By Paul Hines
MT. VERNON — The Rams know who they will face in the opening round of the football playoffs.
Mt. Vernon (6-3) will travel to play Mattoon (7-2). The time and date of the game has not been announced.
“It's just a good feeling, very exciting,” Mt. Vernon coach Jared Shaner said. “(There's) just a lot of work that's gone into it. Just knowing the struggles that we've had the last couple of years, to see your name up there gives you goosebumps.”
Dozens of players, coaches and fans gathered in the Mt. Vernon Township High School auditorium to watch the announcement Saturday night. A roar rose from the group when the 5A bracket flashed onto the projection screen. The Rams hadn't been to the playoffs since 2008.
The Rams join four other South Seven Conference teams in the playoffs this year. Mt. Vernon also played Rochester (8-1) and Mt. Carmel (8-1) to start and end the regular season.
“We played a pretty difficult schedule,” Shaner said. “Our conference obviously all the games were very close this year between everybody, a lot of great competition.
“I feel very comfortable heading into the playoffs with all the teams that we've played and how they've prepared us for this next game.”
Mattoon, which is about 90 minutes north of Mt. Vernon, plays in the Apollo Conference against Effingham, Mt. Zion, Salem, Paris and Charleston. The Green Wave finished the conference season a perfect 5-0 and were the only playoff qualifier from the Apollo.
“I think they're a spread team,” Shaner said. “(Friday's) game their quarterback threw for 514 yards so they put it up in the air a little bit.”
The Rams ended their season Friday with a rousing 35-29 win over the previously unbeaten Mt. Carmel.
“It feels good to know that you've beat a couple good, quality teams played close with a couple other ones,” Shaner said. “I think just definitely earning that win (Friday) was huge for us in terms of just our confidence, knowing there's not a lot of teams that are a whole lot better than Mt. Carmel in the state of Illinois.”