St. Teresa didn't intentionally seek out a prominent program for Week 1.
It just happened to be one.
IHSA unveiled this year's football schedules on Thursday and the Bulldogs will open their season at Downs Tri-Valley on Friday, August 25.
Last year, the Vikings ended the regular season undefeated and were ranked No. 1 in Class 2A as the defending state champions before falling to DuQuoin 42-28 in the second round.
“I know they've been really good and I think they have a lot of kids returning,” St. Teresa coach Mark Ramsey said. “They'll be a tough first opponent. They run a version of wing-T and I heard they're really good and physical, so we'll have our hands full.”
It won't be a new experience for St. Teresa.
The Bulldogs debuted last year at home against Tolono Unity, which had then qualified for 22 straight playoff appearances, and won 27-0 before rolling to the Class 1A state title game against Forreston.
“We'll be on the road this time, but it'll be a big test for us,” Ramsey said.
It was an open slot this year because Tolono Unity joined the new Illini Prairie Conference, which eliminated any room for non-conference games.
In came Tri-Valley.
“We were just looking for opponents and they were open and we were open,” Ramsey said. “We went ahead and took it.”
It generally appears to be a difficult schedule for St. Teresa, which opens Central Illinois Conference play against Warrensburg-Latham on Sept. 8 and two of its last three games include Tuscola and Shelbyville. However, those three games are at home.
“It's about the same,” Ramsey said of the schedule. “I think a lot of our tougher games are at home, so that's a plus. It'll be a tough, tough schedule.”
Crosstown rivals Eisenhower and MacArthur will kick off the year against each other, again.
Except it won't be on Millikin University's turf. Eisenhower will play host this time around on Saturday, Aug. 26 at 6 p.m. and it will be televised on the CW.
“It's interesting to get them Week One,” Eisenhower coach Drew Wagers said. “Obviously, we would like to play them later in the season to have a build up in the rivalry. “(But) it's an exciting opportunity for the area to come out because we're playing them on a Saturday evening.
"I think we get a good draw with it being the first Saturday of the season. It's fun, too, because neither have film on each other. It's a mystery as to what they're going to do and what we're going to do.”
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And just like last year, the Panthers, who have made two straight postseason appearances, will finish the regular season against Rochester and Sacred Heart-Griffin.
“You know you've got to play them, but the one downside to it is if you're rolling into the playoffs, those are the last two teams you want to expend all your gas on because you've got to bring everything you've got against those guys,” Wagers said.
A couple of area teams will have a much different slate than last year.
Monticello will now be part of the Illini Prairie — a collection of schools from the Okaw Valley and Corn Belt — while Lincoln will join the Apollo alongside Mahomet-Seymour.
It will make for some long trips for Monticello, at least initially.
The Sages will visit Stanford Olympia (which is 1 hour and 5 minutes away) and Chillicothe Illinois Valley Central (which is 1 hour and 45 minutes away) for their first two games of the season. Still, they have the familiar Okaw Valley faces: Champaign St. Thomas More, Rantoul, Tolono Unity and St. Joseph-Ogden.
For Lincoln, it's a breath of fresh air after a long rut without a playoff appearance in the formidable Central State Eight.
“It's exciting having a new era for us and get to see new teams,” Lincoln coach Matt Silkowski said. “I think that's something as a football program that we're excited about — kind of a fresh start.
“Whatever's happened in the past in the Central State Eight is behind us now. Last year we played with a cloud over us because it was our last year in it. Now it's time to move on.”
It allowed the Railers to schedule three non-conference games that wouldn't have been possible in the CS8. Lincoln will have its season-opener at Macomb and later host Urbana and Freeburg near the end of the year.
But it doesn't mean Lincoln will reap immediate victories. It will run into Mount Zion, Mattoon, Effingham and Taylorville all in sequence to start conference play.
“It doesn't guarantee us wins,” Silkowski said. “It gives us a better opportunity to compete every week.”
-- Mount Zion, the defending Apollo Conference champions, will host Taylorville in a conference finale for both teams on Oct. 13.
-- Maroa-Forsyth will play at Williamsville on Sept. 8 and conclude its regular season at Virden North Mac on Oct. 20. All three teams tied for first place in the Sangamo but North Mac got the tiebreaker.
-- Pana hosts Carlinville in Week 4 and Vandalia in Week 9. All three finished tied atop the South Central but Carlinville won the tiebreaker.