoff game features an emotional high for the winner, as well as the painful and equally emotional feeling of reaching the end of the line for the losers.

“This is a tough time to look seniors in the eye and tell them it’s over,” Short said.

Timmermann and defense help Knights advance

Almost lost in the excitement of Saturday’s Class 4A win over No. 7-seeded Civic Memorial and the 242 yards of offense contributed by senior Brendan Timmerman, was the performance of the Mater Dei defense.

Civic Memorial entered the game with two of the area’s most dangerous weapons in quarterback Adam Hill (1,906 yards passing, 20 touchdowns) and running back John Whitworth (1,369 yards, 16 touchdowns).

But the Knights protected their lead by grounding the Eagles with just 100 second-half yards.

A sometimes driving rain helped, of course, but the defensive front tipped at least two of Hill’s passes that were intercepted. And Whitworth was held to just 15 second half yards.

The Knights defense, which has given up an average of 25.2 points through 10 games, will have its work cut out for it again Saturday when it lines up against No. 2-seeded Columbia.

Sports Editor Todd Eschman also contributed information for this story.

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

Illinois State Football Playoffs

All games are Saturday.

Class 5A

  • Lincoln-Way West (8-2) at Triad (9-1), 3 p.m.

Class 4A

  • Althoff (10-0) at Quincy Notre Dame (7-3), 2 p.m.
  • Columbia (10-0) at Mater Dei (7-3), 1 p.m.

Class 2A

  • Sangamon Valley (9-1) at Nashville (7-3), 2 p.m.

Metro-East State Football Champions

Class 2A

  • 1988 - Carlyle (14-0)

Class 3A

  • 1979 - Mascoutah (13-0)
  • 1989 - Althoff (13-1)
  • 1990 - Althoff (13-0)

Class 4A

  • 1980 - Althoff (12-1)

Class 5A

  • 1979 - East St. Louis (12-0)

Class 6A

  • 1983 - East St. Louis (13-0)
  • 1984 - East St. Louis (13-0)
  • 1985 - East St. Louis (14-0)
  • 1989 - East St. Louis (14-0)
  • 1991 - East St. Louis (13-1)

Class 7A

  • 2008 - East St. Louis (13-1)