IHSA playoff inclusion is an accomplishment worth celebrating, according to St. Charles North football coach Rob Pomazak.
His North Stars gathered at the school's cafeteria Saturday night to watch the IHSA playoff pairings show on a big-screen television while devouring pizzas.
"Making the playoffs is a really big deal. There's no guarantee," Pomazak said. "At the beginning of the season that's your goal, to just get your 5 wins, 6 wins to get in. So we try to make it a celebration."
Of course, a coach's focus shifts as soon as the first-round matchup is announced.
"Once you find out who you're playing and you get that film it's like Christmas Eve," Pomazak said, "but instead of playing video games you're breaking down film. You're up all night. It's the best part of the year."
Eleven Fox Valley area teams were included in the 256-team field announced by the IHSA Saturday
Three area 5-4 teams did not make the cut: St. Edward, Burlington Central and Aurora Central Catholic.
In fact, St. Edward was the first team left out of the field at No. 257. The Green Wave were one of four 5-4 teams with 39 playoff points, but it came down to the next tiebreaker: defeated opponents' wins. Hinsdale South was the last team included in the field with 12 defeated opponents' wins. St. Edward had 11.
St. Edward knocked off Wheaton Academy 29-28 in dramatic fashion on Friday to become playoff eligible. The Green Wave scored a touchdown and 2-point conversion with 2.8 seconds left to win, but Friday's elation was undercut by Saturday's news.
"I'm just heartbroken for the kids because I know what they're capable of," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando said. "We had a 3-point loss, a 3-point loss and a 7-point loss and we could have won all of those games. Just heartbroken at all those opportunities coming back to haunt us, especially after they played one of their best games ever Friday."
Here's a first glance at each team's first-round matchup.
No. 26 Edwardsville (6-3) at No. 7 Huntley (8-1)
Huntley's only setback was a 51-43 loss in Week 2 to defending Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge, which has been ranked No. 1 in that class all season.
One of Edwardsville's losses was historic. The Tigers lost their season opener to visiting Naperville North 53-49 after leading 42-0 in the first half. It is believed to be the largest comeback in IHSA history and larger than any comeback at the major college level or NFL. The Tigers enter the playoffs on a 6-game winning streak.
No. 17 St. Charles East (7-2) at No. 16 Oswego East (7-2)
St. Charles East garners a second straight playoff berth on the heels of a 2016 quarterfinal appearance. The Saints have won 4 straight since a 2-game losing streak: a 35-34 overtime loss to eventual UEC River champion St. Charles North (8-1) and a 7-0 loss to Batavia (8-1).
The Wolves finished in a three-way tie for second place in the 10-school Southwest Prairie Conference. They limit opponents to 11 ppg.
No. 20 West Aurora (6-3) at No. 13 Naperville Central (7-2)
If once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three is a trend, playoff football is officially trending at West Aurora. The Blackhawks make the playoffs for the third straight year. It's quite a turnaround under seventh-year coach Nate Eimer considering his alma mater missed the playoffs every year between 1995-2014.
DuPage Valley Conference champion Naperville Central's only losses came against St. Edward of Lakewood, Ohio (34-24) and Naperville North (44-41).
No. 23 Palatine (6-3) at No. 10 South Elgin (8-1)
Upstate Eight Valley champion South Elgin makes its fourth playoff appearance overall and second in three seasons. The Storm advanced to the second round two years ago before falling at Brother Rice in a slugfest.
Palatine has enjoyed recent playoff success. Last year the Pirates defeated St. Charles East to advance to a Class 8A semifinal before dropping a 28-14 decision to eventual state champion Maine South.
No. 29 Glenbard North (5-4) at No. 4 Batavia (8-1)
It's a DuKane Conference preview. These teams will face each other annually beginning next season as they are among the eight schools forming the new conference.
Batavia fans itching for a rematch of Friday's loss to St. Charles North would have to wait until the state championship game. That's the only way the Bulldogs and North Stars could meet again since they were placed on opposite sides of the bracket. Batavia advanced to the second round last season before falling to Jacobs.
No. 27 Highland Park (5-4) at No. 6 St. Charles North (8-1)
Upstate Eight River champion St. Charles North is rewarded with a first-round home game following Friday's 35-28 win over Batavia (8-1). The North Stars reached the second round last year but were ousted in a 27-21 loss at Rockford Auburn.
The winner plays the winner of No. 11 St. Rita (7-2) vs. No. 22 Simeon (6-3).
No. 21 Jacobs (6-3) at No. 12 Lincoln-Way West (7-2)
Jacobs makes its third straight playoff appearance and seventh in eight years since Hall-of-Fame coach Bill Mitz entered the scene. The school made the playoffs six times in the 35 years prior to his arrival.
The Golden Eagles travel to a District 210 school for a first-round game for the second time in three years. They dropped a 40-6 decision at Lincoln-Way East in 2015. However, this team has postseason experience following last year's march to a 7A quarterfinal.
No. 9 Cary-Grove (6-3) at No. 8 St. Ignatius (7-2)
Cary-Grove has won a first-round playoff game every year since 2004. A win by the Trojans would set up a second-round rematch against Prairie Ridge and quarterback Samson Evans in Cary. The Wolves, the reigning Class 6A champions, prevailed 7-6 when the District 155 schools met in the season opener in Crystal Lake on Aug. 25.
No. 14 Marmion (5-4) at No. 3 Shepard (8-1)
Marmion won its first 5 games. The Cadets subsequently weathered the storm during a 4-game losing streak against Chicago Catholic League opponents. They travel to Palos Heights to face the Astros, who finished second in the South Suburban Red behind Richards. Shepard averages 38.6 ppg. Marmion scores 33 ppg.
No. 10 Kaneland (6-3) at No. 7 Lindblom (8-1)
The Knights return to the playoffs after a year's absence to make the 20th appearance in program history. First-year coach Pat Ryan's team enters the postseason on a 4-game winning streak.
Lindblom's only loss was a 28-24 setback against Payton on Sept. 22. These teams played a common opponent. The Knights defeated Brooks 56-15 in the season opener. The Eagles likewise blew out Brooks 55-18 the following week.
No. 16 Aurora Christian (5-4) at No. 1 Sterling Newman Central Catholic (9-0)
Aurora Christian, led by senior quarterback Drew Clippert, a 3,000-yard passer with an offer from Dayton, is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Sterling Newman is the most decorated program in the Class 2A field with 5 state titles and 2 runner-up finishes. The Comets make their 17th straight playoff appearance after scoring at least 34 points in 8 of 9 games.