Surrounded by players, coaches, fans and family at Saturday's playoff pairings watch party, Batavia football coach Dennis Piron neither beamed nor bristled at the Bulldogs' Class 7A draw.
A year after advancing to the 6A state semifinals, the top-seeded Bulldogs are movin' on up. More importantly to Piron, however, is Batavia's potential to see opposition from a different suburban region and possibly downstate, beginning with a first-round game against Downers Grove North.
"I don't know, maybe some teams like the concept of you get to the playoffs and play someone from your league or another nearby conference, but there's nothing exciting or new about that," Piron said. "I think we pretty much play all 7A schools and 8A schools anyhow, so I don't really know what the difference is. We're just excited to be in the playoffs and start this second season."
Entering 2012, the Bulldogs had been part of the 6A field in seven of their past nine postseasons, but qualified in 7A in 2003 and 2007.
Batavia (9-0) finds itself on the south suburban and downstate-heavy half of the 7A draw – the opposite side as recent opponent St. Charles East, who the Bulldogs defeated, 19-6, in Week 8 en route to their second straight Upstate Eight Conference River Division title.
Making their first postseason appearance since 2009, the 6-3 Saints are set to visit 8-1 Wheaton North in the first round in a meeting of conference runners-up. East finished a game behind Batavia in the UEC River, while Wheaton North trailed Glenbard North by the same margin in the daunting DuPage Valley Conference after a 17-15 Panthers win in Week 8.
"Wheaton North, I know they're loaded. They've got some great athletes over there," East coach Mike Fields said. "We're going to get our game plan together and see what we're able to do. Hopefully we can get a good week of preparation in and be peaking at the right time."
Kaneland enters the 5A bracket as a top seed for the third successive fall. The Knights clinched their third straight unbeaten regular season and Northern Illinois Big 12 East title Friday and are aiming to move past consecutive state semifinal losses to eventual champion Montini.
While the Broncos again loom as a possible semifinal opponent – provided they get past a potential quarterfinal against fellow Suburban Christian Conference Blue power Marian Central – Kaneland must contend with other familiar faces in the earlier rounds.
Belvidere, which pushed the Knights to the brink in a 51-45 first-round Kaneland win last year, repeats as the Knights' Week 10 foe. NI Big 12 East rival Rochelle – which challenged the Knights in a quarterfinal last season after a less competitive regular season game – could await in the second round.
Tracking several projections throughout the day, Kaneland coach Tom Fedderly said he anticipated a possible rematch with the Bucs, who defeated 2-7 Belvidere North, 21-13, on Friday to become playoff-eligible.
"We kind of thought that it was going to happen this way," Fedderly said. "Belvidere was a really good game against them last year, and a lot of guys come back, including a quarterback who can run and throw. So you don't take anything for granted."
Defending 3A state champion Aurora Christian (8-1) returns to that bracket this fall as a No. 4 seed. The Eagles' lone loss came in Week 8, when a late turnover spoiled a would-be second-half comeback at Montini.
Aurora Christian will host Raby of the Chicago Public League in the first round, and could possibly get Northern Illinois-bound senior wide receiver Chad Beebe (broken arm) back from injury sooner than expected.
Don Beebe, the Eagles' coach and Chad's father, said his son "is really close" to being cleared to play and has a doctor's appointment Thursday. As if the Eagles needed further motivation for another deep postseason run.
"This is what we look forward to the other 11 months. Gosh, this is what makes me coach in high school," Don Beebe said. "I just love this part. It's so exciting to be able to go out there and be able to strategize and win these games for these kids, and give them every opportunity to excel on the football field with offensive and defensive schemes."
SCC counterpart Aurora Central Catholic also is part of the 3A field, and will visit Champaign-area opponent St. Joseph-Ogden in the first round. Making their first postseason appearance since 1997, the Chargers are eager to move past consecutive lopsided losses to Marmion and Montini to end the regular season.
ACC was missing a pair of two-way starters against Montini, including quarterback/safety Nick Rahn (illness), a sophomore from Maple Park.
"Ultimately, the kids understand that, hey, we'll use the last two games as an opportunity to improve ourselves and now we have a chance in Week 10 to take those improvements and try to compete for a state championship," Chargers coach Brian Casey said.
A pair of 5-4 bubble teams who met in a 5A first-round game last season were among the last teams out of the postseason field. St. Francis (37 playoff points) and Burlington Central (36) both finished just shy of the cut-off, 38.
Two likely 1A entrants with 38 points – Greenfield and Ashton-Franklin – were out of the field, as well. One playoff point equals one opponent's win.
Central started 5-1 while navigating a pair of injuries to third-year starting quarterback Ryan Ritchie, who eventually was lost for the season. The Rockets lost two of their final three games to fellow Big Northern Conference East contenders Richmond-Burton and North Boone, but arguably suffered their biggest setback in an eight-point loss at struggling Rock Falls in Week 8.
"We didn't end up the way we wanted to," BC coach Rich Crabel said. "We overcame a lot of things throughout the season, but we sure wanted to end up better than what we did."
• Jay Schwab contributed to this report.