Most playoff football games have an extra edge and electricity to them.
And then there are games such as Saturday at 1 p.m. when Conant visits nearby rival Elk Grove in a Class 7A first-round game.
"(Senior Dejan) Basara said it pretty well that we'll remember this game for the rest of our lives," said Elk Grove coach Brian Doll of the 38th meeting but first in the postseason between the two schools for the Mayor's Cup Trophy. "The kids are excited and it's been a fun week so far."
Elk Grove Mayor Craig Johnson came in for a visit. So did Tim Podulka, the Daily Herald All-Area captain and quarterback of the 2004 a team that captivated the community when it won its first 11 games and reached the 7A quarterfinals.
"He talked about how similar the 2004 team is to this team," Doll said of Podulka, who was an assistant coach at Buffalo Grove this fall. "He told the story that was good for the kids to hear about how everybody had written them off."
Elk Grove senior two-way lineman Greg Johnsen went to a lot of the games in 2004 since his sister was a freshman cheerleader.
"It was a really exciting time," Johnsen said. "The whole village got behind them and I feel like the village is starting to do that now, too.
"Tim talked about how our teams are so similar and no really thought much of either team."
Elk Grove and Conant weren't scheduled to think about meeting each other in a Mid-Suburban League crossover until next year. It's different from last year for the Grenadiers when they lost their 7A opener to Schaumburg 38-21 after winning the regular-season matchup 36-34.
"Now still has a little bit of a blind date feel," Doll said. "It definitely feels like playing a team we don't know that well."
Taking on No. 1: Some coaches and observers regard Glenbard West as the best team in the state regardless of class. Prospect coach Mike Sebestyen hasn't seen much to dispute the claim as his team prepares for its Saturday trip to Glen Ellyn.
Sebestyen said the last time the Hilltoppers' first-team defense gave up a touchdown they already had a 38-point lead on Hinsdale Central in Week 4. They last time they allowed a meaningful touchdown was in their season opener against Wheaton Warrenville South.
"This is a great defense they put on the field," Sebestyen said of the unit led by Penn State-bound lineman Tommy Schutt that has allowed 50 points all year. "All 11 kids play well together in their system and the backups play well within their system.
"When you look at their defense there isn't a weakness on it. They try to take away the inside game and if you're going to go east-west on them you are going nowhere."
This doesn't mean it's an unfamiliar challenge for the Prospect program.
The Knights were the last seed in the old 1-32 seeding format when they lost in triple overtime at Bloomington in 2000. They were also a 16th seed when they lost 14-7 at Rockford Boylan in 2007.
"It's nice because no one really expects us to win so we're hoping to prove people wrong," said Prospect senior lineman Austin Tixier.
"It's a situation where in our program we've promoted the idea for years that you practice every week like you're getting ready to play the best possible team you could face," Sebestyen said. "This week it's not hard to say that. It's a great opportunity to face someone and challenge someone that's a good football team."
From 49 to nothing: To say Rolling Meadows has come a long way defensively from the start of the season is an understatement.
The Mustangs allowed 595 yards when they beat York 50-49 in their opener. Now they head to today's 6A playoff opener at Lakes after shutting out Hersey and allowing only 186 yards.
"For coaches and players alike, since it's coach (Scott) Otahal's first year as defensive coordinator, there is some learning curve to that," Meadows coach Matt Mishler said. "I think they've gotten a lot better as the season went on. They picked us up huge the last couple of games and I think they're ready to step up to the challenge."
Mishler said the play of Mario Luchetta, Raul Cortez, Bobby Rundlett and David Sobkowicz up front and from Scott Purcell, Miles Urban and Adam Pavlakis at linebacker has been a big key. It will be again tonight against Lakes' big offensive line.
And running back Garrett Peterson has come through at Meadows' hybrid strong safety-linebacker spot when Danny Malnati was injured just before MSL East play started.
It all falls in line with Meadows' slogan "UB7," for the unfinished business it had after a seven-year run of playoff appearances was snapped last year.
"That was a terrible thing that happened last season but it helped us out in the offseason," said senior receiver-cornerback Artie Checchin. "We have a lot of unfinished business."
Almost Famous: Proviso West had never made the playoffs until three years ago under alumnus Famous Hulbert.
But the degree of difficulty in making a third straight playoff berth went beyond having to beat Lyons and Oak Park-River Forest to get to 5-4.
"We finally got some guys healthy and eligible," Hulbert said of the late turnaround from a three-game losing streak. "The biggest disappointment has been off the field. It's been the most challenging season of my (six-year) career off the field.
"Not a day goes by without something. When you win that makes it all worth it but the off-field drama makes things harder."
Hulbert said it cost his best offensive player, junior wide receiver Demetrius Streeter, a shot at personal honors. Streeter is back in the lineup alongside dual-threat quarterback Quincy Cole.
"Physically (Streeter) is a Division I athlete and could go to any school in the country," Hulbert said. "He could have been the player of the year in our conference (West Suburban Silver) if he had been eligible all year."
Hulbert also regards junior linebacker Jamaal Payton and junior lineman Deonte Eiland as Division I talents.
"I think we're the best 5-4 team in the state," Hulbert said. "If we stay healthy and eligible we can compete with anyone."
One thing that may not be in Proviso West's favor is Palatine was in the same position a year ago as a 5-4 team that went to the quarterfinals.
"We do have that history of knowing a 5-4 team can make a great run and 5-4 teams aren't necessarily what their record seems," said Palatine senior linebacker Kurt Becker. "Any 5-4 team or 9-0 team can make a run in the playoffs."
And Hulbert's impressions of Palatine are favorable beyond its 8-1 record.
"They may not be the biggest, strongest or fastest team but they play hard," Hulbert said. "I wish I had some of their guys on my team."
Nothing blah about Blaha: Nick Blaha's numbers don't tell the story of how much he was missed by Conant when he was out the last two weeks because of a knee injury.
But other players' numbers -- particularly those of standout receiver Tim Manczko -- do and that's why Conant coach Bill Modelski is happy he's back for Saturday's matchup at Elk Grove.
"He's our best perimeter blocker and he's really done some damage on our quick screen game with Manczko," Modelski said. "He's been very, very good with that and without him it really changes that a little bit. He's a big piece."
Dept. of corrections: St. Viator made four playoff appearances in Chris Kirkpatrick's 10-year coaching tenure. The Lions went to the postseason in 2009 along with 2004-06.
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