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This column is brought to you by the number five and the letter W.
Five is the magic number shared by area football playoff qualifiers this season.
Aurora Central Catholic, Aurora Christian, Batavia, Kaneland and St. Charles East all reached postseason play and will kick off their "second" seasons this weekend.
Ironically, the schools have combined to make five state football championship game appearances.
A year ago, Aurora Christian captured the Class 3A title and the Eagles were state runner-up finishers in 2008.
Batavia, which reached the Class 6A semifinals last season before losing a 33-22 decision to eventual state champion Prairie Ridge, placed second to Normal University High in 2006.
Meanwhile, Kaneland captured back-to-back Class 3A state championships in 1997 and 1998 under the direction of longtime head coach Joe Thorgesen.
Why is the number five so important at this time of the year?
Because five more wins will clinch a state championship for teams from the eight respective classes.
And five weeks from now, we'll find out which teams are headed to Champaign's Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving weekend.
Until then, stand up and cheer on your favorite teams as there will undoubtedly be plenty of high-fives exchanged on high school football fields throughout the state.
While all five teams played their share of significant regular-season games, the state playoffs produce the kind of one-and-done pressure that can rattle even the steadiest players.
"None of this matter now," said St. Charles East coach Mike Fields moments after last weekend's 26-0 victory over Larkin. "It's all about the 'second' season. Everyone starts 0-0 now."
It may be unfair to label one team as an early favorite but no Class 3A team has played a more difficult schedule than Aurora Christian this season.
The Eagles (8-1), who earned their first state title with a 34-7 victory over Mt. Carmel last November, have posted wins over Class 6A Marmion (38-14) and 5A foe St. Francis (41-14). Their lone loss came at the hands of 3-time defending 5A state champion Montini (31-27) in Week 8.
While coach Don Beebe's team lost several key players to graduation, including quarterback Anthony Maddie (Western Michigan), this year's team may be even better than the one that left Champaign clutching the title trophy.
"This is the best defensive team we've ever had," Beebe said after the Eagles' 47-20 victory over Immaculate Conception in Week 7 -- one in which the Knights were held to 1 second-half first down.
The statistics bear out Beebe's statement, as the Eagles have allowed just 96 points in their first 9 games -- with 51 of those points coming against Montini and IC.
How dominant have the Eagles been?
Aurora Christian's smallest margin of victory was its 24-point Week 6 triumph over Marmion.
Making their 11th consecutive postseason appearance, the Eagles could face IC for a second time in second-round action if the 12th-seeded Knights knock off No. 5 North Boone.
Looking ahead (something I believe all coaches do but don't admit to doing so), don't be surprised if Aurora Christian meets perennial state powerhouse Sterling Newman in the semifinals. Sterling Newman is a 4-time state champion -- twice in 1A (1994, '90) and twice in 2A (2010, '04).
The Eagles kick off the postseason at home Friday night against Chicago-Raby (6-2), which played one less game due to the Chicago teachers' strike.
One team that may feel like it is playing with house money is Aurora Central Catholic (6-3).
Coach Brian Casey's Chargers are making their first trip to the playoffs since 1997 and will attempt to tackle a true Goliath in the form of St. Joseph-Ogden.
Coached by Hall of Famer Dick Duval, St. Joseph-Ogden (8-1) has reached postseason play for the 22nd straight year and was a Class 3A second-place finisher in 2006.
If history repeats itself, Kaneland (9-0) fans might want to attend Saturday night's Class 5A playoff opener Belvidere equipped with a defibrillator.
A year ago, the Knights outlasted Belvidere in a wild 51-45 first-round decision before down-to-the-wire victories over St. Francis (31-28) and Rochelle (20-14), and a gut-wrenching semifinal loss (35-31) to nemesis Montini.
Last weekend, junior quarterback Drew David engineered a 6-play, 67-yard drive that was capped by his 4-yard TD pass to Zach Martinelli with 27 seconds left to lift the Knights to a 33-30 win over previously unbeaten Morris at Peterson Field.
Coach Tom Fedderly's Knights have won 33 of their last 35 games -- with the only 2 losses coming at the hands of Montini. The two squads could square off in the semifinals for a third consecutive year.
However, there is plenty of work ahead for Kaneland, which could have to face Northern Illinois Big 12 East rival Rochelle in second-round action.
In Class 7A, Batavia (9-0) drew a top seed as a result of its second straight unbeaten regular-season finish.
Coach Dennis Piron's (21-1 in 2 seasons as the helm) Bulldogs play host to 16th-seeded Downers Grove North (5-4) Friday night. The Trojans, who finished 2-1 in games decided by 7 points or less, rebounded from a 2-7 finish in 2011.
While junior quarterback Micah Coffey will be starting his first postseason game, several other Bulldogs enter this weekend's action with plenty of playoff experience -- wide receivers Zach Strittmatter and Mike Moffatt, safeties Robbie Bowman and Chris Moran, defensive end Marquise Jenkins, and running back/linebacker Anthony Thielk.
Junior Anthony Scaccia possesses breakaway speed at the tailback position for the Bulldogs, who have topped the 30-point mark in 8 of their 9 games.
If the Bulldogs defeat Downers Grove North, they'll face either TF South or Thornton in second-round action, with a possible quarterfinal matchup looming down the road against either Benet or Oswego.
St. Charles East (6-3), which visits Wheaton North Friday night, will have to figure out a way to solve the Falcons' rock-solid defense that has given up just 79 points this season (8.8 per game).
Making its first postseason berth since 2009, the Saints may have their hands full with Falcons quarterback Johnny Peltz, who can beat you with his arm and nimble feet.
Senior middle linebacker/fullback Joe Hoscheit, a third-year defensive starter, will get his first taste of postseason play after the Saints' back-to-back 3-6 campaigns in 2010 and 2011.
"These last two years have been real tough," admitted Hoscheit. "It's an awesome feeling to be in the playoffs, especially as a senior."
"I'm so happy for the kids and for Joe (Hoscheit)," said Fields. "He has been our leader for three years and the last two have been tough.
"In June, we got our seniors up on in the hill and asked them what they wanted to get out of the season," added the coach. "To a man, they wanted to have a great experience, bond with their teammates and get into the playoffs."
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org
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