Tough roads? Good draws? Breaking down IHSA football playoff pairings for Rockford teams

Matt Trowbridge
Rockford Register Star
Guilford's Skyler Wolf hands off to Jayvon Jones on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, at Guilford High School in Rockford.

Durand/Pecatonica was supposed to drop down in class but didn’t.

Stillman Valley did drop down — but it didn’t help.

Two-time defending Class 1A state champion Lena-Winslow looks like an even bigger favorite than usual in the first three rounds, and NIC-10 champion Boylan should be favored to reach at least the semifinals in Class 5A. But two Rockford-area teams who looked all year as if they might make a long playoff run found their road will be difficult when the IHSA announced its football playoff pairings Saturday night.

2022 IHSA playoffs:Complete pairings for the high school football playoffs

Here is a class-by-class look at the playoff road for Rockford-area teams:

Class 1A

The best part in 1A is that there is a good chance that for the first time in decades that no NUIC teams will have to play each other. The only chances would be if Lena-Winslow (9-0) plays Fulton (7-2) in the third round or if Forreston (5-4) and Dakota (5-4) meet in the third round. Both those schools will have tough matchups in the first round, with Forreston at Peru St. Bede (7-2) and Dakota (5-4) at Gilman Iroquois West (7-2).

“Usually it’s a conference tournament,” Le-Win coach Ric Arand said. “This is awesome. That’s the great thing about the playoffs; getting to play different people and go to places you’ve never gone before makes it a lot of fun.”

Rockford Lutheran (5-4) plays in the Big Northern and drops down to 1A. If Lutheran can get past Annawan/Wethersfield (7-2), and then either Aurora Christian (5-4) or Fulton in the second round, the Crusaders, after playing 3A and 4A teams all year, could test themselves against a Le-Win team that has dominated Class 1A.

“That would be a lot of fun,” Arand said. “It would be awesome to see them, being another team from the 815 area. I am not worried about (Lutheran playing larger schools).”

Class 3A

Stillman Valley won all five of its state titles in Class 2A or 3A but has been in 4A for years. The Cardinals (8-1) made the cut for 3A this year, but after losing their season finale Friday to Genoa-Kingston they fell to a No. 5 seed. This means after hosting Monmouth Roseville (5-4) in the first round, Stillman would probably play No. 1 state-ranked Elmhurst IC Catholic (8-1) in the second round.

“If we won last night, we might have avoided them for a round or two,” Stillman coach Mike Lalor said. “We would sure like to see them back up in 4A and clear that thing out.”

IC Catholic is an annual power. Byron upset them last year in the final seconds en route to winning state.

What we learned:Key takeaways from Week 9 football games from around the Rockford area

Du/Pec, which stayed in 3A after four smaller schools with 4-4 records pulled upsets Friday and snuck into the playoffs, has a very winnable first game against Chicago Catalyst/Maria but then would draw No. 2-ranked Braidwood Reed-Custer (9-0) in the second round.

“There are two teams in 3A, IC and the Reed-Custer team, that are teams of a lifetime we have heard about for several years,” Lalor said. “They are the two elite teams in 3A and both happen to be in the northern half of the bracket. Maybe we can get a bad weather day and find a way to keep it close, but it will be awfully tough.”

Du/Pec has become an NUIC power the last three years but has bowed out in the second round in the past against 3A teams after playing 1A schools in the regular season.

“We have held our own in the early part of the playoffs,” Du/Pec coach Tyler Hoffman said. “Round 2 we have not had as good of showings. But at some point in time we are going to get over the hump. It may be this year. There is nothing that says we can’t make a run.

“And some of the teams we face in the postseason makes us fear nobody in our conference. When you go up against Elmhurst IC or Reed-Custer, we won’t see teams like that next year. That makes our offseason that much better.”

Winnebago (5-4) will open against No. 8-ranked Seneca (9-0). No. 4 Byron (8-1) begins with Lisle (5-4) and then gets the Seneca-Winnebago winner. Byron wouldn’t have to meet Reed-Custer until the third round or Elmhurst IC until the semifinals.

“We were certainly the underdog against IC Catholic last year,” Byron coach Jeff Boyer said. “We are not new to this position. We are used to it. We will fly under the radar and our kids will play hard.”

Boylan's Rasheed Johnson runs against Guilford's Gregory Hanserd on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, at Boylan High School in Rockford.

Class 4A

Rochelle (7-2) drops down to 4A after being in 5A most years and won’t have to play a team ranked in the Associated Press poll before the third round. The Hubs open against Dixon (6-3).

"I've been waiting for this for a long time; like years and years," Rochelle quarterback Hayden Inman told the Register Star’s Jay Taft. "We're definitely excited, and we're ready. Our only two losses are to two top-ranked teams. We feel ready to see what we can do.”

Class 5A

No. 1-ranked Kankakee and No. 3 Mahomet-Seymour are in the south. And Boylan (8-1) can’t meet No. 2 Sycamore before the semifinals. Boylan plays Country Clubs Hills Hillcrest (5-4) in the first round before a potentially tough second-round matchup against No. 10-ranked LaGrange Park Nazareth (5-4), a traditional power, or Glenbrook South (7-2).

More:The Rockford area's top performances from Week 9 of the high school football season

Class 6A

Belvidere North (7-2) and Harlem (6-3) both got somewhat favorable draws. North gets a rematch against Grayslake Central (6-3) after losing to them last year 27-22 when they were able to run out the clock after a controversial fourth-down pass interference call.

“Any time you get a chance to play a team you didn’t get it done against the last time gives you a chance to redeem yourself,” North coach Jeff Beck said.

Harlem plays at Chicago Amundsen (7-2), which has a lot less impressive playoff history than 6-3 NIC-10 teams usually face in the playoffs.

“They don’t have a lot of playoff history, but I’ve seen their highlights,” Harlem coach Bob Moynihan said. “They are big, they’ve got some Division-I players and they are athletic.

“But it’s better playing them than Wheaton-Warrenville South,” Moynihan said of the traditional power Harlem played in his first year as coach.

Belvidere North quarterback Maddox Gyllenswan runs around left end in the third quarter against Hononegah on Friday, October 7, 2022, at Belvidere North High School.

Class 7A

Guilford (7-2) gets a home game against Batavia (6-3) and Hononegah (7-2) will host Normal Community (6-3). Batavia was ranked 10th in last week’s AP poll, but will likely drop out after losing Friday.

Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and three years covering the Hawkeyes in Iowa City.