This year’s version of the Illinois High School Football State Championships could be considered a reunion of sorts.
Counted among the 16 entrants in this years finals are a virtual “Who’s Who” in the Illinois High School landscape.
And the pedigree of most of these teams hasn’t come of decades of toil, this group includes many teams that have brought home the heavy hardware in recent seasons.
However, a storied program has returned to the finals this season to reclaim its place at the head of the table. The Morris Redskins claimed their 11th state championship title game berth with a win over Chicago Raby in the semifinals, restoring the Redskins to the title fray for the first time since 2012.
Morris is one of just six schools to make 11 state championship final appearances, joining Chicago Mount Carmel (17), Joliet Catholic (17), Providence Catholic (13), East St. Louis (11) and Wheaton Warrenville South (11) in that exclusive club.
But the Redskins are far from alone from having an impressive postseason pedigree in this group of teams.
Rochester has racked up six titles in the last seven seasons and will go for a repeat and a seventh overall against the Redskins in the Class 4A final.
Maroa-Forsyth will also add a ninth state championship trophy and it is hoping to add its third trophy when it challenges GCMS for the Class 2A title.
Recent dominance is on display in the Class 8A final. Lincoln-Way East, who has not missed the playoffs since the program’s inception in 2002, also has a title and a runner-up to its credit and it will challenge a Loyola (two titles, four runner-ups) program that always seems to have itself in the mix this time of year.
Someone will earn their second state championship in Class 7A where Batavia (one title, one runner-up) and Lake Zurich (one title, three runner-ups) will lock horns in a battle of top-flight defenses.
And for Prairie Ridge (two titles) a second consecutive year of absolute perfection is on the line in the Class 6A final as the Wolves have won 27 consecutive matchups heading into the state final against a Nazareth (two titles) program that has quite an impressive pedigree of its own.
In Class 5A, Chicago Phillips (one title, one runner-up) will be looking to double down. After becoming the first Chicago Public League team to win the state final in 2015, Phillips will look to be the first team to win two titles for the CPS.
Class 3A has an IC Catholic (three titles) squad is the third team gunning to defend a state championship attained in 2016, while 1A pits a pair of small school titans in Lena-Winslow (two titles) and Tuscola (two titles, three runner-ups).
But sometimes a reunion needs to embrace some new blood. And this year’s field isn’t lacking for it. Three teams will be making their first state championship game appearance in Dunlap (Class 5A), Pleasant Plains (Class 3A) and Gibson City-Melvin Sibley (Class 2A).
Dunlap has been a consistently strong program in the Mid-Illini Conference typically dominated by Washington and Metamora, but the Eagles were able to break through thanks in large part to a strong defense. GCMS, on the other hand, has had a number of teams capable but unable to break through.
But perhaps the most intriguing Cinderella story belongs to Pleasant Plains. The Cardinals have been making history in each round as a No. 16 seed. They are the first school in IHSA history to advance to the title game as a No. 16 seed. Not too shabby for a program that began in 2003 and is making just its sixth appearance in the postseason.