Which Illinois high school rivalry is best? Here are our favorites

Our statewide team of high school sports reporters has opinions.

This week we begin a series of stories on what we love about Illinois high school sports. We start with rivalries, followed soon by myriad topics across prep sports.

The list below is their chance to tell us which are their favorite high school rivalries in Illinois — one from the area they cover and another from anywhere in the state.

Dave Eminian, Peoria Journal Star

Metamora vs. Washington football: It's a living thing, a high school rivalry that engulfs two small towns 7.7 miles apart.

The programs are backed by yards filled with signs and businesses flashing their pride bathed in orange and black or red and white — depending on which side of the road one is on.

'It launched our era':Pat Ryan picks his top moments of the Metamora-Washington rivalry

Pat Ryan was the legendary coach of Metamora High School for much of its rivalry with Washington.

Great coaching defines the rivalry. Washington had coach John Venturi, whose teams made the IHSA playoffs 16 of his last 18 seasons, and now Darrell Crouch, whose teams have made the IHSA playoffs 13 straight. Metamora legend Pat Ryan, whose teams won two state titles and finished runner-up five times, now passes the torch to former player Jared Grebner. 

Metamora leads the series 32-28 with an Oct. 15 battle coming. It's a must-see game every season.

Aurora East and Aurora West battle in this 1929 game during a rivalry series that is more than 120 years old.

Aurora East vs. Aurora West football: This rivalry has touched three different centuries after beginning in 1893.

They are, technically, the oldest high school football rivalry in Illinois, with West leading the all-time series 66-48-12. In fact, their annual series is the 22nd-oldest at the high school level in the country, albeit currently on hold.

Peoria's best:The top central Illinois high school football programs of the last 20 years

West bludgeoned East 51-0 in 2018-19 and they haven't played since. West changed conferences after that, and maintains it still wants to continue the annual series. While West has the latitude in its new conference to schedule a nonconference game, East does not while locked in a 10-team lineup. The two old rivals consider this only a pause. 

Sergio McClain led Manual to four consecutive Class AA state titles, incluidng two won in Peoria (1996 and '97).

Adam Duvall, Peoria Journal Star

Peoria High vs. Manual boys basketball: One of the best boys basketball rivalries not only in central Illinois, but statewide. These Peoria Public Schools separated by 3.6 miles have collected a combined 30 state trophies, including five state titles each.

No team will ever again accomplish the difficulty of winning two games on state championship Saturday four years in a row like Manual did from 1994-97. Sergio McClain, Marcus Griffin and Frank Williams will ever be a part of River City hoops lore.

Peoria High has claimed the most recent success, winning three titles in the last 18 years including the Shaun Livingston-led back-to-back Class AA crowns in 2003-04.

Another year of the Manual-Central rivalry tips off on Dec. 17.

Peoria pipeline:How the city keeps its basketball talent flowing to Illinois basketball

Joliet Catholic vs. Lombard Montini football: This may or may not be recency bias, but these two meeting in the Class 5A playoffs has become a regular recipe for some spectacular games. Six times in the last dozen years these private school powers have met, including three Class 5A state title games.

Many consider Montini’s 29-28 victory over JCA in the 2009 championship bout one of the best state championship games ever played. A two-point conversion with 32 seconds remaining started a string of five successive postseason victories for Montini over Joliet Catholic.

However, JCA holds the bragging rights, for now, with the 2018 title victory, beating the Mustangs with two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 35-27 comeback victory.

Matt Trowbridge, Rockford Register Star

Boylan vs. Auburn boys basketball: Many of Rockford’s great rivalries are as extinct as the dodo bird. Perhaps nothing will ever equal the 50-year rivalry between Rockford East and Rockford West, which closed in 1989. Boylan-Belvidere football ruled in the 1990s. Boylan vs. Hononegah now has the best all-sports rivalry, particularly in football, baseball and girls basketball.

Rockford’s greatest: NBA player Fred VanVleet keeps getting greater

But my favorite NIC-10 rivalry? Boylan had won 23 NIC-10 titles in 27 years, going 389-47 in the conference, before current Toronto Raptors star Fred VanVleet led Auburn to a 31-1 league record as a junior and senior. Both schools have won four league titles the last 11 years, with Boylan finishing in the top three every time and Auburn nine times.

Addison Driscoll football vs. Illinois public schools: The most indelible state-wide rivalry in my 31 years in Rockford sounds like a courtroom drama: Illinois public schools vs. Addison Driscoll. The reason, many think, the IHSA adopted its private school multiplier in the first place was to try to combat the small-school success of Chicago-area Catholic schools Driscoll and Lombard Montini. It didn’t work. Driscoll went 37-1 in the playoffs the last eight years before the school closed its doors because of declining enrollment in 2009. And that loss was to another Chicago-area private school, Aurora Christian, in its final game in the 2008 Class 4A quarterfinals.

Driscoll’s last six state titles weren’t even close, with the Highlanders winning by 42, 16, 23, 35, 35 and 24 points in their Class 3A and 4A championship games.

Stillman Valley was able to have a student cheering section for their game against Byron in Stillman Valley on Friday, April 9, 2021.

Jay Taft, Rockford Register Star

Byron vs. Stillman Valley football: Over the past 20 years, a football rivalry has grown for two programs separated by just 5.7 miles.

It turned into a state-wide rivalry on a year when the two teams played in the same conference, but were in different classes. Back in 1999, Byron edged Stillman Valley 44-42 in the season opener, and then Stillman Valley went on to win the 3A state title while Byron claimed the 2A crown.

Rockford's greatest games:Battle of the champs with Byron vs. Stillman Valley

The two teams have traded shots ever since. Byron's only loss before the 3A title game back in 2019 was an 18-16 setback to Stillman Valley in Week 2.

Stillman Valley has won five state titles, but none since 2013. It's been Byron of late, a combined 47-5 over the past four full seasons.

Lena-Winslow/Stockton's Case Harmston gets a pin at 170 pounds Thursday, May 27, 2021, during his team's victory over No. 1-ranked Dakota in Stockton.

Dakota vs. Lena-Winslow wrestling: When it comes to small-school wrestling rivalries in Illinois, Dakota has been in the picture for a long time. That happens when the target on your back grows so large after six team state championships in a 15-year span.

"Dakota is the standard," Le-Win/Stockton coach Kevin Milder said during his team's run of two state titles in three years (2016 and 2018). "And everybody in the state is pushing to get there."

Ever since taking second in the 1A team state championships back in 2011, Le-Win/Stockton has been in the running. Lately, it's heated up even more.

Dakota won the championship in 2020, but Le-Win/Stockton claimed the team title two of the three prior years. Dakota won it four years in a row before that.

Ryan Mahan, The State Journal-Register

Sacred Heart-Griffin head football coach Ken Leonard hugs his son, Rochester head football coach Derek Leonard as the Cyclones get set to take on the Rockets at Ken Leonard Field in Springfield, Ill., Friday, April 9, 2021. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

Rochester vs. Sacred Heart-Griffin, football: The first time these teams met was 2010, but it quickly become one of the state’s most highly-anticipated rivalries. And with the storylines involved, there was no escaping it.

Rochester, coached by Derek Leonard, joined the Central State Eight in 2010 and beat SHG, coached by Derek’s father Ken Leonard, 13-10 to end the Cyclones’ 59-game conference win streak which began in 2001. 

The Leonard Bowl:The top 5 games so far in the SHG-Rochester football series

In 2018, Ken Leonard passed Frank Lenti as the state’s winningest coach against his son. Rochester has eight state championships since 2010 and SHG has two. SHG leads the series 8-5. 

Tuscola vs. Arcola football: The entries in "The 'Cola Wars" are separated by 9 miles and seven wins overall in a rivalry which dates back to the 1800s. Tuscola leads the head-to-head matchup 57-44 with six ties. Tuscola is third all-time in the state with 737 wins; Arcola is fourth with 730 wins. 

According to the Decatur Herald & Review, before the IHSA began postseason play, the schools met on Thanksgiving Day in front of crowds of more than 3,000 people. In 2004, former coach Stan Wienke told the Chicago Tribune that when he was hired, a board member said, "'Stan, I don't think we'll be very good this year. We can be 1-8, as long as we beat Arcola.' And he wasn't smiling."

Bill Welt, The State Journal-Register

Lanphier vs. Southeast boys basketball: The city and Central State Eight titles always seem to come down to either Lanphier and Southeast. 

Lanphier has 11 CS8 titles while Southeast has eight since the league's opening 1993-1994 season. One of the two has shared or won 11 of the past 13 league titles. 

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Under current coach Blake Turner, Lanphier has won six straight Class 3A regional championships and last reached the state finals in 2017. 

Under coach Lawrence Thomas, the Spartans have raked in six 3A regional trophies and reached the state finals in 2018 where they went runner-up against Ayo Dosunmu and Chicago Morgan Park. Southeast also became the first team in CS8 history to go 18-0 in 2019.

Decatur St. Teresa vs. Maroa-Forsyth football: It's one of the best football rivalries in all of the Land. Both are perennial state contenders and most recently clashed in the 2018 Class 2A state semifinals in which Maroa edged St. Teresa 16-14 on its way to state runner-up. St. Teresa followed that up by reaching the 2A semifinals again in 2019.

They are poised to collide again in this year's playoffs in 2A. St. Teresa is ranked No. 1, while Maroa is at No. 3. Under current coach Josh Jostes, the Trojans have reached the playoffs in 16 consecutive seasons with two state titles: one for both 1A and 2A. 

The Bulldogs have only missed three playoff appearances since 1991 and went state runner-up in 1A in current coach Mark Ramsey's first season in 2016.