The La Salle-Peru coaches let out a collective groan Saturday night when the pairing popped up on the television in the dimly lit basement at head coach Joe Sassano's house in Peru.

There was excitement that the Cavaliers qualified for the playoffs in a 7-2 season that included the program's first win over Geneseo since 1919.

However, the disappointment comes from the familiarity with L-P's first-round Class 5A playoff opponent, the same opponent that just defeated the Cavaliers this past Friday night.

With all the coaches focused on the IHSA's Playoff Pairings show Saturday, around 8:30 p.m., they got the information they have been waiting for all night.

No. 10 La Salle-Peru at No. 7 Sterling.

"Sometimes it's more fun to play somebody that you haven't played," Sassano said. "But there's the other side of the coin that says you get to redeem yourself, and our kids know that the opportunities that they squandered away, they get a second chance here. Sometimes in life you don't get a second chance, so we've got one and we've got to make the most of it, that's for sure."

This past Friday night on a water-logged turf at Roscoe Eades Stadium in Sterling, the Cavaliers lost a chance at a share of the NCIC Reagan Division championship, the program's first conference title since 1979.

Sterling had other ideas, using the muddy slop to its advantage with its rugged running game en route to a 27-7 victory in a game that was 13-7 midway through the third quarter.

Now, L-P has a second chance. Sassano and Sterling head coach Greg King both agreed Saturday night to play the game Friday night at 7 p.m.

Same time. Same place as last week's mess.

"We have to pray for good weather," Sassano said. "The style of our game, a dry field is definitely to our advantage. I don't think (the field) will be saturated at least. A lot of times, if you set the ball down, you set it in water. So before it even gets to the quarterback it's wet."

No one likes to look down the bracket, but L-P may have gotten placed in one of the toughest in Class 5A.

Above L-P/Sterling in the bracket is No. 2 Washington (9-0) playing No. 15 Rich East (6-3), and at the bottom of the bracket is No. 6 Joliet Catholic (7-2) taking on Troy Triad (7-2). Included in the bracket is Cahokia (8-1), which lost its only game this past Friday night to Sacred Heart Griffin, the favorite to win the Class 5A title.

"It's a very strong bracket," Sassano said. "I think the kids will respond to the challenge. We'll respond to the challenge. We'll just take it one day at a time."

Mendota

Mendota will start the Class 4A playoffs at home for the third consecutive season. The Trojans host Elgin St. Edward (6-3) at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Doenier Field.

"It's always nice to play at home. Obviously, it's an advantage. You don't have to travel," Mendota coach John McKenzie said. "Our kids are excited for the opportunity to play at home and I'm sure our fans are, too."

Elgin St. Edward plays in the Suburban Christian Gold Division with Aurora Christian. The Green Wave lost to Aurora Christian 23-18, while the Trojans beat Aurora Christian 37-36 in overtime.

"We beat Aurora Christian by one and they lost by five. It's pretty even," McKenzie said. "It's a pretty well matched up first-round game, I think."

The Green Wave played some stiff competition aside from Aurora Christian, beating defending Class 2A champion Immaculate Conception (46-38) and Hampshire (32-6), and losing to Woodstock Marian Central Catholic (48-7) and Chicago Christian (19-16).

"They play in the Suburban Christian league with Aurora Christian and those schools. They come from a conference with a lot of good competition," McKenzie said. "We have our work cut out for us."

St. Edward averages 34.1 points per game while allowing 21 per game.

"They are pretty balanced running and passing. They have two backs that yardage-wise, are pretty even. They also throw the ball. They average about 150 yards pass a game," McKenzie said.

Amboy/LaMoille

Much like its Big Rivers Conference mate Bureau Valley, the Clippers will be taking on a West Prairie Trail opponent in the Class 2A playoffs.

The Storm got the tougher draw, Aledo, while A/L drew Oneida, which is made up of players from Rio, Oneida, Wataga, Victoria and Altona and otherwise known as ROWVA.

Oneida (6-3) is the No. 14 seed, while A/L (8-1) is the No. 3 seed after finishing behind first-place Morrison in the Big Rivers.

The two will play Saturday at 1 p.m. in Amboy.

"We've never played before so we don't know a whole lot," A/L head coach Gary Jones said of facing Oneida. "They are a very big team, very physical. They are comparable to some of the teams we play in our conference."

The way Jones figured, even though Oneida isn't close to the Illinois Valley in distance, the Tigers were still his pick to be his first-round opponent when the pairings were announced Saturday night.

"That's kind of who we had predicted we might play," Jones said. "If (the IHSA) went 1 through 32, that's who we thought, if they went with the quadrants, then you've got Bureau Valley, then you've got Riverdale, that type of thing. That was our guess."

The Oneida vs. A/L match-up will face the winner of No. 11 Clifton Central (7-2) and Annawan/Wethersfield (8-1).

Bureau Valley

Bureau Valley must play one of the state's most storied programs on the road in the opening round.

The Storm must travel to Aledo to play Mercer County, a first-year consolidated school that brought together Aledo and Westmer.

The Aledo Green Dragons had made the playoffs 13 consecutive seasons, won Class 2A state championships in 1998, 2001 and 2002, and finished runner-up in 2005 and 2006.

Mercer County athletic teams are nicknamed the Golden Eagles.

"I know they have a great program. The Aledo Green Dragons before the consolidation were a perennial state power in 2A and 3A," Storm coach Jeff Ohlson said. "They consolidated into Mercer County and coach (Nat) Zunkel has carried the tradition on this year."

Mercer County's two losses came to undefeated Illini West (49-14) and 2008 Class 1A runner-up Stark County (26-19).

The Golden Eagles average 39.8 points per game. Mercer County gives up 16.7 points per game.

"They are multi-formation, run and pass," Ohlson said. "Defensively, they run several different things."

The two teams will play Saturday at 1 p.m. with the Storm making the long trip to Aledo.

Jim Cogdal and Kevin Chlum can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at sports@newstrib.com.

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