During this unforeseen time in our country, we have seen many things that have restricted us from our normal way of life. To help keep the mood light, feed the competition level, and bring positive conversation and fun around the NUIC, former Le-Win great Rahveon Valentine brought forward the idea of a bracket to garner social media participation through a fan's vote. So after a quick discussion, and some quick thoughts, I figured the easiest way to kick this off quickly was an ultimate state bracket with every NUIC team that has been in the state championship game. This would bring a lot of great conversations, expose people to more history throughout the conference that a lot of our younger followers haven't seen or heard of, and let the fan's vote for the best championship team in our conference's great history.
An after thought came up from another former Le-Win player, Parker Magee, who suggested that we provide a panel vote to compare to the fan's vote, as the vote would likely favor more recent teams. I thought this was a great idea, so I asked 3 people to be a part of the panel, however 1 declined to not having enough following of the more recent teams. So, with that our panel consisted of 3 people, representing 3 different schools, with insight that dated back to the 1975 season. We didn't always agree on how teams were picked, but as in all things, the majority vote ruled to help us navigate to a champion. We had some debates on some of the match-ups that we came across.
Due to the tournament style format, there will be discussions as to who finished in the top 8. Just remember that this only reflects that of a tournament style, so some stronger teams could knock off strong teams along the way. As in true tournaments, there is no perfect way to seed it, and this bracket was seeded by points allowed in the playoffs.
Finally, someone wanted to see the final rankings, along with verbiage around those teams to show what each team accomplished in their time. So, here is this insight for both the fan's vote of the top 8, and the panel vote of the top 8.
We hope you have enjoyed the discussions, and the voting process that has led us to the final results.
1. 2019 Lena-Winslow Panthers 14-0
The Panthers dominated the competition all year, winning 10 games by the running clock, beating 13 opponents by 30 points or more, and beating all 14 teams by 14 points or more. The Panthers featured the second All-American in conference history. They would score 678 points on the season, which was the second highest scoring total in NUIC history and 16th most in IHSA history. They would feature the conference's all-time rushing yard and rushing TD leader. They had a 2-time DeHaven Award winner. Their 6,167 total offensive yards ranks #1 in NUIC history. They would finish with 5,148 yards, which is 3rd in NUIC history and 10th in IHSA history. The 58 points scored in the Class 1A title game is the title game record for Class 1A. The 10 running clocks were the most in NUIC history. They would finish the season ranked #1 in Class 1A, and according to MaxPreps would finish the season ranked #6 across the entire state. In comparison to teams across the country, the Panthers would be ranked 19th in the nation among small schools (enrollments under 1,000) by MaxPreps. The Panthers would be the first team in NUIC history to feature 3 players with NCAA Power 5 offers, with all 3 headed for the University of Iowa. The rating system began in 2003, and Le-Win finished with a rating of 48.8, and would finish the season rated 256th across the nation (all schools).
2. 2005 Dakota Indians 14-0
The Indians were the first team in school history to win a state title, from the school that now has the most team titles across all sports in NUIC history. The Indians didn't set any conference records, but their 531 points scored is still the most in school history. They would win 12 games by 17 points or more, and win 2 playoff games by 5 points and 10 points, respectively. Winning the title in Class 2A, many would argue that this team had the toughest road to state, beating teams in Morrison (2006 semifinalist), Lena-Winslow (2006 conference champ and quarterfinalist), Auburn, and Aledo (2006 state runner-up). This would be the first season 2 NUIC teams would win state in the same year (Aquin). Dakota finished the season with a rating of 48.7 and be rated 499th in the nation.
3. 1981 Aquin Bulldogs 13-0
The Bulldogs would bring the 2nd title back to the conference with a season that is still ranked among the best in state and national history. The Bulldogs featured the first All-American in conference history, 2 DeHaven Award Winners (Conference MVP), and a Catholic All-American. They would feature the conference's first D1 player. The Dawgs would be the first undefeated team to win state in conference history. They allowed 26 points on the season, which was an average of 2 points per game, and the lowest amount by a state champion in NUIC history. The defense had 41 interceptions, which still stands at #1 in IHSA history and #7 across the nation. They had 9 shutouts on the season, which is a tie for the most in conference history (1985 Galena), and tied for 4th in IHSA history. They beat 11 opponents by 12 points or more, and they beat 2 teams by 1 score, both shutouts. The Dawgs are 1 of just 2 teams to win every playoff game with a shutout (1975 St. Teresa), outscoring their opponents 125-0.
4. 1991 Stockton Blackhawks 14-0
The Blackhaws made their 15th trip to the playoffs in 18 seasons under legendary coach John O'Boyle (279 wins and most in IHSA history until 2003) with another strong team. The Blackhawks would have 8 shutouts on the season behind a stingy defense that still holds the NUIC record with 34 fumble recoveries on the season, which also stands tied for 3rd in IHSA history. They would win 12 games by 13 points or more, and their other 2 wins were tight ones over conference foes Galena (2OT win week 6) and Orangeville (2 point win Round 2). The Blackhawks only allowed 61 points on the season, with 35 points scored on the starting defense.
5. 2014 EPC Wildcatz 14-0
The Wildcatz tormented the NUIC for their 3rd consecutive conference title and undefeated regular season. The Catz would score 640 points, at the time this was the most by an NUIC conference state champion, and stands as the 3rd highest point total in conference history. The 2014 season goes down as one of the best seasons the conference has seen, as a total of 6 teams would finish rated in the top 10 in state (EPC, Forreston, Galena, Le-Win, Dakota, Polo), and 2 teams would be crowned state champions for the 3rd time in conference history (1st time from the same division: Forreston). The Catz would finish the season with a rating of 46.2 and be rated 455th in the nation.
6. 2007 Dakota Indians 14-0
The Indians were expected to be tough, but nobody knew how tough they would be. Winning their first 2 games by a combined 7 points, they would win 11 games by 10 points or more. They would score 497 points, which is good for 2nd in school history. Dakota still holds one record; the 50 points scored in the Class 2A title game is the record for the 2A title game, against the team that boasted the IHSA rushing leader at that time. This would be the 2nd time that 2 teams were crowned state champions in the same season, and 1st time both teams finished with undefeated records (Galena). The Indians would finish the season with a rating of 46.7 and be rated 613th in the nation.
7. 2017 Lena-Winslow Panthers 14-0
The Panthers were expected to be a title contender with conference opponent Forreston, and neither team would let the area down. The Panthers would score 620 points on the season, good for 4th most in NUIC history. They would beat 12 teams by 14 points or more. They would feature the conference rushing leader, the future conference rushing leader, a future All-American, 3 D1 players with 2 D1 prospects, and 3 DeHaven Award winners. They would compete in a year where the teams they faced combined with their own team would feature 8 D1 players and 4 other D1 prospects. The Panthers would finish the season with a rating of 38.1 and be rated 817th in the nation.
8. 1997 Galena Pirates 14-0
The Pirates owned the NUIC from 1995-2000, and were part of a 47 game conference win streak that still stands today. The flagship of that run was the 97 team, as they were the first team to make it to state, and the first to bring a title back to Galena. The Pirates would finish the season with 8 shutouts, and allowed 61 points on the season. Their starting defense allowed 42 points on the year. They are 2nd in NUIC history with 30 interceptions in a season, which is tied for 11th in IHSA history. They are the 4th and last NUIC team to win state with a shutout. They would feature 2 D1 players, with one player getting an NFL tryout with the Chicago Bears.
1. 1981 Aquin Bulldogs 13-0
2. 1997 Galena Pirates 14-0
3. 2016 Forreston Cardinals 14-0
The Cardinals were a force to be reckoned with. Entering the season as a favorite, they quickly became a title contender by week 3, and never backed off after that. The Cardinals were versatile, deep, and interchangeable. They dominated on both sides of the ball, bringing back memories of the 97 Galena squad in their game. They scored 549 points on the year, allowed 75 points on the season, and their starting defense only allowed 34 points on the season. They hold the NUIC record for most rushing yards in a game with 717 yards against Luther North, which is the most in a Class 1A playoff game, and ranks 3rd in IHSA history in any game. They rushed for 5,300 yards on the season, which is 2nd most in NUIC history and 5th most in IHSA history. They scored 66 rushing TD's, which is 2nd most in NUIC history and tied for 18th in IHSA history. They beat every playoff opponent by 28 points or more, the only state champion in NUIC history to accomplish this feat. The Cardinals featured 2 D1 players, a D1 prospect, and a D2 player. They also shut down the IHSA's 2nd career rushing leader, holding him to under 60 total yards in the title game.
4. 1991 Stockton Blackhawks 14-0
5. 2005 Dakota Indians 14-0
6. 2014 EPC Wildcatz 14-0
7. 2012 Stockton Blackhawks 13-1
The Blackawks looked every part of a champion until they lost the title game to Maroa-Forsyth. The Blackhawks featured the NUIC's 2nd most single season rushing leader, and the NUIC's single season TD leader. They rushed for 5,490 yards, most in NUIC history and 4th in IHSA history. They would score 686 points on the season, most in NUIC history and 11th in IHSA history. They scored 94 TD's, most in NUIC history and tied for 13th in IHSA history. They rushed for 80 TD's, which is the most in NUIC history, and 3rd most in IHSA history. They would have 3 running backs all finish with over 1,00 yards on the season. They would put up 5,912 yards, which was the most in NUIC history until this past season. They would finish the season with a rating of 34.6 and be rated 1,528th in the nation.
8. 1978 Stockton Blackhawks 12-1
The Blackhawks lost their first regular season game in 3 seasons, a 2 point loss to rival Polo. They would go on to defeat 10 opponents by 15 points or more, and bring home the first title to the conference. They would have 7 shutouts, which was the best in the conference at the time, but still stands as 5th most in NUIC history. They allowed 51 points on the season, with 32 points allowed by the starters. Their defense only allowed double digit scores twice, to Polo (10) and Galena (16). They gave up just 7 points in the playoffs, a touchdown on the reserve unit in a blowout win over Oregon in Round 1. After that, the Blackhawks shutout the competition to win state.