Practicing during the final week of October is the goal of every Illinois high school football team.

Practicing during the final week of October is the goal of every Illinois high school football team.

The Mid-County Cougars join 255 other teams across the state this week in preparing for the opening round of the IHSA football playoffs.

“It’s awesome,” Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart said of being on the practice field. “In talking to the kids, they are happy about it, but probably what makes it sweeter is last year to be so close and not make it.”

Mid-County secured its playoff berth by rallying from a 14-0 deficit to defeat perennial power Mercer County 28-21 Friday night in Aledo.

M-C quarterback Jake Varner had three rushing touchdowns in the win, and Tucker Sams grabbed a scoring pass from Varner as the Cougars finished the regular season 6-3 and bound for the postseason.

“As a group, there wasn’t any finger pointing or complaining. It was all positive,” Denhart said of the early deficit at Mercer County. “The result of that game was because of how our kids came together.”

The Cougars earned their playoff berth by beating two of the LTC’s elite programs in the final two weeks.

“The first day we start practice, we talk about respect. And those two — those are the big names,” Denhart said of Stark County and Mercer County. “Those are names I knew before I knew where ROWVA was.”

M-C’s opening round assignment in the Class 3A playoffs takes them to Poplar Grove to meet the 7-2 North Boone Vikings. The game kicks off at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.

The Vikings are led by one of the state’s premier quarterbacks, Britton Morris.

“The key to that team is they have a quarterback that can do it all,” Denhart said. “He’s the best quarterback we’ve seen this year.”

Morris can riddle opposing defenses through air and with his feet.

“The biggest key is containing him (Morris) and that’s going to be difficult, but our defense has been playing well,” Denhart added. “Offensively, no turnovers. Even when we’re doing things well, we commit too many turnovers on offense.”


M-C by the numbers

The Cougars were balanced on offense at Aledo, finishing with 294 total yards — 181 rushing and 113 passing.

Cooper Hoxworth led the Cougars with 78 yards on 12 carries. Jake Varner added 60 yards on 10 carries and Jason Clark finished with 41 yards on eight attempts.

Through the air, Varner was 5 of 11 for 113 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Raige Ballard had two catches for 107 yards, while Tucker Sams grabbed a touchdown pass and tallied the go-ahead two-point conversion.

Dane Libby topped the defensive chart with eight tackles and two assists. Varner added six tackles, Payton Haynes five tackles and five assists, and Parker Taylor five tackles.

Gunner Spivey had an interception for the M-C defense. 


Around the LTC 

In the final week of Lincoln Trail Conference play, Princeville secured the outright conference title with a 42-6 romp over Ridgewood.

Ridgewood finished 5-4 overall and the Spartans were playoff eligible, but came up short with 34 playoff points.

Also in the LTC Friday night, West Central notched its first win with a 52-0 rout of United and Annawan-Wethersfield grabbed second place with a 45-14 win over Stark County.

Conference and overall records in the LTC are Princeville 7-0/9-0, Annawan-Wethersfield 6-1/6-3, Mid-County 5-2/6-3, Mercer County 4-3/5-4, Ridgewood 3-4/5-4, Stark County 2-5/3-6, West Central 1-6/1-8 and United 0-7/0-9.


Final LTC fresh-soph 

results, standings

In the final week of fresh-soph action, Princeville defeated Ridgewood 46-14 in a showdown for the LTC title.

The Princes finished 7-0 in conference and a perfect 9-0 overall, while Ridgewood slipped to 5-2 in the LTC and 6-3 overall.

Also Monday night, Mercer County defeated Mid-County 34-6 and Stark County handled Annawan-Wethersfield 36-6.

The final conference and overall records in the LTC are Princeville 7-0/9-0, West Central 5-2/7-2, Mercer County 5-2/6-3, Ridgewood 5-2/6-3, Stark County 3-4/4-5, United 2-5/4-5, Annawan-Wethersfield 1-6, 1-8 and Mid-County 0-7/0-9. 


LTC playoff matchups

Here are the opening-round matchups for the four LTC teams to qualify for the playoffs.

Aurora Christian (6-3) at Annawan-Wethersfield (6-3), 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.

Polo (5-4) at Princeville (9-0), 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.

Mercer County (5-4) at Illini West (9-0), 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.

Mid-County (6-3) at North Boone (7-2), 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.