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Week-by-week matchups to get excited about across The Times area this fall

Intriguing matchups fill the calendar from Week 1 to Week 9

Streator's Darryl Gullens (1) fends off Reed-Custer's Josh Bohac (24) with the help of teammate Aneefy Ford at SHS Athletic Fields on Friday, October 8, 2021.

With the IHSA’s official release of its 2022 football schedules, now seems like the perfect time to get out a calendar, a highlighter and a crystal ball to look ahead at this fall’s top games, week-by-week, across The Times coverage area.

Editor’s note: Dates and times are as currently scheduled, but recent history suggests they are subject to change.

Week 1: Aurora Christian (6-4 in 2021) at Marquette (9-2 in 2021), Friday, Aug. 26, 7 p.m.

A pair of Class 1A playoff qualifiers in 2021 meet in Week 1 of the 2022 season in what should be a telling matchup between teams that made the postseason but saw their runs end early at the hands of powerhouses. Incidentally, the teams that eliminated Aurora Christian (Lena-Winslow 54-7 in the first round) and Marquette (Fulton 55-14 in the second round) met in last year’s 1A quarterfinals, with Lena-Winslow triumphing 54-28.

Week 2: Ottawa (2-7) at Streator (3-6), Friday, Sept. 2, 7:15 p.m.

It’s the second year back for the state’s third-oldest football rivalry after a seven-year hiatus. If last year’s Route 23 Rivalry game was any indication — a 28-23 Streator victory in Ottawa — this 98th meeting of the Pirates and the Bulldogs should be a good one. This first meeting of the rivals in Streator since 2012, it is also tentatively slated to be the night Streator renames its football stadium after longtime NFL player and broadcaster Doug Dieken.

Week 3: Seneca (4-5) at Salt Fork (6-4), Saturday, Sept. 10, 1 p.m.

Last season’s Seneca Fighting Irish had a lot of young players in key spots, and partly because of that the team lost a couple games it probably could have won and missed out on a possible playoff berth. A competitive, 49-28 Week 3 loss to eventual playoff qualifier Salt Fork was a turning point of sorts for Seneca, which closed the season winning four of its final six and will be looking for a stronger start to 2022.

Week 4: Fieldcrest (0-9) at Eureka (6-4), Friday, Sept. 16, 7 p.m.

Last year’s Veterans Bowl — with both Fieldcrest and Eureka celebrating its students who have, are or will serve in the military — was an anomaly, with the Hornets dominating 41-0 in Minonk a handful of months after Fieldcrest stunned the Hornets with a last-minute field goal in front of a packed house in Eureka during the COVID-caused spring season of 2021. The Knights will be hoping to return to the HOIC’s upper echelon under new head coach Nick Meyer.

Week 5: Marquette (9-2) at Hope Academy (6-4), Friday, Sept. 23, 7 p.m.

The Eagles and Crusaders football programs have been in each other’s orbit for the past decade or so as past members of the Northeastern Athletic Conference and frequent foes for playoff positioning. This matchup frequently winds up being one of the better games on the schedule for both programs, and this late-September meeting at Chicago’s Altgeld Park should be more of the same.

Week 6: Peotone (5-5) at Streator (3-6), Friday, Sept. 30, 7:15 p.m.

The third of three straight competitive losses after a 3-0 start last season that punched potholes all over Streator’s road to the playoffs, 2021′s 26-20 Blue Devils win in overtime over the Bulldogs was a great game that ended the wrong way for the locals. It’s also the type of matchup this fall’s Bulldogs will have to find a way to win if they want to be in the playoff picture the final third of the season.

Week 7: La Salle-Peru (5-5) at Ottawa (2-7), Friday, Oct. 7, 7:15 p.m.

Always a highlight on the schedule and a heated battle, the Cavaliers and Pirates aren’t set to meet until the home stretch of the season this year. It will mark the 123rd recorded meeting of the La Salle County archrivals, this one with L-P coming off a playoff run and Ottawa coming off its first multi-win season since 2015. The Cavaliers have won the last seven meetings, including a 28-0 shutout win in Week 3 of 2021.

Week 8: Seneca (4-5) at Clifton Central (6-4), Friday, Oct. 14, 7 p.m.

The Fighting Irish stunned the Comets in Week 8 of last season, defeating playoff-bound Clifton Central convincingly, 30-14, and taking away a likely home Week 10 game for the Comets in the process. While a postseason berth was for all practical purposes out of Seneca’s reach in Week 8 then, the Fighting Irish hope that will not be the case this time around, making this a potential must-have showdown for the Vermilion Valley Football Alliance North Conference foes.

Week 9: Woodstock (4-5) at Ottawa (2-7), Friday, Oct. 21, 7:15 p.m.

While a playoff trip may or may not be on the line for either of the Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight White rivals in this regular-season finale, a close, down-to-the-wire ballgame is almost a guarantee given the recent history of the Blue Streaks playing the Pirates. Last season’s meeting — in a scheduling quirk also at Ottawa’s King Field — came down to the final minutes, with Woodstock stopping Ottawa 1 yard short of a first down inside the 20 in the final 93 seconds of a 24-20 victory.