By Jon Gremmels Herald Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — FULTON, Ill. — Heading into the final game with a 4-4 record, coach Patrick Lower knows one thing for sure when it comes to the football playoff picture in Illinois.
“I know 4-5 doesn’t get us in,” he said Thursday night on the eve of Fulton’s trip to Manlius to square off with Bureau Valley (3-5). “(A record of) 5-4 will keep us hanging into it until the very end, for sure. Our goal is to go down there, get the win, be 5-4 and let the IHSA tell us we’re not in.”
The Illinois High School Association announces the 256-team, eight-class playoff field Saturday night. The Steamers know they will need some help to advance since they have only 31 playoff points (based on number of wins by opponents).
“The way we see it, 5-4 keeps us in the picture,” Lower said. “We’ll need some help. We need some 4-4 teams to lose. Hopefully, we can, first and foremost, get the win and then have some things go our way.”
Things have been going about as well as possible recently for the Steamers, and if they qualify, they’ll enter the playoffs on a roll.
Fulton has won three straight games, outscoring those opponents 129-25.
“We’re playing our best football right now,” Lower said. “That shows the character of the 13 seniors.”
If nothing else, they can take satisfaction out of getting into the playoff picture.
“That’s the first thing we said after the Amboy game,” Lower said, referring to a 37-13 win last Friday, “that Week 9 matters, and that’s huge for any team.”
The Steamers are trying to overcome a four-game losing streak after they knocked off a then-ranked Orion team in the season opener. Senior quarterback Ethan Jones was injured and missed games during the skid. And a blocked field goal attempt in the final minute was costly in a one-point loss to Morrison.
“There’s a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda,” Lower said. “With Ethan down, we struggled for a few games. When he went down, our kids kind of collectively lost their breath. We were playing tight, especially that Morrison game.
“The worst part is, we’ve been around long enough to know this team is a playoff team. We hope we can prove it.”
Fulton isn’t the only area team hoping to prove it deserves a spot in the playoffs. Conference rival Erie/Prophetstown (6-2) already has ensured itself a second straight trip to the Illinois playoffs.
In Iowa, Maquoketa (5-3, 4-1 district) has clinched one spot in Class 3A District 6, and Central DeWitt is trying to earn another. The Sabers (4-4, 3-2) are third in the district heading into their game at Marion, but Marion, Clear Creek-Amana and Benton Community all are battling for spots with 2-3 district marks.
Barring an upset loss to winless Cedar Valley Christian, Easton Valley (4-3, 4-2) will make a trip to the eight-player playoffs in its first year as a consolidated school with the former East Central school district.
And Clinton (4-4) appears safe to make the 16-team Class 4A field in the eastern part of Iowa after it got help when Muscatine beat Davenport West on Thursday night, ensuring itself a winning record and giving each Mississippi Athletic Conference teams and extra five points. But, the River Kings certainly can help their cause by winning at Bettendorf (6-2).