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One last playoff push
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 10/21/2011 12:31 AM

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Palatine, Elk Grove, Barrington and Conant know they are part of high school football's "in" crowd this year.

Rolling Meadows and Schaumburg would join them a victory tonight. For a chance to be in, Prospect and Hersey have to win and then wait.

It's all part of the final regular-season weekend to determine who is in and who is out of the 256-team state playoff field. That will be announced late Saturday afternoon at ihsa.org, followed by the pairings in all eight classes starting shortly after 8 p.m.

"Our kids are excited about the opportunity and they know what's at stake," said Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling. "They playoff pairings have come a week early for us."

The Saxons (4-4) need to beat visiting Barrington at 7:30 p.m. today to make a school-record fourth straight playoff berth. Their playoff points (total number of wins by opponents) range of 42-46 would be enough to make the field as a five-win team.

In most years, a win by Prospect (4-4) at Buffalo Grove would kick off playoff preparations. But a guaranteed 39 playoff points is no lock in a year where the cutoff for five-win teams could reach a record 40 points.

Last year's cutoff was 39 and it has been 38 and 36 twice in the last five years. In the first five years of the eight-class system with five-win qualifiers the playoff-point cutoffs were 28, 32, 34, 35 and 37.

"If we don't win it doesn't matter how many (playoff) points we have," said Prospect coach Mike Sebestyen, whose team is trying for a seventh straight postseason trip. "We have to worry about getting our game taken care of and then whatever happens, happens."

The game with the most at stake on both sides is Hersey (4-4) at Rolling Meadows (5-3). A win by the Mustangs and they're back in after last year's absence ended a seven-year run of appearances.

A win by Hersey would have both teams anxiously watching and waiting to see what happens with other bubble teams throughout the state since they are in the 36-39 playoff point range.

"Everybody knows what's at stake for both sides," said Meadows coach Matt Mishler. "We definitely don't want to be in that situation where we're trying to figure out if we're in or not."

A much different position: A year ago Palatine was among the 4-4 bubble teams needing a win at Barrington to get in the playoffs. From there it made a run to the 8A quarterfinals.

"It's better to be 7-1 than 4-4," Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly said with a laugh.

But the Pirates still have bigger and better accomplishments in mind as they bring a seven-game winning streak into tonight's MSL West matchup with visiting Conant.

Fourteen is the magic number as the last time the Pirates won 8 games in a season and won an outright MSL division title was in 1997.

"They know all of that history and want to leave their mark," said Donnelly, whose team also won at Fremd for the first time in 14 years three weeks ago. "The big thing is we want a high seed and a home playoff game."

But not at any cost as two-way lineman Josh Baldus and defensive end Nick Novelli, who have missed time with shoulder injuries, will be held out to get ready for next week.

"This is a good test for us, but I don't want to put anyone in there who isn't ready to come back yet," Donnelly said. "It forces other kids to step up.

"We have to come to play or it will be tough for us. But the kids so far all year have risen to the challenge and they're competitors."

Unfamiliar territory: For the first time in 17 years, Fremd entered this week knowing it was its final week of the season.

But coach Mike Donatucci still saw a group driven to finish on a good note in the final game of his 19-year tenure with tonight's visit to Hoffman Estates.

"I told them, 'you can sit here and worry about the things you don't have or go with the things you do have,'" Donatucci said. "We have one more week together - and the question we've asked every week is, 'How many games have you won this week?' The answer is zero.

"(Wednesday) in that horrible weather was probably one of the most fun practices we've had. They're relishing the limited time they have together and that's the hard thing."

Donatucci recalled the fine line in keeping the streak of 16 straight playoff trips alive. He said the 2003 and 2008 teams that finished 7-2 were three plays from going 4-5 and last year's team had to rebound from a 1-4 start.

"Sooner or later the ball is going to bounce the other way and unfortunately it did for this group," Donatucci said of a team that lost two overtime games. "When you look at where these guys were the first week and how they've progressed through the season, I'm proud of them."

And Donatucci was disappointed for them particularly his seniors not getting the opportunity to be part of the postseason.

"There's always been that pressure to keep the streak going," Donatucci said. "I told them after the game, there will be people who aren't in the program and who don't understand the program that will say this group broke the streak.

"These kids have done everything and more we've asked of the 16 groups before them. On the football end we didn't get it done. But in all the other aspects of the program, the kids understood the values we were trying to get through to them and they excelled at that."

Charging into win column: Christian Liberty had not anticipated having to wait until Week 8 to pick up victory No. 2 in the program's three-year history.

But its 41-21 Northeastern Athletic Conference victory last week at winless Kirkland Hiawatha set a program record for points scored and marked the fourth-fewest points allowed in a game.

"We sure needed it," said Christian Liberty coach Jim Calkins. "It was enjoyable."

Particularly watching everything fall into place out of the wing-T where junior Marcus Silva rushed for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns, sophomore Gabe Grob threw for 152 yards and TDs to sophomore Nick Salmonson and junior JD Dulinsky and junior Dan Glad also ran for a touchdown.

And the switch to a 6-2 defense to get more man coverage paid off as junior Shawn Andersen returned an interception for a touchdown. Junior defensive back Blake Adelsperger led the Chargers in tackles.

"He's really kicked it in," Calkins said. "He's been much more aggressive and he's having a lot more fun on defense. We're looking for a lot of things from him."

Calkins has also liked the aggressive play of sophomore cornerback Alex Glynn since he returned from a broken finger. Glad has also been playing through ankle problems.

The development of Grob has also been a positive sign.

"He's a lot better in everything he does," Calkins said. "He's making a good transition and he's come through pretty good. He's getting his reads down a lot better than earlier in the season and he's very motivated."

It hasn't been easy with key losses to injuries that included senior linebacker Ben Thomas and sophomore lineman Aaron Cunningham. Calkins said they'll have only 20 players available for tonight's finale with 6-2 CICS/Longwood at St. Rita in Chicago.

But the Chargers hope last week was a step in the right direction since they'll only lose three seniors from this year's roster.

"We'll try to scrape by this game and have some fun," Calkins said, "and then concentrate on next season."

Playoff pairings Saturday: The IHSA will host its Football Pairings Show from 8-10 p.m. Saturday on Comcast Sports Net Plus. The show will reveal the pairings of all eight classes starting with 1A and ending with 8A and will have highlights and analysis from coaches and members of the media throughout the state.

The final list of the 256 qualifiers will be available at approximately 5:45 p.m. Saturday at ihsa.org.