WHEATON – Geneva placekicker Charlie James darted in jest toward his first crack at the second-half kickoff Friday, flanked by 10 teammates trying to sell an onside kick.
He came to a halt near the tee with the rest of the Vikings, who eventually got serious and split out wide. Foreign to Geneva’s seasonlong kickoff routine, Wheaton Warrenville South fans oohed and aahed in mock concern while Tigers players shook their helmets and jogged a few yards downfield.
“It’s got to tick them off a little,” James grinned. “They back off and they’ve got to honor it.”
The Vikings twisted their horns into the Tigers for the first time with that gesture, and before long Wheaton Warrenville fans and players truly felt their season was in peril.
Geneva nearly erased a 23-point halftime deficit against the Tigers in the second round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs, leaving Red Grange Field oddly satisfied and stirred from a season-ending 30-16 defeat.
“We play the way we did in the second half, and we would have taken the game easily,” Vikings senior linebacker Asa Bielenberg said. “We filled gaps, we beat them to spots, we didn’t back off. We just didn’t absorb their first blow as well as we could have. Giving up all those first-half points really hurt.”
You get the feeling Geneva would hang close with the explosive Tigers again if the teams matched up next week. Vikings fans certainly wouldn’t mind it, overflowing the extra bleachers at both end zones Friday after memorizing neighborhood street names for that long walk past the tiny parking lots.
Uncertain where they stood against a fellow 9-1 team coming off consecutive 61-point games, the Vikings limited Tigers quarterback Reilly O’Toole after intermission. The defense still was unable to record the first interception of O’Toole this season, but harassed his receivers whenever Wheaton Warrenville wasn’t running straight into the Geneva defensive line.
After thriving on fourth-down conversions in the first half – starting with a fake punt that set up their first score – the Tigers wouldn’t dare try tricking the Vikings down the stretch.
“We just came out after the break and didn’t let up,” James said. “They say we’re a second-half team, and we lived it ’til the end.”
Geneva once was a 5A team, as well, with little chance to match up against then-8A stalwarts such as Wheaton Warrenville and East St. Louis when 11th-year coach Rob Wicinski arrived on the scene.
Earlier this week, Wicinski called Friday’s game a measuring stick for the program, which graduated 18 starters from last year’s 7A runners-up. His postgame speech featured only praise for a team that didn’t roll over when that would have been the easy option against a program with five state titles since 1990.
“That’s what we want to be,” Wicinski said moments later, gesturing toward the Tigers’ sideline. “We want what they’ve got over there. We took a lot of notes and I hope our kids were watching and listening.”
At the time, actually, they were singing, saluting fans with the Geneva fight song.
The Vikings have proudly been doing that all season, too.
• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for The Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or email@example.com.