Analysis | Friday Night Drive

NewsTribune-area top games to watch week by week

The first games of the 2022 Illinois high school football season kick off in less than two months.

The IHSA released the statewide schedule on Thursday, and looking at the schedule, here are the top matchups to watch in the NewsTribune area over the nine-week regular season.

Week 1: Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley at Fieldcrest

Two Heart of Illinois Conference powers will renew their rivalry after not playing in 2021. Both are coming off down seasons as the Knights went 0-9 last season and the Falcons went 4-5 and both have a new coach making his debut with alumnus Nick Meyer taking over at Fieldcrest and Chad Augspurger takes the reins of GCMS from long-time coach Mike Allen.

Week 2: La Salle-Peru at Metamora

The Cavaliers and Redbirds duked it out in a tough defensive battle last year with Metamora winning 14-7 at Howard Fellows Stadium. This time, the Cavs travel to Metamora’s Malone Field as the two 2021 Class 5A playoff qualifiers face an early test.

Week 3: Kewanee at St. Bede

The Bruins bring a solid nucleus— including all-area quarterback John Brady — from last year’s team that was in the mix in the Three Rivers Conference East Division. St. Bede kicks off the conference season with the Boilermakers, who earned a share of the league crown last season.

Week 4: Princeton at Mendota

Aside from the Tigers’ lone regular season loss, no one played Princeton tougher than the Trojans did last year. This game will be a big test for Mendota, which graduated the bulk of its starting lineup from last year’s playoff team.

Week 5: Kewanee at Princeton

One of the state’s traditional rivalries will have a little more meaning for the Tigers this season as they look to avenge their lone regular season loss from 2021 that forced the Tigers to share the TRC East title.

Week 6: Bureau Valley at St. Bede

The Bruins pulled out a hard-fought 13-7 win over the Storm last season in Manlius. This fall, Bureau Valley will travel to Peru to play on the big stage of St. Bede’s traditional Saturday afternoon homecoming game.

Week 7: La Salle-Peru at Ottawa

One of the state’s oldest rivalries returns to Ottawa after the last two games were played at L-P’s Howard Fellows Stadium. The last time the Cavaliers played at King Field in 2019 they beat the Pirates 35-14 to secure their first playoff berth since 2009.

Week 8: Hall at St. Bede

The old cliché is to throw out the records in rivalry games. That proved true last season with the Bruins and Red Devils. St. Bede finished 8-3 and Hall went 1-8, but the Red Devils managed to play the Bruins tough before St. Bede escaped with a 15-12 victory.

Week 9: La Salle-Peru at Kaneland

The Cavaliers have gone 5-4 in each of the last two full regular seasons so there’s a good chance the finale at Kaneland could have playoff implications whether L-P is still looking for a fifth win to become eligible, a sixth win to earn an automatic spot or looking for another win to improve seed.