PAXTON -- The winner of Friday's high school football matchup between Paxton-Buckley-Loda and Watseka clinches a playoff berth.
According to the IHSA's playoff outlook, PBL has the No. 16 spot in Class 3A -- after week nine, 32 teams in each class will play in the postseason -- with a 5-2 record and 33 tiebreaker points, the most among 5-2 teams in 3A.
Watseka has the No. 15 spot in 2A with 30 tiebreaker points, tied with the second-most among 5-2 teams in 2A.
"Right now, we're playing for seeding purposes. We haven't guaranteed ourselves to get in yet," Pritchard said. "This would be our sixth win, so we can guarantee ourselves in, then we can worry about trying to get farther along into November, like we've been talking about all year."
With two weeks left in the regular season, PBL is seeking a higher goal than just reaching the playoffs.
"We want to prove that we're actually a pretty good team and continue to win football games so we can try to get a home playoff game," Pritchard said.
The Panthers are 3-0 so far at Zimmerman Field.
"I think we play a lot better at home," Pritchard said. "That energy that you get from your home crowd is always nice. We hope it's not our last home game, but we know we have to take care of business in the last two weeks to even give ourselves a chance for a home game in the playoffs."
The Warriors, meanwhile, started their season by winning their first five games. However, they will enter Friday's contest on a two-game losing streak after losing 20-0 last week to Seneca.
"We are working toward fixing our mistakes and getting better in aspects of the game we need to improve on if we want to put ourselves in a position to beat PBL," Watseka head coach Aaron Hilgendorf said. "We need to tackle better and run the ball better on offense. We also need to improve on our special teams. That will be our focus this week."
The Panthers are also coming off a loss after the No. 2-ranked team in 2A, Clifton Central, defeated them 29-14.
"I think our kids are ready to get back at it. I know they're pretty upset with themselves and how the game finished, so I think they're ready to punish another football team and get back at it," Pritchard said. "That's what I got from them Saturday -- that they were ready to go on to the next week and let our anger out for losing a football game. Hopefully, on Friday, we can put on a nice show for our home crowd.
"We've talked about it all year -- after you play a game on Friday night, you've got to look forward to the next week. Talking with our kids on Saturday and (Monday), they're definitely excited. It's senior night -- for a lot of them, it could be their last home game. I think we're pumped up. We know that we can come out and try to beat another quality opponent."
Hilgendorf said his team is looking forward to the upcoming game as well.
"This is a conference matchup that we look forward to each year," Hilgendorf said. "They are a very good team, that is well-coached and has many good players that can cause problems defensively and offensively. We play similar styles this season and (It) will come down to execution and which team takes care of the football."
The week prior to its loss to Clifton Central, PBL defeated Salt Fork 42-0 as quarterback Gunner Belt and receiver Gavin Coplea set single-game passing and receiving records, respectively.
"As always both lines will play a big role," Hilgendorf said. "They have some very good skill players in (Hunter) Anderson, Coplea and (Drake) Schrodt. Belt is a good quarterback who can be a runner and a passer for them. They do a good job."
The Panthers' shutout was their second of the season.
"Defensively, their front is very active and (Dalton)Busboom does a really good job in the middle," Hilgendorf said.
Watseka's quarterback, Drew Wittenborn, threw for more than 200 yards in three of the Warriors' victories.
In a 45-14 victory over Dwight in week five, Wittenborn threw for 376 yards and six touchdowns.
"That's just crazy in high school football," Pritchard said.
Conner Curry caught five passes for 131 yards that game while Justin Bunting added five catches for 91 yards.
Wittenborn threw for 266 yards in week four as Watseka defeated Oblong/Hutsonville/Palestine 40-0 and tossed for 229 yards and three touchdowns as the Warriors won 35-7 in week three over Momence.
"Their quarterback can zing the ball around," Pritchard said. "They've got a nice, quick scatback who can definitely make some kids miss and has some blistering speed. They've got some really nice wide receivers who can catch the ball. They've had different kids score 70-yard touchdowns."
Jameson Cluver had 71 rushing yards against O/H/P. In a 35-7 win in week two over Salt Fork, Cluver had 177 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries while Bryce Denoyer added 132 rushing yards on 11 carries.
"We're going to have to do a lot to contain their passing game, but if we give up the run like we did this past week against Clifton Central, it's going to be a long game, anyway, so hopefully, we can shut down that and try to make them one-dimensional," Pritchard said. "We'll see what we can do."
"Our offensive and defensive lines -- (Caden) Giroux, (Ashton) Bowling, (Shawn) Farris, (Andrew) Soucie and (Tylor) Durflinger -- will have to play well," Hilgendorf added. "Our quarterback, (Drew) Wittenborn, will be key for us and some of our skill players, (Justin) Bunting, (Jameson) Cluver, (Conner) Curry, (Brayden) Haines, (Ethan) LaBelle and (Bryce) Denoyer, could all play a big role. We try to spread the ball out a lot between those players."
Haines, 6-foot-2 junior receiver, stood out to Pritchard on film as well.
"That dude is a great wide receiver," Pritchard said. "We're going to have to make sure that we don't let him loose."