DWIGHT -- Last Friday, Paxton-Buckley-Loda clinched a playoff berth with a win over Watseka.
This upcoming Friday, the Panthers will seek a home game for the first round of the playoffs as they travel to face Dwight in their regular-season finale.
"The season comes and goes pretty quickly," PBL head coach Josh Pritchard said. "We want to get to our seventh win so we can hopefully try to host a playoff game."
The IHSA released its playoff outlook for after week eight, and if the playoffs started today, PBL would be the No. 15-ranked team in Class 3A. The Panthers have 38 tiebreaker points, the most among all 6-2 teams in 3A.
"We feel like we've put ourselves in a good situation," Pritchard said. "Now, it's just dictated by winning week nine, and then how the teams fall into the bracket. We're just going to play whoever shows up."
Though an 0-5 start to the season has cost Dwight a playoff berth, the Trojans have something to play for going into Friday's regular-season finale against PBL.
"Our goal has been to finish the season 4-0," Dwight head coach Luke Standiford said.
The Trojans go into Friday's game on a three-game winning streak.
"We have been playing a lot better on both sides of the ball the last three weeks," Standiford said. "We hope to carry the momentum we have into Friday night and send these seniors out the right way, with a win."
The last three opponents Dwight played have a combined record of 2-22.
"I'm excited to be playing one of the best teams in the conference this week," Standiford said. "Our team needs to find a way to beat a very good football team, which is something we haven't been able to do this year.
"PBL is a very good football team. They are physical on defense and do a great job stopping the run. Offensively, they run the ball very well and their quarterback is a playmaker. We will have to play our best game this week to come out on top."
Last year, PBL entered its regular-season finale against Dwight with a 6-2 record, but lost 22-7 to a Trojans team that clinched a playoff berth with their victory.
"I think our kids are ready to play," Pritchard said. "I think that's really in the back of our kids' minds, and they don't want that to happen again this year."
Hunter Anderson scored two rushing touchdowns against Watseka while Gunner Belt produced three touchdowns, including two passes.
"They also have a talented wide receiver corps to spread the ball around to," Standiford said.
"Our run game got going pretty well," Pritchard added. "We've got to get our passing game back on track, too. It's just one of those things we have to try to continuously get better each and every day. Hopefully, we'll hit our best stride going into the playoffs, and that's what we're going to try to do in week nine."
Carson Crouch had 147 yards on 23 carries and went 3-for-4 passing for 73 yards for Dwight last week in a 32-8 win over Hoopeston Area/Armstrong-Potomac. Daniel Gutierrez scored three rushing touchdowns.
"Our go-to guy has been Carson Crouch," Standiford said. "He will play a big role in what we do offensively. Daniel Gutierrez has really stepped up the last few weeks on both sides of the ball. He is our team captain and does a lot for this team week-in and week-out."
"They've still got a couple of running backs who can carry the football," Pritchard added. "Crouch is just an absolute animal with the ball. We just hope we can contain some of their running game, because if not, it's going to be another long one."
The Panthers counter with a defense that yielded no points to Watseka in the second, third and fourth quarters.
"We obviously played pretty well against Watseka's run game," Pritchard said. "We just hope we can carry that over to the week nine game."
The Panthers had not allowed a second-half defensive touchdown in five of the eight games played this year.
"Our second halves have been pretty darn good this year," Pritchard said. "If we can continue to do that in the second half of ballgames, we're going to give our team a chance to win a lot of ballgames. Maybe it's halftime adjustments. Maybe our kids are just ready to go, but either way, they fly around in the second half. These kids just don't want to lose football games, and anytime you've got kids who hate losing, you're going to be pretty darn good."