This upcoming Saturday, East-Central Illinois has a local team playing for the 3A state football championship. The Saint Joseph-Ogden Spartans (11-2) go to battle with the Stillman Valley Cardinals (11-2) at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium in Dekalb. Led by senior quarterback Dalton Walsh, the Spartans have steamrolled through the IHSA state playoffs thus far, beating the likes of Ashland-Chanderville Central, Monticello, Williamsville, and Greenville quite easily along the way.
Both of SJO’s losses came early on in the year, with a 36-35 loss on the road at Carterville (10-1) and a 27-0 loss at home against Clifton Central (9-1). Both teams went on to the state playoffs after going undefeated in the regular season. Ever since head coach Dick Duval took over the team in 2004, the Spartans have not missed the playoffs, as they have advanced to the state tournament each of the past ten years. In those past ten years, the farthest the team has gotten has been the championship game in 2006, where they lost to Plano in a close game 47-42.
Stillman Valley is much more accustomed to going the distance in the past ten years, most recently losing in the championship to Illini West in 2010. But they have won two state championships in the past ten years, defeating Wilmington in 2003 and beating up one of SJO’s conference rivals Unity 52-22 in 2009.
St. Joe is hoping this is the year for them as they have 18 seniors they will lose to graduation following the season. Those seniors will have to contribute all the leadership they can in order to defeat a very experienced Stillman Valley team and be crowned state champions.