PRINCETON -- For the first time in over 20 years, there will be a week 12 for Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
The Panthers will travel to Princeton on Saturday for their first state quarterfinal appearance since 1998. The kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
"That's been huge. I think anybody around the community, especially that is close to the football program has really been mentioning that, which is awesome," PBL head coach Josh Pritchard said. "It goes to show you the support that we have from parents to brothers and sisters to cousins to aunts and uncles. Everybody's getting hyped about this. We hope we're not done. We hope to get to the semifinals. It's another step. We think we're a good football team, and hopefully, we can go out and prove it on Saturday."
Princeton has the No. 1 seed in the IHSA Class 3A North Bracket.
"We've seen some of the top-notch programs in the state," Princeton head coach Ryan Pearson said. "Our kids are pretty confident that if we bring our A-game, we're a pretty tough team to beat."
The Tigers go into Satruday's game with a 10-1 record.
"I think our kids are pretty level headed and pretty grounded. They know that being a No. 1 seed is a reward for all the hard work that they put into the offseason and the type of season they had leading up to this point," Pearson said. "They understand that's a reward for those efforts, but that doesn't mean much if you don't come out and back it up. Our kids are pretty humble kids. They're hard-working kids. They expect to do well. That's just the kind of group that we have, and that's kind of the mentality of our program right now."
Princeton and PBL each faced five playoff teams in the regular season.
Princeton's only loss came via a 25-21 score in week two against Sterling Newman Central Catholic, who is playing in the 2A state quarterfinals. One of their eight regular-season victories was a 49-7 blowout win in week seven over Kewanee, who made it to the second round of the 4A playoffs.
"They're obviously one of the better teams we've played this year. They're 10-1 for a reason," Pritchard said. "They've beaten some really good programs. We know it's going to be a tough game, but when you're in the final eight teams left in 3A, you know everybody's going to be really good."
The Panthers' only losses were to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley and Clifton Central, who each went to the second round of the 2A playoffs. Clifton Central goes into the quarterfinals with an undefeated record.
"We know that PBL's a good team," Pearson said. "Nobody makes a quarterfinal appearance that's not very talented, so we certainly know that we've got our work cut out for us this week."
Princeton went into the playoffs with an offense that averaged 43.2 points per game in the regular season before winning 61-26 in the first round of the playoffs.
Ronde Worrels has 1,525 rushing yards and 31 touchodwns while Tyler Gibson has passed for 1,711 yards and 14 touchdowns. Wyatt Davis had 43 receptions for 909 yards and eight touchodwns during the regular season.
"They put up a lot of points. They're really good on offense. They've got some big linemen. They've got a huge running back. They use three or four different kids that they give the football to when it comes to running the football. The quarterback can scramble. They can throw the ball a little bit," Pritchard said.
"They've got some really good, talented kids on their football team. We feel like we do, too, so we just hope that we can try to match up with them, and we know we're going to have to match their physicality because they're probably the most physical team we've played all year. We've got to figure out a way to make sure our kids are playing tough and downhill."
Drew Diesburg tied the single-season interception record by recording his sixth pick during last Saturday's 27-7 win over Farmington Central.
"We hope if they put the ball in the air, he can go and break that," Pritchard said.
The Princeton defense, meanwhile, allowed only 8.9 points per game during the regular season.
In the second round of the playoffs last Saturday, the Tigers shut out Spring Valley Hall by a score of 16-0.
"I think our defense has been extremely underrated all year. Our offense seems to get all the publicity," Pearson said. "Our defense has just been absolutely stellar all year. Hall's big and physical and trying to run at you, and I think we gave up only 40 yards rushing on 32 attempts. They certainly rose to the occasion yesterday, and they have all year. It's definitely been a strong suit for us."
The Tigers have two first-team all-conference linebackers ini Daniel Crowe, who has 107 tackles and four sacks, and sophomore Drew Harp, who has 110 tackles, including four for a loss of yards.
"Our linebacking core is pretty darn good," Pearson said. "They read well. They flow to the ball well. They're pretty sure tacklers."
Last Saturday's shutout victory was the Tigers' third of the season.
"Their defense is really stout. They've seen a little bit of every different type of offense, whether it's power or spread. They've seen it all," Pritchard said. "They've got some really tough kids that really get after it and they've got some nice athletes on the back end, so we know we're really going to have to sustain blocks when we run the football, and we're definitely going to have to put the ball on the money and put the ball in the air a little bit more than we have, especially last week, just because we know we have to keep them honest on both sides when it comes to running and throwing the ball. We just hope we can do that. Our kids are going to give their best effort, and we'll see what happens from there."
Along with Diesburg's record-tying interception mark, PBL senior quarterback Gunner Belt broke the single-season passing record with his 61 yards against Farmington Central. He now has 1,491 yards.
"If anybody knows PBL football, we know it's not a lot of yards, but it's enough yards to keep people honest," Pritchard said. "They've both been really talented players for us. We just hope they can continue to do that for, hopefully, three more football games."
The Panthers had 158 rushing yards in the first half against Farmington Central.
Hunter Anderson went into the game with 1,196 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns before scoring one rushing touchdown and another touchdown on a blocked punt last Saturday. Drake Schrodt had 33 receptions for 331 yards and eight touchdowns and 259 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns through the first 10 weeks of the season before scoring one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown against the Farmers.
"PBL's extremely athletic. I think they've got a lot of athletes that they try to get the ball to," Pearson said. "I think it's definitely important for our defense this week to make sure that we contain their athletes and don't give up the big play. PBL's got the athletes to be able to do that at any time."
While the Panthers will need to travel 138 miles to Princeton, the Tigers will be glad to be playing at home -- and not having to play a team they already played in the regular season.
Last Saturday's road win over Hall followed a 41-0 victory in week six over Hall.
"I certainly think that being able to play at home is definitely an advantage for us," Pearson said. "It's tough to beat a team twice."
Record — 9-2
How they got there:
Week 1 — GCMS (9-2) 32, PBL 8
Week 2 — PBL 52, Georgetown-Ridge Farm (3-6) 12
Week 3 — PBL 50, Iroquois West (1-8) 0
Week 4 — PBL 22, Seneca (5-5) 18
Week 5 — PBL 44, Momence (1-8) 7
Week 6 — PBL 42, Salt Fork (5-5) 0
Week 7 — Clifton Central (11-0) 29, PBL 14
Week 8 — PBL 43, Watseka (7-4) 15
Week 9 — PBL 41, Dwight (3-6) 21
First round — PBL 46, Chicago Carver (6-3) 6
Second round — PBL 27, Farmington Central (8-3) 7
Players to watch:
Hunter Anderson — He scored two touchdowns, including one on a blocked punt return, in the second half against Farmington Central.
Drake Schrodt — He scored two touchdowns against Farmington Central in the first half.
Drew Diesburg — He has six interceptions on defense, including one last week against Farmington Central.
Record — 10-1
How they got there:
Week 1 — Princeton 45, Fulton (5-5) 7
Week 2 — Sterling Newman Central Catholic (10-1) 25, Princeton 21
Week 3 — Princeton 49, Peru St. Bede (1-8) 7
Week 4 — Princeton 44, Orion (5-5) 0
Week 5 — Princeton 49, Sherrard (1-8) 14
Week 6 — Princeton 41, Spring Valley Hall (7-4) 0
Week 7 — Princeton 49, Kewanee (7-4) 7
Week 8 — Princeton 42, Monmouth-Roseville (4-5) 13
Week 9 — Princeton 49, Erie-Prophetstown (2-7) 7
First round — Princeton 61, Poplar Grove North Boone (5-5) 26
Second round — Princeton 16, Spring Valley Hall (7-4) 0
Player to watch:
Ronde Worrels — He had 1,447 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns as of the first 10 weeks of the season.
Tyler Gibson — He had passed for 1,628 yards and 13 touchdowns as of the first nine weeks of the season.
Wyatt Davis — He had 43 catches for 909 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Category Princeton PBL
Record 10-1 8-2
Enrollment 517 472
Opp. record 38-43 41-40
Playoff opps. 5 5
Avg. ppg. 43.2 35.1
Avg. opp. ppg. 8.9 14.9
Avg. point diff. 34.3 20.2
Cons. playoff app. 2 6
Playoff record 13-10 13-18