I spent a lot of time during the fall of my senior year of high school thinking about the number six.
Why, you might ask?
It’s the same reason the guys at Bureau Valley and AFC will be thinking about the number five this week.
See, in the late-1990s, football in Illinois was still divided into six classes. That meant you didn’t get in the playoffs unless you had six wins.
I imagine there were a few 5-4 exceptions to that rule, but those were few and far between.
My junior year, we went 5-4 and I spent the next few weeks watching friends from Milledgeville go on a run to the semifinals. That was good for them, but a bummer personally.
So, when we reached six wins in Week 7 of my senior year, I knew we were in. The conference season ended in Week 8, and we took second to the hated Geneseo Maple Leafs.
That left a nonconference matchup with United Township in Week 9. I won’t lie. I think most of us spent that week thinking about what was going to happen in playoffs. Not surprisingly, we lost and finished 7-2.
Things have changed since the fall of 1999. There are eight classes. That’s means if you win five games, you have have a pretty good chance of making the playoffs.
That’s why 4-4 teams like AFC And Bureau Valley will spend the week chanting the mantra, “Win and we’re in.”
The Raiders have Milledgeville (2-7) on Friday night. Bureau Valley faces a taller task in a road game in Morrison (5-3).
For those already in the playoff mix, this week is hardly one to look past. Three area games will pit two teams vying for a conference title.
The first one on many peoples lips will be Sterling, which hosts undefeated Ottawa at Roscoe Eades Stadium.
The Golden Warriors (6-2) seem to be peaking at the right time, but it will be interesting to see if that peak will be high enough to stop a Pirates team captained by Illinois-bound fullback MIchael Hermosillo.
If so, Sterling will lay claim to its fifth straight conference title. That’d be a nice feather in a cap for a team many counted out after lopsided losses to Kaneland and Rochelle in Weeks 3 and 4.
Another game that will garner a ton of attention will determine the championship in the Big Rivers.
Newman already has a claim to the title as the only remaining undefeated team, but if Amboy (7-1) could beat them at the Harbor on Friday, the Clippers would get a share of that conference crown.
That should be an old-fashioned slugfest between two communities that mix like oil and water.
The NUIC Northwest has the same scenario as the Big Rivers.
Eastland-Pearl City has rolled through the season unscathed, but a one-loss Forreston team travels to Lanark on Friday looking to get its hands on part of the title.
If Lena-Winslow would beat Dakota, the crown would be shared three ways in the event of an EPC loss.
So far, EPC has not shown any chinks in its armor. If it gets past Forreston, it could make a big push in the 2A playoffs. Of course, that bracket will include some Big Rivers teams, which hasn’t been a good omen in the past for the Wildcatz.
So, I accept that things change. In some cases such as this, that change makes for some exciting football.