Herald Staff Report
There couldn’t be much more of a contrast for Erie/Prophetstown as it prepares for its first high school football playoff game in a decade.
The Panthers have little playoff history — including Erie and Prophetstown when they played separately — while their first-round opponent has a rich postseason history.
It is a team the Panthers know something about, though.
Erie/Prophetstown (5-4) earned the No. 15 seed for its half of the bracket in the Illinois Class 3A playoffs, and it will play Big Rivers Conference rival Sterling Newman (9-0) in a first-round game in Sterling, Ill.
The time and day will be made official this afternoon.
Morrison, the only other area team to earn a playoff berth, also drew a No. 2 seed with a history of success. The Mustangs will face 9-0 Mercer County in Aledo, Ill., in a first-round matchup in Class 2A.
Erie/Prophetstown and Newman don’t need long-term memories to figure out each other. They played Oct. 12, with Newman breaking away in the second half for a 35-20 win in Erie.
“Everybody is good in the playoffs,” Erie/Prophetstown coach Chuck Milem said. “You would like to see somebody different in the playoffs, but it is what it is. We look forward to the challenge.”
Once the coaches knew the Panthers were one of the 256 teams in the playoff field, they got the players together so they could watch the pairings Saturday night.
“We wanted to make sure we were in, and once we saw it, we brought them all together at the school and had pizza and pop together and watched the show,” Milem said. “It was a great feeling to know that more than 300 schools did not have this opportunity. It was a special moment for us. It has been 10 years since it happened.
“The kids earned every moment of this, and we’re glad.”
Erie/Prophetstown went one-and-out in the 2002 playoffs after the schools combined programs. Before that, Prophetstown had not qualified since 1989, when it qualified for the fifth time in six years. Other than that, though, neither school had been in the playoffs, according to the Illinois High School Association web site.
It’s a much different story for Newman.
This is the 12th consecutive year and 19th in the past 20 that the Comets have qualified for postseason play. Their history under 32-year head coach Mike Papoccia includes four state titles — most recently in Class 2A in 2010 — and two other trips to the finals.
Morrison and Mercer County are no strangers, either.
The Mustangs are making their ninth consecutive appearance and have won two of the past three state titles in Class 2A. Mercer County has made it to the playoffs in all three years of its existence, and before that, Aledo had a run of 13 consecutive trips, including three state titles and two second-place finishes.