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The Illinois High School Association state football playoffs are all about Saturday night pizza parties as teams gather to watch the pairings show live on television.
They're about coaches exchanging game films, players studying opponents' tendencies, schools holding pregame pep rallies, and families searching throughout their homes for winter apparel as fall temperatures begin to plummet.
Welcome to the postseason where memories have already been made — and many more yet to be made.
"We're just glad to be in it," said St. Charles East coach Mike Fields, whose team punched its ticket to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
You can add Geneva (7-2), Marmion (7-2), Batavia (8-1), Kaneland (8-1), Aurora Central Catholic (6-3) and Aurora Christian (6-3) to the list of happy, happy, happy football teams — 7 schools in 6 different classes.
"I forgot how cool it is to be in this stuff," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski told Daily Herald reporter Dave Oberhelman last weekend.
That's the kind of "stuff" that happens when your team reaches the state playoffs 8 consecutive times (2004-2011) before missing out on a postseason berth last year as the Vikings finished 4-5.
Once you've grown accustomed to the "second season," the 1-year playoff layoff can seem like an eternity.
Marmion coach Dan Thorpe can empathize with Wicinski.
The Cadets also came up a game short of reaching the playoffs last season after making 3 straight postseason appearances (2009-2011), highlighted by their second-place Class 6A state showing in 2010.
On Friday night, they'll host Fenton (6-3) in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
If you're looking for a favorite, look no further than Batavia.
Coach Dennis Piron's Bulldogs head into postseason play with a 7-game winning streak and will compete as the No. 2 seed in Class 6A after moving up to 7A status last season.
Led by quarterback Micah Coffey, tailback Anthony Scaccia, wide receiver/cornerback Michael Moffatt and linebacker Anthony Thielk, Batavia anxiously awaits Friday night's opening-round clash with DeKalb (5-4) at Bulldog Stadium.
The Bulldogs are the highest scoring team in the 6A state playoffs, averaging 45.1 points per game, and own a 28.8-point scoring differential against opponents — also tops in 6A.
But before they can begin thinking about a Nov. 30 state title date in DeKalb, they'll have to improve upon their recent first-round history.
Last season, the top-seeded Bulldogs suffered a 38-26 opening-round loss to 16th-seeded Downers Grove North in the 7A playoffs.
During their 6A state semifinal season 2 years ago, Batavia trailed Notre Dame 28-7 at halftime before rallying for a 35-28 first-round victory.
In 2010, the Bulldogs lost a 23-14 first-round decision to Lemont, and they dropped a memorable 70-63 shootout to Huntley during the opening round in 2009.
Some words of warning to all area playoff teams — nothing is guaranteed.
"We'll have to play our best football every play," said Fields, whose 11th-seeded Saints (6-3) will visit Stevenson (7-2) Saturday afternoon in search of its first Class 8A playoff victory since 2001 when they edged Lockport 34-33.
The matchup will feature Stevenson wide receiver/cornerback Matt Morrissey, the son or former Chicago Bears linebacker Jim, against St. Charles East wide receiver/safety Brannon Barry.
"They're very talented," Fields said of the sixth-seeded Patriots, who are making their 25th consecutive playoff appearance.
Fields wasn't surprised with his team's 8A classification.
"I didn't know where we'd be," said Fields. "Being in 8A is tough but 7A is loaded, too. We thought we might get Simeon and we would have if we had been seeded 11th on the other side of the bracket."
If offense is your preference, Burgess Field may be the place to be Friday night when 7th-seeded Geneva hosts 10th-seeded St. Patrick (6-3) in Class 7A action.
Junior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina, tailback T.J. Miller and receiver Kyle Brown lead a high-scoring Vikings' attack that has averaged 37 points per game this season. Defensively, Geneva has allowed 30 points per contest.
St. Patrick, which owns a 4-13 career playoff record, averages 25.8 points per game while giving up nearly 24 points per contest.
The upper bracket in Class 5A play looks more like a survival test than a single-elimination football playoff battle.
Kaneland, which had its 35-game regular season winning streak snapped by Sycamore in Week 8, drew the No. 5 seed in a loaded bracket.
The top 6 seeds, including 4-time defending 5A state champion Montini, Sycamore, Glenbard South, Joliet Catholic, Kaneland and Lincoln-Way West, own a combined record of 51-3.
"I think it's the hardest bracket in the state," said Knights coach Tom Fedderly, whose team entertains 12th-seeded Hampshire (6-3) Friday night in Maple Park.
Conversely, 10th-seeded Aurora Central Catholic (6-3) may have caught a break with Saturday's first-round Class 4A matchup against Chicago-King.
While the seventh-seeded Jaguars (7-2) own a better record and higher seed than the Chargers, they're still looking for their first playoff victory (0-8 in postseason games).
Two-time defending Class 3A state champion Aurora Christian (6-3) heads into the postseason with 1 more loss than it had the previous 2 seasons combined during its back-to-back 13-1 campaigns.
The Eagles' playoff hopes may hinge on whether junior quarterback Austin Bray can return from a shoulder injury suffered during the team's 35-14 Week 6 loss to Marmion.
Making its 12th consecutive playoff appearance, coach Don Beebe's squad opens 3A action Saturday afternoon in Elmhurst against IC Catholic Prep (6-3).
The Knights are certainly no strangers to Aurora Christian.
A year ago, Aurora Christian handed the Knights a 28-21 second-round playoff defeat at Jack Lewis Stadium on its way to an eventual 42-12 3A title victory over Tolono Unity.
Three weeks ago, the Eagles lost a 48-6 decision to the Knights.
No matter the outcome, it promises to be a fun-filled weekend.
"It's another week of football," said Fields.
And hopefully more.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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