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MCMILLEN
Pana's Jared McMillen (54) celebrates with teammates after a 41-0 win over Piasa Southwestern at Pana High School's Brummett Field Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, in Pana, Ill. (Herald & Review/ Stephen Haas)

Following Monticello's loss to St. Teresa on Friday night, Sages coach Cullen Welter wasn't feeling too confident about his 5-4 team's playoff chances.

By the middle of the night, he felt a whole lot better.

"At about 3:37 a.m., I found out we would get in," Welter said. "That was the big goal going into this year - proving we could get back in with a less talented team. I'm glad the kids are getting in, that's for sure. Hopefully this can solidify us as being a playoff program every year."

Monticello got even better news on Saturday night during the playoff pairings show - sort of. The Sages will have a short trip to play Okaw Valley Black champion Tolono Unity (8-1) - a team the Sages took to overtime before falling 24-21 in Week 7 - in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.

"I normally don't like the conference teams matching up in the first round, but we were going to get a tough draw no matter what, so at least we have some familiarity," Welter said. "I guess that will be better. They've got playmakers in a lot of different places. Hopefully we can get a similar result the second time through."

Monticello isn't the only H&R area team to get matched with a familiar opponent in the first round. In Class 1A, Arcola (6-3) will play Little Okaw Valley Conference foe Tri-County (8-1), and in Class 2A, Maroa-Forsyth (7-2) will travel to Marshall (8-1) for a rematch of last year's semifinal game.

Maroa will be on the road to begin the playoffs for the first time in six years.

"Normally, a 7-2 record in the Okaw gets you a home game," Jostes said. "But that didn't work out, and it's nobody's fault but our own.

"It's a long trek to Marshall, but we traveled there last year, so at least it's familiar. And it doesn't really matter where we go, Trojans fans will travel."

Class 4A Mount Zion (8-1) will also play an opponent it has faced in its recent pass - Bloomington Central Catholic. The Saints beat the Braves two years ago in the second round on their way to a state title.

Central Catholic is 6-3 this season, but it beat Mahomet-Seymour - the only team to beat Mount Zion this season - and its losses were to strong teams in Metamora, Pontiac and Springfield.

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"It's a tough game, but you have to play them all to get where you want to be," Smith said. "I haven't followed them much this year, but I know they're going to be another physical team that runs the ball, has good balance and has a good defense."

St. Teresa (7-2) will host an opponent it's completely unfamiliar with in Oneida ROWVA (6-3), which moved up to 3A with a recent co-op with Galva.

"I know nothing about them - we'll find out about them when we exchange film tomorrow," St. Teresa coach Scott Davis said. "We don't know what they run or anything other than their record and the information on the Internet. But it will be nice to have them at home."

Also in 3A, Pana (8-1) will host Macomb (6-3).

"What a first-round draw - a team that's lost three games all to ranked teams," Pana coach Al Stupek said. "For us being ranked second in that bracket, that's not an easy draw."

Two area 5-4 teams didn't make it. Cumberland and Charleston both fell two playoff points short.

Cumberland can point to an 0-2 start against two teams that didn't make the playoffs in Flora (4-5) and Paxton-Buckely-Loda (3-6).

"It was heartbreaking," Cumberland coach Todd Butler said. "We knew there was a chance we wouldn't make it, but you kind of get your hopes up.

"We let a couple get away from us early in the season. You hate to say what-if, but we feel like the way we're playing, if we had gotten in, we definitely would have made some noise - maybe a long run."

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