By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
For the first time in three years, the NIC-10 will be sending half of their teams to the playoffs.
A 21-13 win by Belvidere over Belvidere North will have them join Rockford Boylan, Rockford Auburn, Rockton Hononegah and Machesney Park Harlem in the IHSA playoffs, which will kick off Friday, Oct. 26.
The number of playoff teams is a testament to how improved the conference was this season. No team went winless this season, and the competitiveness should give the teams an edge heading into the playoffs.
“Any time you get to go through a deep conference, it helps in preparation,” Boylan Head Coach John Cacciatore said. “From Freeport on, there was some big things for us every week that we could focus on and let our kids sink their teeth into things and keep their focus strong.”
One of the teams most excited for the playoffs is Hononegah. The Indians have been on a roll after losing to Boylan in week one, and their coaches feel their offense can carry them far this postseason.
“We think that will be very critical,” Head Coach Tim Sughroue said of his offense. “We like the balance of our offense. We feel like all four of our ball carriers can make a big play at any time.”
While Hononegah is ready to roll, Harlem is ready to prove themselves in the postseason. After finishing third in the conference, they feel like they have a lot to prove once the playoffs start.
“Whatever our destiny is, we’re going to play at home or play away and do the best we can to keep our season alive,” Harlem Head Coach Jim Morrow said. “I feel confident about the momentum we’ve built, and we’re going to perform pretty well.”
One of the best stories in the state was the Rockford Auburn Knights. They entered the season having not won a game in four years
With new coach Dan Appino at the helm, the Knights’ improvement was evident from week one. But after going 0-4 against the other playoff teams in the conference, Appino knows his team has a tough road ahead.
“For us, the big task is beating a team with a winning record,” Appino said. “Our wins have come against teams that don’t have that. Our biggest task is to put together a good game against a good team.”
A look at the matchups
• Boylan is a 2 seed in class 7A. They will host Algonquin Jacobs. The Golden Eagles did not beat a team with a winning record while finishing fourth in the Fox Valley Conference. Their defense gives up 28 points per game, while the Titans only allow 8. The Titans are the defending 7A champions and sport the top offense in 7A at 45 points per game.
• Hononegah is the 3 seed in 7A and will face Willowbrook at home. With two wins, the Indians could potentially face Boylan in a rematch of their week one game. Willowbrook did not win a game last season, but finished second in the West Suburban Gold Conference this season. In matchups against playoff teams, the Warriors lost by a combined score of 132-29.
• Harlem is hosting Libertyville in the first round as the No. 8 seed. The Wildcats finished in a three-way tie for the North Suburban Lake Conference title. They did have the lowest playoff points of teams in their conference. They have shut out two of their last three opponents, while the Harlem offense averages nearly 40 points per game.
• Auburn is in the playoffs for the second time in school history and will enter the 6A field as a 16 seed. They will travel to face the favorite for the 6A championship, Cary Grove. The Trojans have beaten teams by an average of 26 points per game. In 2010, while coaching Boylan, Appino faced Cary Grove, helping lead his team to an overtime victory.
• Belvidere will face Maple Park (Kaneland) for the second straight season in the first round of the playoffs. The Bucs are the 16 seed in 5A. As the same seed last season, Belvidere almost pulled off the upset against the eventual state semifinalist. Kaneland played six playoff teams, winning by 28 points on average. Belvidere has the worst point differential of all playoff teams, giving up 12 more points per game on defense than they score on offense.
From the Oct. 24-30, 2012, issue