STERLING -- Normally, a matchup in the IHSA football playoffs places two teams unfamiliar with each other.
However, when Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Sterling Newman Central Catholic face each other in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs at 6 p.m. Saturday, it will mark the third straight year in which the two teams faced each other in the postseason.
"It has kind of become an annual foe for us," SNCC head coach Brandon Kreczmer said. "Playing in November, you're going to have to play against tough teams."
The familiarity between the two teams goes beyond past playoff matchups as Kreczmer and GCMS head coach Mike Allen have also met at football coaching clinics.
"He does a great job with their program," Kreczmer said. "They're well-coached and very disciplined. On offense, defense and special teams, they're going to do what they do. They're a smash-mouth team. They don't run a lot of exotic sets, but what they do run, they're going to execute it well because they're well-coached."
When Kreczmer was named the head coach of the Comets last offseason, Allen was one of the first coaches to congratulate him.
"He's just a great guy," Kreczmer said. "Coach Allen is just a good coach, but an even better person."
Kreczmer was the Comets' defensive coordinator last year. Mike Papoccia retired last December after 39 years as the head football coach at Newman Central Catholic.
"We have gotten to know him over the last couple of years," Allen said. "He's a class act and a great coach."
In each of the last two years, GCMS (9-1) has defeated SNCC (9-1) in a playoff game that came down to the final few minutes.
In 2017, the Falcons defeated the Comets 14-8 in the 2A state semifinals after scoring eight points in the fourth quarter to erase an 8-6 deficit. Last year, GCMS defeated SNCC 27-12 as Austin Spiller -- who now plays for Illinois Wesleyan University -- returned an interception for a touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
"We're motivated by getting another shot at them, but most importantly, we just don't want our season to be over yet," Kreczmer said. "Any time an athlete or anyone that cares about a program losing like that is obviously going to want to get over the hump eventually, but at the same time, we just don't want our journey to end yet. We've had a pretty successful season. GCMS has been a team that ended our playoff hopes the last couple of years, so we understand the task at hand is going to be a tough one. We're looking forward to the matchup."
The Falcons traveled 163 miles to face SNCC at Sterling High School last year, and will do so again on Saturday -- hoping for some warmer weather this time.
"That's a long trip, but it is what it is. We'll prepare for them and be ready on Saturday," Allen said. "Last year, it was freezing on the sidelines. I think we had four propane heaters. I don't think it's supposed to be that cold this Saturday."
The Falcons went on to win the 2A state championship both years. While they are in the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 years, the Comets are in the postseason for the 19th consecutive year, a run that includes three state championships.
"They're there for a reason. The two programs have a lot of respect for each other," Allen said. "It's going to be who gets off the ball at the line of scrimmage and controls the line of scrimmage and who has fewest mistakes."
During the regular season, GCMS's defense allowed only 5.1 points per game while SNCC allowed only 11.8 points per game.
"It's going to be a defensive battle," Allen said. "Both defenses are just extremely solid."
Both teams go into Saturday's matchup with run-heavy schemes on offense, as SNCC will go in with a wishbone offense.
"We have very similar offensive styles and schemes," Allen said. "They throw the ball a little bit more than they've shown in the past, but I don't think the coach has changed a whole lot up there. They're known for their wishbone, and they'll run it, and run it, and continue to run it."
During the regular season, the Comets scored 24.8 points per game while GCMS scored 28.8 points per game.
"We've added a couple of tweaks here and there, but we're still going to be a wishbone team that's, hopefully, going to run it right at you," Kreczmer said. "Anytime a team is playing in November, both teams are going to do what got them there. GCMS is a hard-nosed running team, but they can throw the ball around once in a while."
The Comets gained 237 yards rushing, including 136 of that in the second half, while holding the ball for 17:36 of the second half in last Saturday's 28-13 win in the first round of the playoffs over Orion.
"Fortunately, we've been able to have some good defense over the last couple of year. GCMS's is just as good, but anytime you can keep the ball out of an explosive offense's hands, that's kind of our best defense," Kreczmer said. "If our offense can hold the ball for six, seven or eight minutes at a team and keep GCMS's or anyone's offense off the field, we like that. Hopefully, we can play ball control and keep their explosive offense off the field."
In its victory last Saturday over Rushville-Industry, GCMS gained 272 net rushing yards while holding onto the ball for 21:50.
"We haven't had any turnovers," Allen said. "Our offensive line is playing well and getting off the ball. We're controlling the clock, which is nice, keeping their offense off the field. We're putting together some drives. We need to put together a string of first downs and put the ball in the end zone."
Aidan Laughery had three first-half rushing touchdowns for GCMS, finishing the first-round game with 98 yards on 13 carries while Payton Kean rushed for 73 yards on just eight carries.
"I've seen Laughery at state. I know how fast he is," said Kreczmer, who also coaches track and field for SNCC. "They've had the speed guy and the power guy. They're both very explosive. We've got to gang tackle. We've got to get 11 hats to the ball and make sure they get to the ground."
Cade Elliott, GCMS senior quarterback, threw for 111 yards in week nine against Deer Creek-Mackinaw and 112 yards in week eight against El Paso-Gridley.
"He's really what makes their team go. He throws with confidence," Kreczmer said. "He really executes their offense to a tee, but they're going to run what they've run all year. I don't expect to see much different because why would you change anything that's been successful the last couple of years."
TALE OF THE TAPE
Category SNCC GCMS
Record 9-1 9-1
Enrollment 374.55 320
Opp. record 47-34 44-37
Playoff opps. 6 4
Avg. ppg. 24.8 28.8
Avg. opp. ppg. 11.8 5.1
Avg. point diff. 13 23.7
Cons. playoff app. 19 7
Playoff record 66-25 21-16
Record — 9-1
How they got there:
Week 1 — SNCC 20, Spring Valley Hall (7-3) 6
Week 2 — SNCC 25, Princeton (9-1) 21
Week 3 — SNCC 27, Kewanee (7-3) 26
Week 4 — SNCC 50, Manlius Bureau Valley (0-9) 7
Week 5 — Morrison (10-0) 18, SNCC 6
Week 6 — SNCC 28, Taylor Ridge Rockridge 4-5) 7
Week 7 — SNCC 28, Orion (5-5) 6
Week 8 — SNCC 14, Port Byron Riverdale (4-5) 7
Week 9 — SNCC 25, Fulton (5-5) 8
First round — SNCC 28, Orion (5-5) 13
Players to watch:
Connor McBride — He had a 24-yard touchdown run last Saturday against Orion and received a halfback pass for another score.
Kye O'Brien — He scored two rushing touchdowns against Orion.
Brady Stevens — He intercepted a pass for Newman's defense against Orion.
Record — 9-1
How they got there:
Week 1 — GCMS 32, PBL (7-2) 8
Week 2 — GCMS 35, Eureka (7-2) 10
Week 3 — GCMS 34, Heyworth (3-6) 7
Week 4 — Fieldcrest (9-0) 14, GCMS 6
Week 5 — GCMS 42, Fisher (7-2) 0
Week 6 — GCMS 22, Tri-Valley (4-5) 7
Week 7 — GCMS 42, LeRoy (3-6) 0
Week 8 — GCMS 27, El Paso-Gridley (2-7) 0
Week 9 — GCMS 19, Deer Creek-Mackinaw (2-7) 0
First round — GCMS 48, Rushville-Industry (6-4) 0
Players to watch:
Aidan Laughery — He had three first-half rushing touchdowns and finished with 98 yards on 13 carries last week against Rushville-Industry.
Payton Kean — He rushed for 73 yards on just eight carries last Saturday.
Isaiah Chatman — He had six carries for 35 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday.