Conference races and playoff prospects are coming into focus with two thirds of the high school football season already in the books.
Here's how things shape up for Fox Valley teams still in the hunt with three games left in the regular season.
Bartlett (4-2): The Hawks have played well this season other than a lopsided loss at Batavia, well enough to put themselves in position to defend their Valley Division title in the Upstate Eight Conference.
Not only can Bartlett become playoff eligible if it disposes of Metea Valley tonight as expected, a win would set up monster game next week at Millennium Field against Neuqua Valley, which faces a tough test tonight at rival Waubonsie Valley. Both Bartlett and Neuqua Valley enter this weekend with 3-0 division records.
"We haven't talked about Neuqua Valley, but I'm sure everyone sees it coming," Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. "It'll be a showdown, no doubt, but we have to play them one at a time."
Bartlett and Neuqua Valley have combined to win eight of the last 11 conference or division titles in the Upstate Eight.
Burlington Central (4-2): A split title in the Big Northern Conference's East Division is still a possibility for the Rockets, but Central will need help in the wake of a controversial loss two weeks ago against two-time defending East Division champion Richmond-Burton. Central lost that game when it was ruled quarterback Ryan Ritchie fumbled into the end zone while trying to sneak for the winning touchdown with just over a minute left.
The Rockets can still split the title if they win at undefeated Harvard this week and Harvard, in turn, defeats Richmond-Burton the following week.
Regardless, a win against Harvard would make Central playoff eligible for the first time since 2007.
"The kids are fully aware of the situation," Rockets coach Rich Crabel said. "We're trying to win every game we have left and work toward that 7-2 record so we get what we hope to be a good spot when it comes playoff time. If we do that, we're hoping there's an outside chance of getting a home playoff game." Cary-Grove (4-2): Despite suffering two conference losses in the same season for the first time since 2003, the Trojans appear destined to extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to eight.
Yes, the Trojans lost to Crystal Lake South and Jacobs, but both were close games and could have gone either way. Meanwhile, first-year coach Brad Seaburg and staff have improved their team by moving dynamic junior playmaker Quinn Baker into the role of starting quarterback. Expect the staff to find a way for senior quarterback Corey Laktas to contribute in other ways, thereby making the Trojans a tough out come playoff time.
No one will be rooting harder for Cary-Grove in Week 9 than rival Crystal Lake South, which may need Cary to knock off league-leading Prairie Ridge in the finale to allow the Gators a chance at a split title.
"The chances of winning or tying for conference is slim, so we're just trying to win every game starting (today)," Seaburg said. "
Crystal Lake South (5-1): As stated above, the Gators need some help to gain a share of their second straight Valley Division title in the FVC after a 41-16 loss to Prairie Ridge last Friday.
"We told the kids after the game we can only control what we can control," Gators coach Chuck Ahsmann said. "We have to hope Prairie Ridge slips up and it ends in a tie."
Extending the Fox Valley area's longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 11 should not be an issue, however. Barring a monumental upset, CL South will clinch a playoff berth with its sixth win at winless Dundee-Crown tonight.
The hard work isn't over for the Gators. They still have two tough home games left against undefeated teams. FVC Valley Division leader Jacobs visits next week. FVC Fox Division leader Grayslake Central visits in Week 9.
Jacobs (6-0): The Golden Eagles are already in the playoffs for the second consecutive year, marking only the second time the Algonquin school has reached the postseason in back-to-back years since the program began in 1978. Jacobs also made the playoffs in 1998 and 1999.
Just how high these Golden Eagles can fly will be answered tonight when undefeated Prairie Ridge drops by for a showdown between first-place teams in the Valley Division of the FVC. A win puts Jacobs is in the Valley Division driver's seat with a tough road game looming next week at CL South.
"We'll see if we're for real or not," Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said of the matchup with Prairie Ridge.
Larkin (3-3): The Royals are limping their way through the playoff chase, minus injured all-conference center Terry Schabert and injured senior captain and linebacker Drew Shore, among others. Making matters worse, Larkin's running back corps appears more bruised than a crate of two-week old peaches following a physical game against Waubonsie Valley last week.
Nevertheless, the Royals are very much alive in the hunt for their first playoff appearance since Cam Kinley passed Larkin into the postseason in 2006. To become playoff eligible they must knock off St. Charles North (1-5) at Memorial Field tonight and beat either Streamwood (5-1) or Geneva (5-1) in the final two weeks.
"We'll definitely be leaning on our seniors down the stretch here," Larkin coach Mike Scianna said. "We're short handed a little bit, but you can never count our guys out. We're shooting for one of our main goals, the playoffs. We'll come out hitting."
St. Edward (4-2): The magic number since the preseason has been five. That's how many wins it will take for the Green Wave to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season, which would be a school record.
Playoff points won't be an issue considering the strength of schedule the Green Wave have played in 2011. Getting that fifth win, however, is the tricky part. St. Edward's remaining games are daunting. Tonight the Green Wave host two-time defending Class 5A champion Montini (4-2). Next week they play at Aurora Christian (5-1), which is ranked No. 5 in Class 4A. The finale is against St. Francis (4-2) at the College of DuPage, a game the Spartans could be as desperate to win as St. Edward.
"The kids have now seen some great teams and they know what we have to do to beat them," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando said. "You can't give ranked teams turnovers like we have. We have to keep our composure. There's little you can do if you're overmatched physically, but we can give ourselves a chance by knowing our assignments and eliminating the mental mistakes."
South Elgin (2-4): The Storm should get their third win of the season Saturday against winless East Aurora, which would set up a pair of all-or-nothing games against Geneva and at Waubonsie Valley (5-1). South Elgin is vying for its third straight playoff appearance.
"We're in playoff mode," South Elgin coach Dale Schabert said. "We're right on the edge with our backs against the wall and a bulldozer bearing down on us. But kids learn lessons from adversity and draw on those lessons when they're older. We'd all like to be 6-0, but the first step for us is to get healthy and regroup."
The Storm suffered a string of injuries the last two weeks in physical contests against league co-leaders Neuqua Valley and Bartlett, but South Elgin should be able to handle the Tomcats without risking further injury to multiple starters.
Streamwood (5-1): Last week's loss to previously winless St. Charles East was not only a surprising result but one that put the Sabres in a precarious position.
Streamwood still faces road games at Geneva (5-1) and division-leading Batavia (6-0), neither of which is a favorable matchup for the Sabres.
Due to an extremely weak schedule thus far, Streamwood won't have enough playoff points to make the postseason as a 5-win team. Thus, the Sabres must get a sixth win to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2002.
Their playoff chances could boil down to next week's home game against Larkin.
"Last week was tough, but we've still got a lot at stake," Streamwood coach Cal Cummins said.