History will unfold this afternoon as the Paris Tigers host the Salem Wildcats in the opening round of the IHSA Class 4A playoffs at Tiger Stadium. Kickoff is set at 2 p.m. Gates open at 11:30 a.m.
Today’s game is the first ever playoff game will take place on the Tigers’ home turf — and the work to get this honor has been ongoing for the last three seasons.
In the winter of 2016, Paris hired Jeremy Clodfelder of the Benton Rangers as the new Tiger leader.
Since that time, the Paris Tiger football program has gone from a team that finished 0-9 in 2015 and the doormat of the Little Illini Conference, to a team that just wrapped up its regular season with a 9-0 mark.
In the past three seasons, the Tigers have a 17-11 record but adding an 18th win today would signal something that has never before been done in the history of Paris High School. While there have been perfect seasons in the past — the last one coming in 1963 — there has never been a Tiger victory in the playoffs — or Tiger team that has won 10 games in one season.
In 1974, the Illinois High School Association conducted their first-ever playoffs. At that time, there were just five classes of playoff games played at Hancock Stadium on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal. In 1980, the IHSA expanded to six classes until 2001 when they expanded to the current format of eight classes.
In that period of time, Salem has appeared in the playoffs 17 times, and has won just three games. The Tigers have qualified three times and are 0-3 in those appearances.
The first two times the teams met were under former coach Mike Brouwer in 2008 and 2010. Paris will make their second consecutive appearance in the playoffs — also a school first — after losing to Herrin last season, 63-28.
The Wildcats compete in a conference that is very similar to the Little Illini. The Cahokia Conference sports just three teams with an enrollment larger than that of the Tigers. Salem played just one team — Centralia — with an enrollment more than theirs (686). The Wildcats defeated just one team with a winning record all season, as they bested Westmont who finished with a 5-4 mark.
Salem is an old Apollo Conference foe in the form of the Salem Wildcats. Paris garnered the second-seed in the southern bracket in class 4A, with Taylorville grabbing the top spot, with an identical record to the Tigers at 9-0.
Coach Kevin Greene turned things around this season, as his Wildcats improved from a 2-7 record a year ago, to a 6-3 mark this season. Salem has not appeared in the post-season since 2006.
Clodfelder says that his team will have their work cut out for them this afternoon.
“Their (Salem) style of play is very similar to ours in that they spread the ball around, and rely on their defense,” the Paris coach said. “They have some size up front, but so do we.” With senior quarterback Caleb Gates hampered by a broken thumb suffered against Robinson in week eight, Clodfelder will employ a carousel of signal callers in today’s game. Junior backup Hunter Newlin will be called upon throughout the course of the game if Gates is unable to go.
Action gets underway at 1:30 pm with the pregame show on the Paris Sports Network. To watch the game live go to livestream.com/parissportsnetwork or if you are the listening type, go to mixlr.com/parissportsnetwork to listen to the audio only. If at all possible though, please make the effort to attend this historic event and let the Wildcats and their fans know what a playoff atmosphere is all about.
The Den at Paris High School was near capacity on Saturday, Oct. 20, as the team members anxiously waited to find out who their opponent would be in the opening round of the IHSA State playoffs.
Salem finished tied for fourth place in the Cahokia Conference with a conference record of 3-3. This conference includes Freeburg, whom Paris defeated soundly last season at Tiger Stadium, Columbia, and Breese (Central). The Wildcats beat only one team with a winning record this season, and lost to Freeburg 41-20 in week eight.
Paris enters postseason play leading all class 4A playoff teams in points scored per game (46.2) and average margin of victory (35.8). The Tigers finished the season allowing just 10.4 points per game. Paris, who had a chance of going 3A if things had worked out, has the third lowest enrollment in 4A with 581 students. Rochester has the highest enrollment with 766 students.