The buzz in the stands
Two of the state’s top large-school programs of the past 10 years rendezvous in the postseason, at last.
“We’re comparable communities. We’re comparable-size schools. We’re always a team who the other is aware of out there, but our paths just haven’t crossed for some reason,” Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said.
Cary-Grove’s 35-14, second- round victory against St. Charles North hit the Vikings close to home. Yes, the Trojans’ road rout occurred concurrently with Geneva’s 26-20 victory against Hononegah at nearby Burgess Field, but it also came against one of the stoutest defenses in the Vikings’ conference, the Upstate Eight River.
Cary-Grove and Geneva are the lone teams to score 30-plus points against the North Stars this season. No team yet has held the Trojans to less than 24 points, as fullback Tyler Pennington (1,325 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns), quarterback Jason Gregoire (540 yards, six TDs) and running back Matt Sutherland (442 yards, six TDS) fuel the team’s meticulous triple-option offense.
“You’ve just got to pay attention to all the small details, you know,” Sutherland said. “What you’re stepping with. And you do it over and over and over, and you’ve just got to get it down. And consistency in practice – 100 percent, all the time. And that’s how we do it.”
Best-case scenario for the Vikings
Their own offensive strongsuit, a dynamic passing game, clicks on par with or better than the Trojans’ triple-option.
Northern Illinois-bound senior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina diced through Hononegah last week, going 11 for 14 for 141 yards and three touchdowns as coach Rob Wicinski kept things balanced. Receivers Pace Temple (12 TDs), Mike Landi and Jack Wassel each stand no shorter than 6-foot-1, and loom as potential matchup problems against a Trojans secondary that relies on speed over size in several spots. Safeties Larkin Hanselmann and Sutherland are 5-7 and 5-8, respectively.
“Those two guys would be the epitome of being small but efficient,” Seaburg said.
Santacaterina hardly has dwelled on a five-interception game in a Week 8 loss at Batavia, remaining confident as a dual threat behind a veteran offensive line.
“After a day or two, you really are ready for the next game,” Santacaterina said. “I wasn’t even thinking about it. At this point, I think it was the best thing for us.”
Best-case scenario for the Trojans
With four-year starter Michael Gomez (6-0, 260) and Notre Dame recruit Trevor Ruhland (6-4, 280) making impacts on both sides of the line, Cary-Grove consistently controls the tempo up front.
“We’re physical in everything we do,” Gomez said. “I believe we’re the hardest-working team in the state, and I think it translates. Because really, we’re undersized, but coach has really ingrained the physical toughness in us.”
Gomez starts on both sides of the line, shifting to each spot on the Trojans’ three-man defensive front. Ruhland starts on the offensive line and is part of the defensive rotation.
Cary-Grove hasn’t trailed this season, and its first-team defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown since a Week 6 victory against McHenry. The Trojans’ tightest margin of victory – 10 points against Wheaton North in the season opener – was the product of a late Falcons flurry.
The Trojans would just as soon not get snug with the Vikings, but if they do, the senior-heavy team won’t be alarmed, Seaburg said.
“Our guys have been there,” Seaburg said. “This year, we didn’t have as many close games for the guys, but I think our guys have competed enough to have what it takes to win a close game.”
Kevin Druley’s prediction: Cary-Grove 28, Geneva 18
Would picking the Vikings have been so brazen? If Geneva’s offense can harness its size and speed and the defense stays gap-sound, this one could be close down the stretch.
Cary-Grove sweats things out before pulling through thanks to its consistent schemes and late adjustments. There’s lots of cap-tipping at the end, both ways.
– Kevin Druley, email@example.com