Washington takes perfect record into playoffs
Matchup with Park Forest Rich East set for Saturday afternoon
After devouring its nine opponents in the regular season, the Washington football team is focusing on the playoffs.
The Panthers, seeded No. 2 in the upper bracket, will make their third consecutive postseason appearance after compiling a 9-0 record thus far that includes the program’s first Mid-Illini Conference title since 1994.
Awaiting in the first round is 15th-seeded Park Forest Rich East (6-3).
That contest will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday at Babcook Field.
WCHS head coach Darrell Crouch said the best thing to come out of the pairing was drawing an opponent the Panthers have not played this season.
Rich East is a member of the Southland Conference.
“They’re primarily a team that’s going to run the ball,” Crouch said of the Rockets.
Rich East has a lot of team speed Washington will try to contain.
The Panthers just played Springfield, a team that also possessed some quickness.
“I thought the defense did a great job,” said Crouch.
Rich East placed third in the league with a 3-2 mark, losing to champion Crete-Monee and Southland second-place team Kankakee.
The Rockets, who averaged 20.7 points per game and surrendered 13.3 ppg, did not beat anyone with a winning record this year.
Washington may have an advantage in the passing game since Rich East has not faced a team as well-suited as the Panthers in that department with quarterback Isaac Fisher and his arsenal of receivers.
“It depends on how we protect the QB,” said Crouch.
Washington will have to find out in the running game if toss plays to Justin Riley or running straight at the Rockets with Colton Underwood is the most productive.
Panther placekicker and punter Toni Ramadani could be a weapon. If he can continue to find the end zone on kickoffs, the Rockets’ speed element will be diminished on returns and they will have to work harder to penetrate a Washington defense that yielded double-figure points only twice.
Washington, the 1985 state champion and ’83 runner-up, will make its 23rd all-time playoff appearance.
Rich East is making its 14th appearance overall and fifth in the last six years. The Rockets qualified in 6A in ’05, ’07 and ’08.
Washington and Rich East never have met.
The biggest Panther win of 2009 was a 28-7 decision Sept. 4 over state-ranked Metamora that ended a 19-game losing skid to the neighbors to the north.
Besides the Redbirds, Washington also defeated playoff teams Dunlap (31-2), East Peoria (10-0) and Springfield (35-0).
Altogether, the Panthers have outscored their foes 332-57.
Washington, ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press Class 5A state poll, has won its first-round game the last three times it has made the playoff field.
The unblemished regular season was the Panthers’ first since 1993.
Washington has a chance for the program’s fifth 10-win season.
The Washington-Rich East winner meets either No. 7 seed Sterling or 10th-seeded LaSalle-Peru in the second round Nov. 6 or 7.