The Three Rivers has a new look this year, with Mendota joining the conference from the Big Northern and Fulton departing for the NUIC.
Those changes prompted another, as the TRAC did away with the Rock and Mississippi divisions for an East/West alignment, similar to what the conference has done in other sports.
Those changes mean a new set of rivals for Three Rivers teams, with Erie-Prophetstown getting the honor of welcoming the new guys to the league with a Week 1 trip to Mendota.
“We have very little information on them right now,” Panthers coach Jesse Abbott said. “With the shortened season in the spring, there weren’t a lot of opponents that they played that I have a lot of contact with to see if I could get some film or talk to some people. We have a little bit of a connection with Rock Falls, but I have hardly anything yet other that some hearsay or looking back at their old records.”
Newman will get a chance to see the Trojans in Week 8 on the turf at Mendota.
“We don’t know much about Mendota, but thankfully, we play them kind of late in the year, so we’ll get some film on them,” Newman coach Brandon Kreczmer said.
The conference also reshaped its divisions this year, so Erie-Prophetstown’s Week 2 game at home with St. Bede, in years past a Mississippi Division matchup, now will be a crossover game. The Panthers’ games against Rockridge (Week 4 at home), Orion (Week 5 on the road), Riverdale (Week 6 at home) and Morrison (Week 9 at home) are all now divisional games.
The Panthers had Morrison as a crossover last year and Rockridge as a crossover in 2018, but, of course, both the Rockets and Mustangs have gone through coaching changes since then.
“Orion will be new, Orion we haven’t played in I don’t know how many years,” Abbott said. “We did have Riverdale two years ago as a crossover, so we are familiar with a lot of the teams.”
For Bureau Valley, that means intra-county games against Princeton (Week 8) and Hall (Week 9), as well as the rival just down I-80 in St. Bede (home, Week 6) are now divisional games.
One of the new divisional rivalries is in the East, where Newman, the Class 2A state champ in 2019, will play annually against Princeton, the top-ranked team in the state in Class 3A in the spring 2021 season. The Comets and Tigers meet October 1 in Princeton.
The last two meetings between the two have been remarkable for their second-half comebacks. The Comets trailed 21-10 in the 2019 meeting before bouncing back for a 25-21 win. When they next met on April 18, 2021, Newman took a 14-13 lead into halftime before Princeton scored twice in the second half for a 28-14 win.
“Just another knock-down, drag-out game with Princeton,” Kreczmer said. “Coach Pierceson does a great job with those guys. They have a lot of great athletes coming back. It’s always a playoff-like atmosphere playing them.”
The Three Rivers also welcomes a new coach in Morrison’s Steve Snider. He gets thrown into a rivalry game right off the bat when the Mustangs visit Newman on a Saturday night in Week 1.
“Every opening night is special, but playing Morrison that first game, especially with the new coach, is going to be a fun night,” Kreczmer said.
After Morrison opens on the road, and then plays back-to-back road games with Hall and Sherrard weeks 4 and 5, the Mustangs are home for three straight games, facing Rockridge, Orion and Riverdale.
The other new wrinkle for Erie-Prophetstown is where the Panthers will be playing their home games. In years past, the Panthers have played a couple of games in each city every season. This year, the Panthers will play all of their home games in Erie, where they typically practice, and in 2022, the Panthers will practice and play all of their home games in Prophetstown.
“I think this was kind of a compromise between the two schools, maybe not what either school wanted most, but maybe the best compromise,” Abbott said. “It does add some stability with practice in Erie, that’s where all our equipment is. But going to Prophetstown, they have a great facility, but we’re only there four or five times a year. It was tough to get a feel for it. So being able to have an established home field each year, that will give us a better advantage at home.”
For Newman, there are Saturday games Week 1 and Week 3 (against Orion) but the rest of the schedule will be Friday night. That is a contrast to the 2019 season, where the Comets, after a Week 6 Friday night visit to Rockridge, played the next seven games on a Saturday, only breaking that string with a Friday afternoon game in DeKalb in the state championship.
“I always enjoy have the extra day of preparation, obviously, but most games are under the Friday Night Lights,” Kreczmer said. “We have one less day to prepare, but it’s all the same.”