With Week 6 of the football season mostly in the books, the playoff picture is coming into focus.
Bartlett and Genoa-Kingston each secured their postseason invitations with convincing wins. Meanwhile, Hampshire, Larkin and St. Edward each made a case -- in different ways -- for why they might be playing after the regular season ends.
Hampshire (3-3) perhaps made the strongest statement, toppling defending Big Northern Conference East Division champs Harvard 27-20. Along with the Whip-Purs, the main contenders in the BNC East have been Harvard and Richmond-Burton. Now that Hampshire owns wins over both, it controls its own destiny.
The Whips will have to take care of business against North Boone, Burlington Central and Marengo. Those three teams have a combined 5-13 record after Friday, but the Whips will be wise to not take any of those opponents lightly. After rallying from an 0-3 start to the season, I'm sure Hampshire knows exactly what it has to do.
Larkin (3-3) is trying to stay on the playoff bubble. While the Royals' 22-21 win against Streamwood (1-5) is superficially unimpressive, Larkin had to overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to get the job done.
Losing wouldn't have eliminated the Royals from postseason eligibility, but it would have forced them to run the table to finish with a 5-4 record. As it is with the win, Larkin will have its hands full winning two out of three against St. Charles North (3-2), Elgin (0-6) and Waubonsie Valley (3-3).
St. Edward (3-3) didn't come away with a win Friday night, but hung tough in a 21-12 loss to Driscoll. Talking with Jimmy Mathisen and Jim Waclawik after the game, both said they're never happy with a loss. But both agreed that if they could play the seven-time defending state champion Highlanders that tough, the Green Wave can be a contender.
"We just have to cut out the mental mistakes," Mathisen said. "If we play physical the way we did (against Driscoll), we can play with anybody in the (Suburban Catholic) Conference."
Among area teams St. Edward might have the toughest road to the playoffs. The Wave's remaining games are against St. Francis (5-1), Montini (6-0) and Marmion (2-4).
St. Francis in particular will be gunning for the Green Wave after becoming St. Edward's only victim last season and first in three years.
"They're going to be out for revenge," Wave coach Mike Rolando said. "We just have to make sure we can answer the bell."
MOST IMPRESSIVE WIN
I've already pointed why Hampshire's win on Friday looms large, but Genoa-Kingston's drubbing of Rockford Lutheran also carries with it some significance.
The Cogs (6-0) has a lot of offensive questions to answer coming into this season. Despite the return of senior QB Chris Wilkins and big-time playmaker T.C. Holterhaus, G-K lost a lot of experience from its offensive line.
Against Lutheran (1-5) the Cogs scored on six of its first nine possessions. G-K is now averaging 37.5 points per contest. The sixth win not only locks up a playoff spot for the Cogs, but keeps them a game ahead of last year's victory pace with an offense that's still rolling.
Things are about to get interesting in the Big Northern Conference West. After Friday's games, G-K, Oregon and Stillman Valley are all 6-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play. The Cogs get Oregon at home next week before hitting the road to face Stillman Valley. The Hawks and Cardinals face each other in Week 9. So count on at least one game with big implications each week.
Neuqua Valley knocking off St. Charles East in four overtimes caught everyone here in the Courier sports department by surprise. In our weekly You Pick 'Em selections, the staff unanimously picked the Saints to roll over the Wildcats. Instead East (4-2, 3-1 UEC) played its second OT game in as many weeks and this time came up short.
Bartlett (6-0, 4-0) is now the only Upstate Eight Conference team without a loss. No disrespect to East Aurora, but if the Hawks can topple Neuqua (3-3, 2-2) next week, they can pretty much put the conference title in the bag.
The Saints will need the Wildcats to come through against Bartlett if they hope for a share of the UEC. East and Bartlett won't see each other this season, so the Saints will also have to win out its conference schedule to stay in the hunt.
IN AND OUT
There are three games left (four for St. Charles North, Huntley and South Elgin) and anything can happen. But here's the playoff scene as I see it shaking out:
Print the tickets: Bartlett, Genoa-Kingston, Huntley (5-0), St. Charles East
Looks pretty likely: Hampshire, St. Charles North
Will be tough: St. Edward, Larkin, South Elgin (2-3), Dundee-Crown (3-3)
Maybe next year: Elgin, Streamwood, Jacobs (1-5), Burlington Central (1-5)