The 6 most intriguing IHSA football playoff matchups in the Peoria area

The Peoria High Lions celebrate Thursday's win in Peoria Stadium on Oct. 21, 2021. Peoria High pulled ahead in the final quarter and won 40-35.
Adam Duvall
Journal Star

Welcome back, playoff football.

The 2021 version of the Illinois High School Association playoffs is here. There are 25 teams from Class 1A to Class 7A in the Peoria area that earned up playoff berths.

Here are the six most intriguing Peoria-area playoff matchups:

Chicago North Lawndale at Deer Creek-Mackinaw

Dee-Mack's Gabe Scheuermann tries to run the ball as Eureka's Rylan Bachman grabs him during Friday night's game on Oct. 22, 2021. The Hornets beat the Chiefs 29-20.

Dee-Mack (6-3) is back in the playoffs for the first since 2017 and host a postseason game. Dee-Mack is coming off Friday's 29-20 loss to Eureka, but will look to start fresh in Class 2A against a team from the Chicago Public League.

Lawndale (6-3) went 5-0 to win the Illini Heartland division.

"The most important thing is it's just been so long for Dee-Mack to get into the playoffs," second-year Dee-Mack coach Cody Myers said, "and then now we have an opportunity do it in front of everybody that has supported us through this entire journey."

Statewide pairings:IHSA football playoffs 2021: Playoff pairings, schedule, game times

El Paso-Gridley at Farmington

Farmington (9-0), the Prairieland Conference champs, gets a visit from the Titans (5-4) of the Heart of Illinois Conference for a Class 2A game. Farmington is as equally dangerous on offense (averaging 45.1 points a game) as they are on defense (allowing 8.6 points).

"We've been in (Class) 3A for awhile," Farmington coach Toby Vallas said, "and always been like the smallest (school). It's nice to be in 2A and see what the difference is.

"Like I told our kids, 'We think there's a lot of teams we can beat and we also know there's a lot of teams that can beat us, so we better make sure we play our best.' "

The Farmers also get another chance of suiting up in the home uniforms. 

"Getting a home game is awesome," Vallas said. "Being at home is comfortable for us, obviously. Just a home playoff game for your seniors after what they went through last year is awesome."

Elmwood/Brimfield at Chicago Clark 

Elmwood (6-3) will hop on a bus and head to the Windy City for a Class 3A playoff game, their 10th appearance since 2010. Coach Todd Hollis says he's seen a little tape on the Chicago Public League - Illini Prairie State runner-up.

Clark (8-1), in many ways, mirrors the style of Elmwood/Brimfield.

"It's a power running team," Hollis said. "It looks like small-school football. They line up in two backs and wishbone. Big kids. Powerful.

"It's kind of interesting we're going to have to drive to the city to play old school football."

Peoria-area pairings:Where and when Peoria-area teams play in the IHSA football playoffs

Peoria Notre Dame at Wheaton St. Francis 

Peoria Notre Dame's Joey Mushinsky and Jack Sager celebrate a touchdown during Thursday's game in Peoria Stadium on Oct. 21, 2021. Peoria High pulled ahead in the final quarter and won 40-35.

PND (6-3) makes its 10th successive playoff appearance and gets to visit Metro Suburban-Red Conference runner-up St. Francis (7-2) in the Class 4A first round. The teams have a common opponent: Peoria High, which lost to St. Francis in Week 2, 51-26 and beat PND, 40-35 in Week 9.

"They're a lot like us," Irish coach Pat Armstrong said of St. Francis. "They're a good football. We're very similar in the way that we do things. Two Catholic schools against each other in the first round. We're really similar."

He says the Irish making the playoffs has become a point of pride for the program.

"It's become a tradition of excellence here at the school," Armstrong said, "and they know they're a part of it."

Highland at Morton

Morton quarterback Seth Glatz heads down the field for his fifth touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter Friday, Oct. 22, 2021 at Dunlap High School. The Potters defeated the Eagles 42-7.

Morton coach Tim Brilley is quite familiar with Class 5A first-round opponent Highland. He spent the first five seasons of his coaching career as an assistant at Breese Central, which is just south of Highland.

Highland (5-4) also this season faced Washington, which shared the Mid-Illini Conference championship with Morton (7-2). Washington beat Highland, 30-20 to open the season, then beat Morton, 35-14 in Week 5.

"It's a big deal to be at home," Brilley said, "obviously starting off going into the playoffs with some momentum. We played pretty well at home.

"They're on fire. I expect it to be a pretty good environment."

'You made history':Morton football ends three-decade Mid-Illini drought

Chicago Morgan Park at Peoria High

Peoria High Head Coach Tim Thornton addresses the Lions following Thursday's win in Peoria Stadium on Oct. 21, 2021.

Peoria High (7-2), the Big 12 Conference runner-up, gets a chance to play another game at Peoria Stadium with a Class 5A first-round game. Peoria High will plays its fourth home in five games at home, having averaged 46 points a game in October home games. 

"It's always been a good time having playoff games at the Stadium," Peoria High coach Tim Thornton said. "The good thing about the playoffs is there is less and less teams playing.

"There's more and more people get to come out and check you out. A little more exposure, a little more excitement. Definitely looking forward to it."

Morgan Park (6-3) won the Chicago Public-Illini Red Bird and has been stingy on defense, giving up 15.4 points a game this season.

"They've got some tremendous athletes on their team," Thornton said. 

Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at aduvall@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.