DECATUR — Summer may have only just begun, but the countdown to football season is on.
The first football Friday is a mere 60 days away (as of Monday), and there are just 42 days until the first team practices can begin on Monday, Aug. 12.
The IHSA recently released each team's nine-week regular season schedule, which will lead to playoff pairing announcements that will be made Saturday, Oct. 26. Here's a look at some of schedule highlights from several teams from around the area.
Eisenhower returns home
After being forced to play their home games at neutral locations last season, the Panthers expect to be back on their home field for the 2019 season.
"(The district) has done a lot of work on the field in the year-plus that they have been working on it. It really looks pretty good right now and we plan to play all of our home games on it at Eisenhower," Eisenhower athletic director and football coach Steve Thompson said. "It's been a pretty steady process since last fall and right now it looks really good."
The Panthers finished 0-9 last season and will be looking for their first victory since Sept. 8, 2017 when they face off against Jacksonville on Aug. 30 in Week 1.
Eisenhower will have five home games this season, including a Week 8 city game against MacArthur on October 18. Millikin University's Frank Lindsay Field hosted the city game in recent years, but it will return to Eisenhower this season.
"It will be back on a Friday night," Thompson said. "We are excited about that one."
Thompson was named the Panthers' head coach in January after previous head coach Curtis Graham announced his resignation in November. Thompson's first off-season with the team has gone well as he is expanding the roster of interested athletes.
"To be honest, our summer has been a pleasant surprise. We have a good number of kids at workouts and they are buying into what we are asking them to do and they are doing a good job with it," Thompson said. "We are hoping that we have between 50 and 60 this year and we will go from there."
MacArthur will open its season on the road at Springfield High on Aug. 30.
St. Teresa, Clinton have open dates Week 2
Week 2 will be in an interesting one for two Central Illinois Conference teams. St. Teresa and Clinton both have open dates on their schedule following opposing teams pulling out of their scheduled non-conference games.
Last season, the Bulldogs played Varna Midland (River Valley co-op) in Week 2 and defeated the Timberwolves 68-6. The teams would have met again on Sept. 6, but in April, Midland's School Board voted to leave the River Valley co-op and the football program was disbanded.
"We are looking for opponents but the chances are slim that we will find one," St. Teresa athletic director Todd Vohland said. "We have talked to one school, I'm not going to say who it is, and they might make a decision, but I'm not sure if it is going to work out or not."
Currently, the game will be marked as a forfeit win for St. Teresa and the team will not receive any playoff points for that game.
"We wouldn't get any playoff points but at the same time they didn't give us any playoff points last year because (Midland) was 0-9 last season," Vohland said. "There are pros and cons but the bad side is losing a home game. Luckily, this is a year where we had five home games and four on the road, so we still have those four home games."
Clinton lost its Week 2 opponent, Pawnee, because that program moved to 8-man football. The Maroons have also been looking for an opponent to fill the opening.
"There were schools that called but they were ranging from Class 7A to 8A and they wanted to come down and play" Clinton football coach Chris Ridgeway said. "We were concerned about the risk of injury as far as playing schools that big, and so we didn't feel that we should accept those offers."
The idea of having the Maroons and Bulldogs play for a second time next season (they are already scheduled to meet in Week 6 on Oct. 4 in Clinton) has been proposed, but it does not look like a viable solution.
"(If we played St. Teresa twice), we would not get the playoffs points again, and so it would be playing just for playing," Ridgeway said. "We are trying to find something that is a home game for us, as it is one of our honors nights, and so we are hoping to find someone that is willing to come to us to get that home game within our size range."
Vohland said he's considered many different scheduling options.
"We have looked at a lot of things, including neighboring states and beyond. We will see what happens," he said. "If something comes up, we would take it, but I'm not holding my breath on that either."
Lincoln Prairie Conference ready for action
Rising from the Little Okaw Valley Conference is the Lincoln Prairie Conference, which begins with a bang as Argenta-Oreana, which went undefeated in regular season play and advanced to the state semifinals last season, faces Arcola, which was 8-3 last season, in Week 1 at Argenta.
The following week, Arcola continues its difficult start to the season by facing Tuscola in another return of the "Cola Wars." Last season, Tuscola defeated the Purple Riders 34-0 in Week 2. Tuscola leads the all-time series between the teams 55-44-6 and has won the last 12 meetings.
Monticello looking to continue winning streak
Last season's Class 3A state champion Monticello looks to expand upon its 14-game winning streak, beginning against Stanford Olympia on the road in Week 1. The Sages last lost Nov. 4, 2017, to Byron in the second round of the playoffs that season. A key Illini Prairie Conference battle for the Sages will be in Week 7 when Pontiac, which was 9-2 last season, comes to Monticello.