With the regular season finished, Hoffman Estates football coach Mike Donatucci had his players gather Saturday evening in the school gym. But for the first time in 22 years, it wasn't for the Hawks to return their equipment.
Hoffman Estates plus five more Mid-Suburban League teams along with St. Viator and Leyden found out Saturday night that their long season of hard work had been rewarded with an invitation to the state playoffs.
Those invitations were made by the IHSA, which informed the schools of the class in which they would compete, along with their seed and first-round opponent. Game dates and times will be announced on Monday.
Along with Hoffman Estates, MSL West rivals Palatine, Barrington and Fremd also qualified. They will play in 8A with Leyden, who was the champion on the West Suburban Gold.
MSL East champion Rolling Meadows will be in 7A with Hoffman Estates, while Wheeling and St. Viator will be in 6A.
Hoffman Estates finished the regular season with a record of 6-3 and was given a No. 22 seed. The Hawks will travel to meet Benet, the 11th-seeded team. Benet plays in the East Suburban Catholic and had a 7-2 overall record.
"They kids are very excited when our name was called, and all jumping around," Donatucci said. "It is a great night for Hoffman football. We are all excited."
MSL West champion Palatine, which advanced to the Class 8A semifinals last year, is looking for even more this season. The Pirates, who are 9-0, became the third seed by winning a coin toss with Homewood-Flossmoor. Both had identical records and playoff points.
Palatine hosts Niles Notre Dame, the 30th seed which enters the playoffs with a 5-4 record.
"We are looking to continue to do what we do," said Palatine coach Rick Splitt, who hosted a party for his coaching staff. "We are excited again for the opportunity to play in the playoffs. We are ready to get to work."
Barrington lost its only game of the regular season to Palatine to finish 8-1. The Broncos were rewarded with a 10-seed and will host a Leyden team that finished 7-2 and won the West Suburban Gold.
"We are just like the other 31 teams and looking at the bracket," said Barrington coach Joe Sanchez, who hosted a playoff party at Barrington for the 12th time in the last 15 years. "This is the best time of the year. We are looking to have some fun and are excited for the challenge."
Leyden, which qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2012, was seeded 23rd. Coach Tom Cerasani, who hosted a playoff party for his team at the East campus in Franklin Park, said his team is thrilled to be back in the playoffs.
"It has been a while," Cerasani said. "But we are sure excited and ready to go. The kids are working hard. We are excited to be a part of it and playing Barrington."
Fremd, which won its last three games to finish 6-3, is seeded 25th. They drew a tough assignment by having to travel to play Brother Rice, which was 8-1. The Crusaders are seeded eighth after losing to Loyola on Friday.
"I am excited to watch us and the rest of our conference in the playoffs" said Fremd coach Lou Sponsel, who was with his coaching staff when the pairings were announced. "We are playing our best football right and we are excited for our matchup with the MSL West and CCL Blue."
Rolling Meadows' reward for going 9-0 on the season is to be seeded No. 3 in 7A. The Mustangs, who are making their sixth consecutive playoff appearance and 13th in the last 14 years, will play Thornwood, which finished 5-4 on the season and is seeded 30th.
"It has been an incredible run so far," said Rolling Meadows coach Matt Mishler who was hosting a team party at the field house at Rolling Meadows. "It is a whole new season now and we are playing teams that we don't know a whole lot about. We are just looking this as the next journey to take."
Wheeling won its final four games to finish 5-4. That, coupled with 42 playoff points, gave the Wildcats their first playoff appearance since 2008.
Wheeling will compete in 6A, which is seeded North and South halves by the IHSA. The Wildcats are seeded 13th in the northern bracket and will travel to play at Cary-Grove to meet the third-seeded Trojans (8-1).
"This group of kids had limited success on the lower levels," Wheeling coach Brent Pearlman said. "The fact that they accomplished this goal says a lot about them and their hard work and dedication. We are all excited about the opportunity."
St. Viator is back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. It is also the first postseason experience for first-year head coach Dave Archibald, who guided the Lions to a 5-4 record. St. Viator is seeded 13th and will meet fourth-seeded Rockford Boylan, which won the NIC-10 conference and finished 8-1.
"This is quite a thrill," said Archibald, who was at a team watch party at one of his players' homes. "The guys are really excited, especially coming off of last year. We are grateful for the opportunity."
The eight-class field of 256 teams will culminate with the state finals on Nov. 25 and 26 in Champaign.
First-round playoff matchups
No. 4 Rockford Boylan (8-1) vs. No. 13 St. Viator (5-4)
No. 3 Cary-Grove (8-1) vs. No. 14 Wheeling (5-4)
No. 3 Rolling Meadows (9-0) vs. No. 30 Thornwood (5-4)
No. 11 Benet Academy (7-2) vs. No. 22 Hoffman Estates (6-3)
No. 8 Brother Rice (8-1) vs. No. 25 Fremd (6-3)
No. 10 Barrington (8-1) vs. No. 23 Leyden (7-2)
No. 3 Palatine (9-0) vs. No. 30 Notre Dame (6-3)