Paxton-Buckley-Loda has been cruising so far in the playoffs.
In fact, the only real drama has taken place prior to the games instead of during them.
Prior to PBL winning 46-6 over Chicago Carver in the first round of the IHSA Class 3A playoffs, nobody knew for sure whether a game would be played because Carver is a Chicago Public School, which was dealing with a teacher's strike that almost forced Carver to forfeit.
Before the Panthers won 27-7 over Farmington Central in the second round last Saturday, the game's opening kickoff was delayed for 45 minutes due to PBL's team bus breaking down in the middle of a 100-plus mile trip.
Once the games started, however, it was, more or less, smooth sailing as PBL outscored Carver and Farmington Central by combined 60 points.
By no means whatsoever do I expect things to be the same -- at least not during actual playtime -- when the Panthers visit Princeton for the state quarterfinals.
By all means, Princeton is a top seed in the 3A North Bracket for a reason. It is a team that went 8-1 through the regular season against a schedule that, like PBL's, featured five playoff teams. The Tigers went into the playoffs averaging 43.2 points per game while allowing only 8.9 points per game on defense, and shut out Spring Valley Hall in a 16-0 win last Saturday.
Their only loss was via 25-21 score to a Sterling Newman Central Catholic team that is still alive in the 2A playoffs, and one of their victories was a 49-7 blowout in week seven against a Kewanee team that reached the second round of the 4A playoffs.
The Panthers had two losses in the regular season via a 32-8 score to Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, which entered the season as the two-time 2A state champion and reached the second round of the 2A playoffs this year. They led GCMS at halftime in that game.
In week seven, PBL lost 29-14 to a Clifton Central team that has not lost yet and will play in the quarterfinals of the 2A playoffs.
So here we've got two teams that have taken care of business in most of their games and competed against some top competition.
While Princeton does deserve its top ranking, it should be pointed out -- and it was pointed out during the IHSA's Playoff Pairings Show prior to the playoffs -- that there were no undefeated teams in the 3A North Bracket.
In the past three times in which PBL made it to the second round of the playoffs, it had a much tougher road to the state semifinals than the Panthers have this year.
In 2016, they lost to an Elmhurst IC Catholic team that went on to win the 3A state title that year and in 2017, and won the 4A state title last year. Last year, they lost in the second round to an undefeated and highly-ranked Carlinville team.
Even if PBL was able to get past a lower-seeded team in Bloomington Central Catholic in the second round of the 2015 playoffs, it would have still had to face an undefeated team in St. Joseph-Ogden.
While I picked PBL to win that game against BCC, I did pick IC Catholic and Carlinville to win their respective playoff games against PBL.
You can say it's because I don't want to shave my beard, and it's true that I'd like to have my beard protecting me from the cold Illinois weather, but I don't like picking against the Panthers unless they're a heavy underdog.
While Princeton does have the advantage in terms of overall record and average point differential -- and, for what it's worth, enrollment by a margin of 517-472 -- PBL has more tiebreaker points as its opponents went 41-40 while Princeton's opponents went 38-43.
The Panthers also have more recent playoff experience. While they are in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1998, it is their sixth straight trip to the playoffs, whereas it is only the second straight playoff year for Princeton after the Tigers went 7-4 last year.
Last week, I flipped a coin regarding both PBL's game against Farmington Central and GCMS's game against Newman. For the record, the coin favored picking Farmington to beat PBL and GCMS to beat SNCC.
At least in terms of PBL's game, I'm glad I didn't use the coin flip to make my pick, and won't use a coin this week.
Instead, as the Panthers seek their fifth straight victory after winning four games I've predicted them to win, I'll just paraphrase a quote from Bull Durham character Crash Davis and say that you don't mess with a winning streak.
Projected score: PBL 22, Princeton 21