Monticello, St. Joseph-Ogden, Unity and Bloomington Central Catholic. Anyone who pays attention to high school football in the state of Illinois knows those four teams.
Year in and year out those four teams compete for not only the playoffs but in some years state championships. In 2018 the Monticello Sages win the 3A state championship game.
Other than being powerhouses what do those four teams have in common? They all play in the Illini Prairie Conference. The time is now to talk about the Illini Prairie Conference being the toughest conference in the state for small schools.
And those four teams are not the only playoff teams in the conference. Pontiac, Prairie Central and Chillicothe IVC, all made the playoffs last year picking up the slack for BCC and Unity, who had down years.
Rantoul, Olympia and St. Thomas More are also no slouches rounding out the conference. All three teams drew one of the top teams in week one, and all three stayed competitive. Olympia lost by 10 against the defending champ Sages, and Rantoul and St. Thomas More were within a score at the half against Prairie Central and St. Joseph Ogden, respectively.
Next week’s games are St. Joseph Ogden at Rantoul, Monticello at Chillicothe IVC, Olympia at St. Thomas More and Prairie Central at Bloomington Central Catholic.
The question now is, what other conferences can compete with talent across the board that the Illini Prairie has? One of the competitors would be the Heart of Illinois Conference.
With the conference split into two different divisions with small and large schools, there is a bevy of talented teams on both sides. In the large side there is the obvious one, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley.
The Falcons are two time defending 2A state champions. They opened up the 2019 season winning 32-8 over Paxton-Buckley-Loda. The large-school division also includes recent state champions Deer Creek-Mackinaw and Tri-Valley. The small side includes Fisher, Tremont and Leroy.
Other strong conferences include the Central Illinois conference that has perennial power Tuscola and St. Teresa.
As the season and years go by teams and conferences have the chance to prove themselves, but until a conference has a run like the Illini Prairie Conference has had in recent years, I’m sticking with them as the best small school football conference in the state.
You can contact Ryan Birch at Rbirch@rantoulpress.com and on twitter @RyanBirchRP