The Batavia football team gathered at the school Saturday night for a community playoff party, a gathering that grew all the rowdier when the Bulldogs received what many would consider great news.
The televised announcement of the state playoff pairings revealed that – after much speculation – Batavia was the largest school in the IHSA's Class 6A state playoffs draw, rather than landing in Class 7A.
It might be a small sample size, but a much-circulated fact this past week is Batavia having reached the state semifinals in 6A in 2011 while falling in the first round in 7A last year.
Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron thinks Batavia (8-1) is strong enough to fare well in either class, but he still loved the sight of his team's reaction to the announcement that the Bulldogs will host DeKalb (5-4) in the first round of the 6A playoffs next week.
"It was awesome," Piron said of the party. "Awesome. Very fun, and our kids got a nice, big surprise. When they heard it was 6A, it was a big cheer, but they cheer whatever. They see the name, and then they said 'Batavia, it looks like maybe one of the teams to beat here,' and the kids got excited about that guy, whoever he was, so it was fun."
Piron thought the Bulldogs coaches might be able to solve the 6A/7A riddle by early Saturday based on Friday night's statewide results, but he said that turned out to be wishful thinking.
"In the end it was just looking more and more like it was Class 7A, so when it was announced, we were kind of surprised, to be honest with you," Piron said. "Our super math geniuses didn't figure it out like I thought, but we're playing an old conference foe, DeKalb, and that should be cool."
The Bulldogs and Barbs were Western Sun Conference brethren before going their separate ways in 2010. DeKalb needed a Week 9 win against Rochelle, 46-41, to become playoff-eligible at 5-4.
Like Batavia, Geneva – winners of six straight – is hot heading into the playoffs. Coach Rob Wicinski was delighted that the Vikings (7-2) earned a home game against St. Patrick (6-3) in Class 7A. In 2011, Geneva also was 7-2 and drew a nasty, first-round road game at Lake Zurich.
Wicinski said "I'm really happy for the players" regarding starting the playoffs at Burgess Field, and said he's known the St. Patrick coach – Dan Galante – for many years, through a mutual friend.
It was thought that St. Charles East would join Geneva in 7A but the Saints and Oswego tied as the smallest schools in Class 8A, the state's largest enrollment bracket.
East (6-3) will visit the north suburbs to face Stevenson (7-2) in the first round.
There was much discussion on Comcast's playoff pairings show about how cutthroat the northern half of the 5A draw is, and Kaneland (8-1) is squarely in the midst of that minefield. After beginning with a first-round home game against Hampshire (6-3), Joliet Catholic (second round) and four-time defending state champion Montini and Marian Central (quarterfinals) are among the name-brand programs the Knights could encounter before long.
St. Francis (5-4) also is in the 5A draw, having played its way in with a Week 9 win against St. Edward. The Spartans will make a short trip to unbeaten Glenbard South in Round 1. The Raiders had an undefeated regular season for the first time in program history but play in a considerably less grueling conference than St. Francis; all six Suburban Christian Conference Blue teams made the playoffs.
"I feel it's a good draw for us," Spartans coach Greg Purnell said. "It's close. Those kids know each other, and we've never played each other."
Marmion (7-2) earned a No. 5 seed in the upper part of the 6A bracket, and will host 6-3 Fenton, which finishes as runners-up to Glenbard South in the Metro Suburban Conference. While Cadets coach Dan Thorpe and his staff's prognostications had the team playing Prairie Ridge in the opening round, Marmion scouts still have seen the Bison in recent weeks.
Fourteen Marmion scout crews scattered the region down the stretch of the regular season after the Cadets clinched a playoff berth with a Week 6 win against St. Francis.
"That's one duty of being in the playoffs earlier than coming down to the last week," Thorpe said. "Once we beat St. Francis, we knew we were in so we could start preparing. I'm blessed with a tremendous staff and some wonderful fathers, so we've been scouting anybody and everybody."
SCC Gold member Aurora Central Catholic received a No. 10 seed in 4A. The 6-3 Chargers will visit 7-2 King in the first round. In Week 2, ACC defeated King's Chicago Public League counterpart Bogan, 42-7, at Lane Stadium.
"It's a good opportunity. We don't know much about them, but obviously the fact that they're 7-2, it'll be a good test for us," Chargers coach Brian Casey said. "Unfortunately we're in the spot where there's no test. It's pass or fail right now. But we're excited about the opportunity to be one of the teams competing for a state championship … and we like the fact that we have a chance."
A 3A entrant last season, ACC is making its second successive postseason appearance after snapping a 15-year postseason drought in 2012.
On the surface, Aurora Christian (6-3) has the unenviable task of playing a team that crushed the Eagles, 48-8, earlier this month. But Aurora Christian was decimated by injuries when it was blown out Week 7 at Suburban Christian Conference foe IC Catholic Prep (6-3), which will host the two-time defending 3A state champion Eagles in the first round of the 3A playoffs.
IC Catholic Prep is the 7 seed while Aurora Christian is the 10 in the northern half of the 3A draw.
Aurora Christian coach Don Beebe said confidence could be a hurdle against a team that recently dominated the Eagles, pending a variety of key doctor's appointments scheduled for this week.
"I think it all depends on who we get back," Beebe said. "If we had our whole team intact, nine, 10 guys back, it wouldn't be a confidence issue because they didn't play [last time], but we don't know who we're going to have back. That's the problem."
St. Charles North turned out to be one of 10 teams statewide to finish with a 5-4 record but not make the playoffs, based on strength of schedule. All five teams North beat – including South Elgin in Saturday afternoon's regular season finale – had losing records.
First-round game times and dates – Friday or Saturday – will be solidified on Monday. Per the usual, Wicinski is hopeful of playing on Friday, but St. Patrick would have to agree.
"I'll beg – I'll give them a couple touchdowns," Wicinski joked. "I might not have to do that. They might take them anyway."
Local football playoff first-round matchups
(Times and dates to be announced Monday)
(10) Aurora Christian (6-3) at (7) IC Catholic (6-3)
(10) Aurora Central Catholic (6-3) at (7) King (7-2)
(12) Hampshire (6-3) at (5) Kaneland (8-1)
(14) St. Francis (5-4) at (3) Glenbard South (9-0)
(15) DeKalb (5-4) at (2) Batavia (8-1)
(12) Fenton (6-3) at (5) Marmion (7-2)
(10) St. Patrick (6-3) at (7) Geneva (7-2)
(11) St. Charles East (6-3) at (6) Stevenson (7-2)