By Chris Johnson


MENDOTA – The Winnebago Indians, with a win over the Mendota Trojans on Friday night, Oct. 23, 46-25, now prepare for life in the post-season, opening on the road, in Elmhurst.

Just a few seasons back, the road into the State Quarterfinal for Winnebago and a meeting with Aurora Christian began following a win over Immaculate Conception.

A win in the second round allowed the Indians to move to the final four.

The road ended, but picked back up the following season with another visit into the quarterfinal round.

The Indians are thought of by many as a very dangerous team to have to face in the State Tournament. The squad is young, but they have gown up this season.

Winnebago lost their season opener to St. Joseph-Ogden. They are 9-0 on the season and the Spartans are the number one seed in the Class 3A South Region.

The Indians other losses came to two-year’s removed State Champion Stillman Valley, as well as to 9-0 Rockford Lutheran and 7-2 Byron.

Indians Head Coach Mark Helm said the team has improved greatly from game one to game nine. The players got stronger and faster.

Weekly play, in the highly competitive Big Northern West, helped assure the Indians would be ready for the post-season, according to Helm.

“I and the other coaches are very proud of the performance of the kids. I know the expectations were there from everyone, the town, the media, maybe others who didn’t believe we could get here. I say it every year. You never know who is going to come out of this Conference. In the Big Northern West, every night is going to be a battle. It’s a phenomenal conference and you are battle tested when the season ends.”

With a young team, though, the mistakes still show up from time to time, Helm said.

On Friday night, as the Indians were wrapping up their fifth win, the coaching staff began looking at some of the numbers. There was an early indication, according to Helm, that the team would make it into the playoffs and would not be considered the last team in, simply because of a 5-4 mark.

The talent is there to make a move. The Indians just have to be ready to do what they need to do to make sure they get the chance to keep the season alive, Helm expressed.

“It is one of those things. You are always looking for improvement. As coaches, you are never going to be happy with where you are, the level you are at or how good you are. We need to see a level of improvement each time we play. I know we are getting better, but how good we are, or can be, I don’t know.”

Against Immaculate Conception, who won the Metro Suburban (West) Conference, with an 8-1 mark, the Indians will have to contend with an offense that averages over 40 points a game.

The Knights, however, have allowed around 18 points a game over the last three, compared with just over six points a game, on average, in their previous four contests.

An eight-game win streak helped assure Immaculate Conception would get another crack at Winnebago in the playoffs. This time, the game is in Elmhurst.

The winner from the opening round match moves into the Sweet 16 with a date against the winner of the contest featuring Elmwood-Brimfield and DePaul College Prep.

If the Indians win, they will be home in their round two game if the top seeds play out and Elmwood-Brimfield defeats DePaul College Prep this weekend.

A win in the round of the Sweet 16 would push Winnebago down the line with possibly two former victors, Byron and St. Joseph-Ogden, waiting, if both continue to play on in the tournament, as well.

A second round won’t happen, if the Indians don’t pay attention to what they need to be doing right now, Helm expressed.

“My concern is that we are giving up points. We have to solidify our defense and our special teams. The other night we gave up two kick returns, we can’t do that and expect to win. We have to get better.”

The 2015 Class 3A State Tournament runs through late November, with the eight class Championships being held on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign.

The possibility exists for a Big Northern West semi-final, if both Byron and Winnebago win into the final four.

The Tigers would have to win their opener against the Lisle Lions, followed by a probable upset of the number one seed Wilmington Wildcats.

If the Tigers pushed through Wilmington, they would, potentially have to face the Sterling Newman Central Catholic Comets, again, in the round of eight, before they could hope to have a chance to face Winnebago again.

The road is long for the Winnebago Indians and it starts this weekend in DuPage County.10-23 Bago vs Mendota

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