HERSCHER — Although Seneca could have gotten to the five-win plateau by beating Herscher Friday on the road, it knew winning out might be necessary for a playoff berth.
Any hopes the now 4-4 Fighting Irish had of that happening went out the window with a 31-23 loss at Herscher. And they are now in a position where even a win over 5-3 Manteno this Friday will likely not be enough to end a playoff drought that is over a decade old.
The IHSA projects that 27 of the 32 playoff bids in Class 3A are already gone to teams that have either have clinched or will clinch conference championships or that already have six wins. Another five teams projected to go 3A already have five wins. All of them have more opponents' wins than Seneca's 32. Of the seven other 3A schools that are also 4-4, none have fewer opponents' wins than the Irish.
"I don't know if we can (still get in.) I know it will be tough," Irish running back Bo Taylor said when asked about the team's playoff chances after Friday's loss. "We'll have to take care of business ourselves and just see what happens."
Short of a mass reclassification of bubble schools, the Irish must have a series of breaks go their way in Week 9 to get in. They would need one or both of Carterville and Robinson — 5-3 teams who currently have just one more opponents' win than the Irish — to lose to 2-6 West Frankfort and 1-7 Edwards County, respectively. Seneca can still surpass both of those teams in opponents' wins by beating five-win Manteno.
Moreover, Paxton-Buckley-Loda, St. Thomas More, Staunton, Riverton and North Mac are all 4-4 and uncatchable for the Irish in opponents' wins, so Seneca needs all or all but one of them to lose to have a chance. Lisle, which is also 4-4, would surpass the Irish in opponents' wins if it upsets 6-2 Sandwich and the Irish also win. Only Pana, with 36 opponents' wins and a date looming with 1-7 Hillsboro, is catchable for the Irish in opponents' wins should it win this week.
And to have any chance, the Irish must also defeat Manteno this Friday. The Panthers will visit Seneca with wins over playoff hopefuls Lisle, Peotone and Plano to their credit. Their losses have come to teams (Coal City, Herscher and Sandwich) with a combined record of 17-7.
"You never know what's going to happen with playoff points, how it's all going to shake out," Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle said last Friday. "We can't think about that. We have to think about Manteno and about getting a win."
If Seneca's playoff bid falls short, the Herscher game may not be remembered in quite the same way as Seneca's 27-20 Week 2 loss to Peotone, when the Irish let a 20-7 lead slip away, but the Irish were left hurting after Herscher outscored them 21-10 in the second half. The Irish had their backs to the wall early against the Tigers, falling behind 10-0 with 2:49 still left in the first quarter, but they rallied for a 14-10 halftime lead.
"Nobody has more heart than this team," said Seneca defensive lineman Ryan McRaven, who had one of Seneca's two fumble recoveries.
When Herscher got off to another fast start in the second half, scoring on its first possession to retake the lead, the Irish again had an answer. Taylor broke off a 55-yard run for a Seneca lead which proved fleeting. Herscher scored touchdowns on its next two possessions, and the Irish were held to an Austin Applebee field goal the rest of the game.
"That's exactly it. We just couldn't get a stop in the second half," O'Boyle said. "We made some big plays in the first half when we needed them but we didn't make enough of them in the second half."