Imagine my surprise when lowly Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin decided to take the field on Saturday against Class 5A state title behemoth Montini Catholic. How dare they.
SHG lowly? Sure, if you happen to read my site's message boards or follow any number of experts on Twitter over the past several weeks. According to many the real Class 5A state title game was played a few weeks ago, depending upon your leanings and loyalties.
My favorite? EDGY Tim said that. Really? Where? When? How?
I learned a long, long time ago that when you host one of the most active, entertaining, frustrating and opinionated high school football message boards in the state (country?) you will get accused of things you just flat out never say or even imply. It comes with the territory. Guilty by association. But hey let's stick to the subject on the table.
No one with any sort of feel or take on Class 5A would ever discount the Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin Cyclones. I never have and never will, I know better. SHG and Hall of Fame coach Ken Leonard have been one of the state's most consistent Class 5A powers for years now. Year in and year out, the Cyclones have talent and are always a factor come state playoff time no matter who plays across from them.
The issue I had and still have regarding not specifically the Cyclones, but the state playoff system in general? Geographics. I said it on playoff pairings night on live TV and I'll say it again right now for you. The playoff system as far as I'm concerned remains flawed. Teams shouldn't have to face the same teams and take the same playoff path week in and week out, year in and year out. My point isn't just for Springfield but it's also for Rockford, Chicago, Cairo and all points in-between. Seed the entire state playoff field, take location out of the equation and let's truly see who makes it to the state finals. Simple.
It's impossible to make a case on whether SHG truly benefitted from playing in a geographically balanced south of I-80 state playoff bracket. If you went according to the various Class 5A polls, the bracket that SHG played in was, shall we say, less than overwhelming. The upper bracket features the likes of Montini, Joliet Catholic, Sycamore, Kaneland, Marian Central Catholic, Lincoln-Way West and Kaneland just to name a few. Even the heartiest of well below I-80 Class 5A fans would admit that's a loaded side of the bracket.
Yet here was Sacred Heart-Griffin, taking it to Montini Catholic on Saturday, ending the Broncos' reign in Class 5A as the Cyclones posted an impressive 38-28 win. Was the whole easy path cries motivation for the Cyclones? No question and good for you SHG. Disrespected? No question you were and I'm sure the state title feels even a bit more sweeter compliments of the many haters who around midway through the second quarter on Saturday suddenly became quiet.
In the end? Regardless of opinion, regardless of North or South or even East or West, you still need to beat whoever is in front of you.
And for all of you upper bracket fans, you might want to keep an eye on the Cyclones in 2014. SHG welcomes back 10 starters from this state title team including standout junior QB Gabe Green and OL Quinn Oseland. I promise you no matter what that playoff path looks like come 2014 in Class 5A, pencil in Sacred Heart-Griffin at the top of any playoff bracket.