No matter the sport, the deeper a team goes in the postseason, the harder and stronger the competition becomes.
For the Mercer County and Kewanee football teams, their respective second-round playoff games Saturday afternoon embody that theory.
In Class 2A, the Golden Eagles (7-3) take their five-game winning streak across the state to take on the top-ranked team in their class, undefeated Clifton Central, in a 3 p.m. matchup.
That game will mark the fourth time since the MerCo program came into existence in 2009 that the Eagles and the Comets have met in the postseason. Central has won two of the three previous meetings, the exception being 2012, when Mercer County prevailed 26-7 en route to the 2A state championship.
"This time of year, every team you face is really good, and these are two great programs with a lot of tradition. It's kind of become a semi-annual trip for us," said MerCo coach Andrew Hofer, whose club fell 43-22 at Clifton in the opening round of the 2017 playoffs.
"To be honest, I don't think any of that matters. This time of year, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is being 1-0. What you did in the regular season or last week, it doesn't define who you are. It's all about coming out 1-0 on Saturday."
Meantime, the Boilermakers of Kewanee look to come out of this weekend 1-0 as they prepare to face top-ranked and undefeated Class 4A Coal City in a 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff.
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For first-year Kewanee head coach Brad Swanson, the approach to facing the Coalers remains the same for his squad as it has been since the opening week.
"We talk all the time about preparing the same way for any team, whether it's 10-0 or 0-10," Swanson said. "Our guys have really been dialed in from Monday through (today). It's been a good week; we've definitely had some of the quietest film sessions. The guys want to see what Coal City's all about.
"Our guys are ready to go, to try and do their best, and to just play some football."
After last Saturday's 50-0 win over Chicago Agricultural Science, the first playoff win for the Boilers in 20 years, confidence is high in the Kewanee camp.
"That was a great win for the guys' belief in themselves and our process," Swanson said. "Everyone starts to believe more than they did the week before. It's a big step in the whole process."
Likewise, Mercer County is buoyed after last Saturday's 41-0 home win over Palos Heights Chicago Christian, the Eagles' first playoff victory since the 2013 Class 2A semifinals.
"I don't think these guys lack for confidence at all," Hofer said. "They've gone through the process and seen the improvements, and the results speak for themselves. I certainly like the development of these guys; they've been taking huge steps forward the last six weeks.