Unlike a lot of high school sports in Illinois, a team has to qualify for the playoffs in football. Basically, win the conference, automatic bid. Win at least six games, automatic bid. Sleep with the right people, get an at large invitation. Sorry, did I type that out loud?
Then it all goes to hell.
The seedings in the brackets are based on a bizarre, unfathomable point system that can rank a team which finished third in a conference AHEAD of a team that finished second. Even when the team that finished second [as well as the team that finished first] BEAT the team that finished third. WTF?
Needless to say that happened to the high school I have been following. My alma mater. My friends' son's school. They finished the conference higher and get seeded lower in their playoff bracket.
Another thing I discovered is the way they group the schools. I thought the groupings were based on total school population. Nope. It's only based on the number of boys who are eligible to play football. At least that one makes sense.
So, to make this long story short -- or not, you never know -- my high school ended up seeded 8th in the top of two brackets of 16 for their group. They should have been seeded seventh.
Why does this matter? Because of who they have to play in the next round. But first, the play by play of the first playoff game last night.
Short version: once again they came from behind with less than a minute remaining. If the triple overtime win was considered the best game of the year by one of the columnists, last night was the second best game for me.
Long version: 0-0 at halftime. Unexpected for a team that has scored over 40 points almost every game. Lots of missed opportunities, fumbles, bad passes. Helpful holding calls against their opponents. Finally. 7-0 [my team] in the fourth quarter. Nothing fancy. Then a fake punt for a first down by the other team to continue their own 96-yard drive for a touchdown. Followed by a trick formation which gave them a two point conversion and the lead: 8-7 with three minutes to go.
Next my friends' son went on a mission. In his previous twoyears as a freshman and sophomore tailback, his teams had only one loss during that whole time, when he was knocked out early with a concussion against the team they were now playing. It was payback time.
First he ran back the ensuing kick off for 38 yards. Then he ripped off four more carries for 22 yards. Usually he splits time with the senior tailback. But the fullback was injured. So the two tailbacks lined up together, stacked in the backfield. Something everybody has wanted all year. Senior at fullback. Junior at tailback. One has been called the best back in the conference by an opposing coach. The other has been called a locomotive by one of the reporters. If they both wear the same color socks, it's hard to tell them apart. Two more carries for nine yards. Now they're in the red zone. Thirty three seconds left. The train leaves the station. Touchdown. They go for two and make it. But it's called back for the umpteenth holding call. The second attempt for two goes awry. 13-8. 22 seconds left. Yes, there's a kick off. Yes, the other team has a chance to score on a Hail Mary. But they don't. Game over.
Now my alma mater has to play the undefeated number one seed which has racked up 22 INTs this year. And just beat their first round opponent 39-0. Great. Meanwhile the team that came in third behind my team in their conference -- a team my team beat -- is playing a lower seed. Not fair.
A total of 13 points separates my team's 8-2 season from a perfect 10-0. Both times they lost they were coming back. Once they were butt up against the endzone. To quote Vince Lombardi: "They didn't lose the game, they just ran out of time."
The team hasn't been ranked all year. Their head coach gets no respect. Not that he deserves it. But it's starting to become obvious. Probably because his teams have been knocked out of the playoffs in the first round way too many times for the talent he gets. This year they made it to the second round.
The rest of their coaches sum up the problem as they see it, comparing this team from an affluent area to their opponents, with taunts like, "They eat nails; you eat cake. You eat cake for breakfast. You eat cake for lunch. You eat cake for dinner."
So far, the team has proved resilient, knowing they can come from behind and win. They never, ever quit. But it will take a miracle for them to get through to the next round.