2023 IHSA playoffs: Steve Soucie’s Class 3A first-round analysis

Princeton's Gavin Lanham runs the ball Friday night at Bureau Valley.

In contrast to past seasons, the Class 3A bracket isn’t chock full of undefeated teams entering the postseason.

Byron comes into the fray playing completely dominant football and is the only undefeated squad on the top side of the bracket.

The south bracket has two stalwarts in DuQuoin and Greenville in its undefeated ranks and a relative newcomer to this lofty territory in Roxana.

First-round matchups

Byron vs. Noble/Hansberry: Byron is averaging nearly 60 points a game and giving up a little over five which certainly doesn’t bode well for the fortunes of Noble/Hansberry who is making its first ever playoff appearance.

Pick: Byron

Crane vs. Peotone: Crane is making its first appearance in the postseason since 2005 and have never won a postseason game in school history. Peotone is looking for its first postseason win since 2017 and looked poised to get it with its punishing ground game.

Pick: Peotone

Noble/Johnson vs. Stillman Valley: Noble/Johnson’s defense actually looks pretty impressive on paper as it tossed five consecutive shutouts in the middle of the season. But in its only foray outside of the CPL it was drubbed 50-6. Stillman Valley’s season showing is a little bit behind what the Cardinals are used to but the Big Northern slate should have given them adequate preparation for this matchup.

Pick: Stillman Valley

Durand-Pecatonica vs. Oregon: Yes, Durand-Pecatonica’s losses both came to Class 1A teams, but they came at the hands of arguably 1A’s two best teams (Lena-Winslow and Althoff). Oregon’s season has been tough to read as it started 2-3 before regrouping to win three of its last four games to punch its ticket into the field.

Pick: Durand-Pecatonica

Princeton vs. Paxton: Princeton is tied with Kankakee for the fewest points allowed to an opponent and look to ride that defense into a deep run in the playoffs. Princeton’s offense isn’t exactly a slouch either and that combination could be rough on Paxton who has been outscored by opponents this season and won just one of its final four games.

Pick: Princeton

North Boone vs. Monmouth: North Boone climbed a few notches on the expected rung ladder in the Big Northern Conference but it remains to see if that will translate to some playoff success. Monmouth emerged for a playoff berth out of a compacted Three Rivers group around the .500 mark but had to break out of a late three-game losing skid to do so.

Pick: North Boone

North Lawndale vs. Prairie Central: North Lawndale’s lone loss during the regular season was by just one point to Payton, but issues of competitiveness remain with any CPL school that qualified out of the White Divisions of that league. Prairie Central sort of backed into the postseason by losing its final two games, but those losses came to quality foes.

Pick: Prairie Central

Montini vs. Eureka: Montini is back in the postseason and looks extremely dangerous as an entrant in the Class 3A field. Montini hasn’t played a single school smaller than a Class 4A enrollment all season. Eureka is almost also in the opposite boat having played largely Class 1A level competition in its conference.

Pick: Montini

DuQuoin vs. Monticello: DuQuoin didn’t qualify for the playoffs in 2022, but the proud program announced its return to being a prominent program once again by maneuvering a perfect regular season. Monticello didn’t have a strong a season as the Sages are accustomed to, but certainly are more dangerous than most No. 16 seeds certain can be.

Pick: DuQuoin

Williamsville vs. Tolono Unity: Is this a misprint? Two of the state’s most prominent Class 3A programs locking horns in the opening round. Neither quite had the seasons they usually do, but each program’s two losses weren’t exactly to slouches. Whomever advances from this game will be a difficult team for the rest of the field to dispatch.

Pick: Williamsville

Mount Carmel vs. Benton: Mt. Carmel was largely dominant in conference play with its lone loss coming at the hands of Gibson Southern, a small school powerhouse in Indiana. Benton looked destined to be an also-ran this season after it started 1-3, but the offense kicked it into gear in Week 5 and its closed its season with four wins in its last five games.

Pick: Mount Carmel

Sullivan vs. Clinton: Sullivan switched conferences to the Lincoln Prairie to the Central Illinois and found it liked the feel of its new home, rattling off eight consecutive wins before ceding the conference championship to Arthur in Week 9. Clinton, a former conference mate of Sullivan, has put together a solid season after starting 1-2 and has no trouble posting points, scoring 212 in its last five games.

Pick: Clinton

Greenville vs. Fairfield: Greenville has been the only consistent program in the South Central Conference this season and that’s largely thanks to a defensive unit that didn’t allow more than 20 points to any foe. Fairfield has been fighting off its fifth loss since Week 5 after it dropped to 1-4 on the season. Fairfield was 0-4 against playoff bound teams.

Pick: Greenville

Stanford Olympia vs. Litchfield: Olympia has evolved into one of the upper tier teams in the highly competitive Sangamo Conference and were right in the thick of things in the two games it did lose (Maroa-Forsyth and Athens). Litchfield, who snapped a 47-plus game program winning streak just last season, continues its rapid ascension by qualifying for the playoffs as a six-win team.

Pick: Stanford Olympia

Roxana vs. Paris: Roxana emerged as one of the state’s more surprising undefeated teams. The Shells were last undefeated in the regular season in 2003 just before going into a program swing that had them miss the postseason for 11 consecutive seasons. Paris picked up its third loss in Week 5, but has played considerably better in the second half.

Pick: Roxana

St. Joseph Ogden vs. Carlinville: St. Joe Ogden’s advancement past the first round of the playoffs last season was the first time since 2015 that the Spartans had survived and advanced. That’s a deviation from this program’s history who routinely saw the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds. Carlinville went 2-3 against playoff bound teams this season and has struggled keeping quality teams off the scoreboard.

Pick: St. Joseph Ogden