Division titles are on the line tonight as Palatine (7-1, 4-0) battles Schaumburg (7-1, 3-1) in the West and Elk Grove (5-3, 3-1) and Prospect (5-3, 3-1) battle for a potential share of the East with Rolling Meadows (6-2, 3-1).
Here's a look at each of the divisional scenarios:
Palatine expected to be in this position, but the journey surely wasn't the one they were anticipating.
Returning all-area players Cam Kuksa and Jesse Bobbit figured to have big impacts on offense and defense, but both were hurt in a season-opening loss to Montini and have battled injuries all season.
Instead, Ethan Olles (2,176 passing yards, 25 TD) has found new weapons in Eric Theis (844 receiving yards, 8 TD) and Alex Nawrot (680 receiving yards, 9 TD) for a Palatine squad scoring 40 points per game.
"Eight weeks ago, it was terrible when all of that stuff was going on," said Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly. "But now that we're at the end, this is what we hoped for. It's a good time to have everything coming together."
The defense has been every bit as good as the offense with Josh Baldus pressuring the quarterback, the versatile Dan Riddle moving all over the field, Lucas Rago anchoring the middle of the field and last year's West Defensive Player of the Year Bobbit as the last line of defense at safety.
Perhaps in Palatine's shadow, an under-the-radar Schaumburg team is one quarter away from being 8-0 after losing a fourth quarter lead to Conant in Week 5.
"Sometimes, it takes a little pain to understand the ramifications of certain things," said Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling. "I'm not sure we would have made the strides that we have the last few weeks if we would have won that game."
Sadarriss Patterson (630 rush yards, 10 TDs), Juwaan Richard (9 total TDs) and Stacey Smith (6 total TDs) are the ones that steal the headlines, but it's the guys in the trenches that allow for those big plays. Lineman Matt Zolper, Matt Stopka, Justin Sanchez, Adam Worazek and Lee Duhs fit right in with the Saxons' workmanlike attitude. And defensive end Rashad McFadden is nearly impossible to stop with just one guy.
"We've had tremendous consistency in terms of the way that we've played on the line on both sides of the ball, and that's what helps you in the fourth quarter when you really have to grind at it," Stilling said.
Preseason expectations seemed to weigh on Elk Grove as a three-game losing streak put the defending East champs' playoff hopes on life support.
Oddly enough, it was in defeat that the Grenadiers got their groove back. Trailing 20-6 to Hersey at halftime, Elk Grove battled back before losing in double overtime.
"They saw what they should have been doing all along and used that as a springboard for the rest of the season," said Elk Grove coach Larry Calhoun.
The key has been defense as Rob Pomazak's unit has allowed just 7 points per game over the last three weeks, highlighted by a 24-14 victory at Meadows that created a logjam atop the East.
Lineman Dan Egan and Johnny Assimakopoulos free up linebackers Mikey Maize and Mike Bishoff to make plays in the middle.
"When we go to the coin toss, our goal is to win the toss and defer because we believe our defense is going to shut them down and give us good field position," Calhoun said.
There was no panic for Prospect after a 2-2 start since last year's team overcame a 1-3 beginning to make the playoffs.
A three-headed monster in the backfield spearheads one of the top rushing teams in the area. Quarterback Devin O'Hara (1,145 rush yards, 19 TD), Stevan Isteefanos (617 yards, 3 TD) and Jack Tuttle have all had big games.
"They've complemented each other pretty well," said Prospect coach Mike Sebestyen. "Having that rotation with Steve and Jack has been helpful because you can't really get a beat on one guy because they are different styles."
Tune in: Comcast SportsNet Chicago will air live coverage of the IHSA Playoff Pairing Release Show, beginning at 8 p.m. The 6A pairings will be released around 8:58 p.m., followed by 7A around 9:08 p.m. and 8A at 9:18 p.m.