By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
For a long stretch since entering the Big Northern West Conference, football was an afterthought for the Rockford Lutheran Crusaders.
Even as an improved team last season, an exciting offense only helped for two wins, as the defense was non-existant for stretches.
Those days are gone, as Lutheran finished 8-1 this season, missing their conference championship in a 1-point loss to Byron, and now look like one of the favorites in Class 2A.
“It’s been a pretty magical season,” Crusaders Head Coach Bruce Bazsali said. “We knew deep down that we could do pretty good, and there was a chance we could make the playoffs. But to be 8-1 and 1 point away from 9-0 from where we were is pretty amazing.”
It is part of a banner season for the Big Northern, which saw six teams altogether make the playoffs, four from the West and two from the East.
Byron won the West by virtue of their win over Lutheran, while North Boone won the East. The quality of the conference makes coaches happy to see someone else in the first week of the playoffs.
“Every week this season, we had to come ready to play,” Byron Head Coach Jeff Boyer said. “We faced a worthy opponent week in and week out. You just survive in the conference, hope you end up on top and can get into the playoffs.”
A look at the matchups
• Stillman Valley is a 4 seed in class 4A and will host Plano. This is likely to be close, as both teams have close margins of victory. Plano won their last two games to get in. They started the season 3-0 and then lost four straight.
• Winnebago is a 9 seed in 3A and is at Farmington. Winnebago had a better record against playoff teams than Farmington, but Farmington had a tougher schedule overall. Winnebago has a bigger margin of victory, but Farmington has a tougher defense.
• Big Northern West champions Byron pulled a 6 seed in 3A. They will start off with a home game against Wilmington. Wilmington won the Interstate Eight Small Conference. They did lose to Stillman Valley opponent Plano. Wilmington only allows 8 points per game on defense.
• North Boone won the Big Northern East, and that garnered them a 5 seed in 3A. They will host Elmhurst Immaculate Conception, who tied for the Suburban Christian Gold Conference title. Immaculate Conception spent most of their season playing 4A and 5A schools. They gave up 53 points in their six wins this season, but 133 points in three losses.
• Rockford Lutheran spent the season playing 3A and 4A teams in the regular season, but drops down to a loaded 2A field in the playoffs as a 3 seed. They will host Taylor Ridge (Rockridge) in the first round. Rockridge finished second in the West Central Conference, but was the only team to beat conference champion Macomb. Lutheran enters with the third-best offense in the state, averaging 50.7 points per game.
From the Oct. 24-30, 2012, issue