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Sports

Soucie: Top quarterfinal matchups to watch this weekend

Cary-Grove quarterback Ben McDonald rushes against Kaneland last weekend. Cary-Grove hosts Phillips in the Class 6A quarterfinals Saturday.
Cary-Grove quarterback Ben McDonald rushes against Kaneland last weekend. Cary-Grove hosts Phillips in the Class 6A quarterfinals Saturday.

With two weeks of the playoffs in the books, it is always interesting to start to look at the hypotheticals for what could be coming in the weeks to come.

More often than not one of the side topics that comes up is regarding the location these games might be played at.

Every season a few low-seeds work themselves through the bracket and inevitably one of those teams find themselves with a critical home game in a pivotal contest.

And with that scenario usually comes a heavy dose of complaining about why the higher seeds, in some cases undefeated teams, are forced to go on the road for the biggest games of the year outside of a possibly the state championship game.

If you are one of the people that thinks home games should be reserved for the higher-seeded team however far they advance, you probably aren’t looking at the total picture.

The current system isn’t perfect. I still wish higher-seeded teams had the option of choosing home or road in the first round to give them the opportunity to use a higher-seed position to their advantage if they choose to take an early-round risk, but that option doesn’t exist, and I’m not sure it ever will.

But as it stands, the system provides some relief to the teams that aren’t served very well by the system – where all wins are created equal as this system currently operates.

We have numerous teams now that are making it very clear that the seeds don’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. 

Everyone knows East St. Louis isn’t an 18 seed. They are a legitimate threat to win the Class 7A title but due to the fact that they challenged themselves against elite out-of-state teams and took two losses, the logic that high seeds should always host completely takes away any incentive for teams to seek out top-notch regular season games. 

Conversely, you can see the situations where teams that haven’t tested themselves significantly in the regular season will struggle to compete regardless of how well they are seeded.

Top seeds that truly deserve their placement usually do a pretty good job of protecting that seed regardless of where they are playing games, home or away. Of the 14 No. 1 seeds, all but two have advanced into the quarterfinals.

In Class 5A, Chicago Payton lost its playoff opener and is a clear indication of the maxim that all undefeated teams aren’t alike, while Princeville bowed out in Class 1A at the hands of Aurora Christian, a No. 9 seed in the current system. Aurora Christian didn’t play a single Class 1A team until it reached the playoffs with a 6-3 record.

Regardless of where games are played, everyone should keep in mind that the end goal is always to finish the season playing a road game.

Because the state championship game is always a road game, teams might as well get used to it.

Top quarterfinal games to watch

Class 1A – Lena-Winslow (10-1) at Aurora Christian (8-3): A lot of buzz has surrounded Aurora Christian’s move down to Class 1A, but this is the game that indicates whether or not the Eagles are indeed the team to beat in the class. 

Class 2A – Tuscola (10-1) at Maroa-Forsyth (11-0): Two absolute titans in small-school football lock horns. It's hard to imagine any scenario that doesn’t have these two involved in a high-octane offensive shootout. 

Class 3A – Williamsville (10-1) at Carlinville (11-0): Both of these teams have dominated the opposition in the opening two rounds, but odds are this one will tighten up considerably. 

Class 4A – Rochester (10-1) at Taylorville (11-0): Rochester is once again one of the favorites to hoist a big trophy in Champaign, but Taylorville’s high-powered offensive attack might have enough fuel to make this clash interesting.

Class 5A – Rockford Boylan (10-1) at Sterling (10-1): Two teams looking to make their mark on a Class 5A bracket that is looking for a team to step up and provide a challenge to Montini.

Class 6A – Chicago Phillips (9-2) at Cary-Grove (11-0): Phillips has been playing with fire the last couple of weeks in the playoffs, but it likely won’t have the luxury to search for an extra gear in the last few minutes to pull out a win this week.

Class 7A – Can I pick them all? OK, OK. – East St. Louis (9-2) at Mount Carmel (10-1): This is a super-charged version of a quarterfinal game. Had these teams been placed on opposite sides of the bracket it would have been an obvious pick for a potential state title game.

Class 8A – Loyola (8-3) at Maine South (10-1): Some thought it wasn’t Loyola’s year when it picked up three regular-season losses, but the Ramblers are back on track. Maine South has been on track all season and this sets up an epic potential battle.

• Joliet Herald-News sports editor Steve Soucie brings more than two decades of Illinois high school football knowledge to Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @thesouc.

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