Jaden Miller is glad he gets another opportunity to play football.
Ditto for Blake Dable. And the other St. Joseph-Ogden High School football seniors, who found out Saturday evening the Spartans will open up the Class 3A playoffs at Williamsville.
Even if 15th-seeded SJO (5-4) will head into the 1 p.m. first-round game on Saturday against the No. 2 Bullets (9-0) in an underdog role.
“It’s a strong draw, and they are a powerful team with a high-scoring offense,” SJO senior running back Jarrett Stevenson said. “They will give our defense a real test and like Monticello, they can pass the ball. We definitely need to respond better in the playoffs than we did against the Sages in the last regular season game.”
SJO lost its regular-season finale 35-6 this past Friday night at Monticello. But the Spartans are back in the playoffs for the second straight season and 28th time in the last 29 seasons.
“Class 3A has a lot of quality teams,” SJO fourth-year coach Shawn Skinner said. “Williamsville plays in a quality conference and they have had a lot of postseason success the past 15 years. It’s also quite a statement that we have made the playoffs in 30 of the last 33 seasons, a feat that is pretty remarkable.”
The Spartans will vie for their first playoff win since 2015 when that season’s team reached the state semifinals. The loss to Monticello essentially assured SJO would face an undefeated team in the first round.
“Actually, I kind of expected it,” said Blake Primmer, a senior and three-year starter at cornerback for the Spartans. “They are 9-0 and we’re 5-4, and we were matched up with a 9-0 team last year after going 5-4, so it wasn’t a shock to me. Being a senior, it’s been great going through battle with my teammates, but we’ll be watching a lot of Williamsville tape in the next few days getting to know as much as we can about them.”
Miller is among a handful of SJO seniors who will not only try to keep their high school careers extended for another game, but also play for senior linebacker/running back Brayden Weaver, who suffered a serious knee injury in SJO’s 41-21 win against Olympia in Week 8 and didn’t suit up against Monticello.
“It basically gives us another opportunity and another week for us to get better,” Miller said. “We just have to take it from there, and since we lost our team leader (Brayden) to injury, it’s not been the same without him on the field with us.”
A win against Williamsville would advance SJO to the second round of the state playoffs, where the Spartans could potentially face Monticello again. The Sages (6-3) are the 10th seed and travel to play at No. 7 DuQuoin (8-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday. An SJO win and a Monticello win would set up a second-round game in Monticello, while an SJO win and a DuQoin win would mean the Spartans would host DuQuoin in a second-round game.
“(Williamsville is) 9-0 for a reason, and obviously they’re a good team,” said Dable, a starting senior offensive lineman for SJO. “But everyone starts the playoffs 0-0, so we’ll just have to go out and play the best that we can.”