The Hall Red Devils and St. Bede Bruins will be loading up the bus for the first round of the IHSA football playoffs. They hope that road leads to another week or two.
Hall will embark on a 160-mile, nearly three-hour bus trip to downstate Bismarck-Henning in a Class 2A opener, kicking off at 2 p.m. Saturday. The game will feature the Red Devils (6-3) of Hall vs. the Blue Devils of Bismarck-Henning (9-0).
St. Bede makes a little shorter trip to Winnebago, kicking off at 7 p.m. Friday.
Hall (6-3) at Bismarck-Henning (9-0): The Red Devils finished the season strong, winning four straight games under second-year head coach Randy Tieman to wrap up its first playoff appearance since the Gary Vicini era in 2008. Hall, a two-time state champion, seeks its first playoff victory since a 28-13 win over Paxton-Buckley-Loda in 2006.
Bismarck, which jumped from No. 10 to No. 5 in this week's AP 2A Poll was the Vermilion Valley Conference champions, going 6-0 in league play. The Blue Devils have outscored their opponents by a 34.9 to 13.2 margin of victory this season.
“Bismarck is a good football team. They have very good speed and size. We will have to be at our best to control their run game,” Tieman said. “We will have to respond after a long bus trip. I have no doubt our kids will show up and give a great effort.”
Coach Mark Dodd said the 9-0 season has been some what of a surprise coming off their 2012 conference championship.
“We were not expected to do it again after graduating so many starters,” Dodd said, noting the Blue Devils had three games they trailed in the second half. “The matchup with Hall should be a good one. They are very talented and are capable of making a lot of big plays. The Devils are more of a grind it out type of team, so ball control will be important.”
Bismarck-Henning is a co-op program with an enrollment of 324. Bismarck is located 12 miles north of Danville.
St. Bede (5-4) at Winnebago (9-0): It’s safe to say the Bruins are happy to be here. It appeared they would come up short on playoff points, but the Bruins sneaked in as the second to last team in the field of 256 teams.
“I hope our kids look forward to it. We’ve worked for it all year for it,” St. Bede coach John Bellino said. “We knew we were a young team. We made mistakes towards the end here, but yet played well at the beginning of the season, and we played well at times at the end of the season. We just made critical mistakes. I don’t know if it was pressure or not. It’s fun to have one more shot at it.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is they drew an opening round game at Winnebago, which jumped from No. 10 to No. 2 in the AP 3A Pool and seeded No. 1 in the top 3A playoff bracket.
“They’re (seeded) No. 1 team in 3A football. Big team, grind ‘em out, score a lot of points. We’re going to have to find a way to score points, too,” Bellino said.
When asked how the Bruins will do that, Bellino said, “Well right now, we’re not sure. We’ll take what they give us. You can’t tell how fast they are through the tapes. They’re just a very solid football team right now and very large.”
After a 4-1 start, the Bruins limped to the finish line, dropping three of their final four games. Two losses came to a pair of playoff teams — Rockridge (9-0) and neighbor Hall (6-3).
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