GENEVA – Even before Thanksgiving break loomed, current Geneva football players encountered former ones at various places around town.
Naturally, the buzz surrounding the Class 7A playoffs dominated the conversation. At 1 p.m. today, the Vikings will visit top-seeded Cary-Grove in the program’s first quarterfinal since the 2008 team finished as 7A state runners-up.
“When we start getting further along, we hear guys come back and talk about, ‘Oh, do you remember …?” and when they made the run. You hear stories about that all the time,” Geneva senior left guard Joey Wagner said. “There’s comparisons. Not necessarily from the talent, but just as the fact that we can deal with adversity and things like that. That’s more the comparison.”
Should the Vikings (10-1) get past the Trojans (11-0), they’ll undoubtedly be able to measure their postseason gantlet against that of any other Geneva team. Cary-Grove and its well-documented, triple-option offense is a load, but Geneva finds that reality only boosts its collective psyche.
No slouches themselves, the Vikings still are blemished, losing, 26-20, at Batavia in Week 8. The Trojans, meanwhile, haven’t trailed this season, and their first-team defense is unscored upon since Week 6.
“Here’s the deal with this team,” Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. “If they go out, and they just pound, pound, pound, pound, score and then we go three and out, and they go pound, pound, pound, pound, score – it’s going to be the same old game. They need to get uncomfortable somehow. I’m not sure if we can do it. I’m not sure if we’re the team to do it. We need chaos. We need something that they’re not used to.”
On the surface, Geneva’s deep threat passing game holds potential as a crucial outlier. Trojans coach Brad Seaburg admitted “nobody on our schedule is as effective as Geneva as far as having the weapons they have” through the air – not even spread-centric Huntley, an 8A qualifier.
Vikings senior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina enjoys an arsenal of wide receivers that boasts plenty of speed and stands no shorter than 6-foot-1. Best friend Pace Temple leads the group, catching 12 of Santacaterina’s 21 touchdown passes. That kind of production led most opposing defenses to focus on Temple, allowing Mike Landi and Jack Wassel to develop their own rapport with Santacaterina.
Wicinski knows he’s blessed with “Santa,” too, and is fond of taking fourth-down gambles with Santacaterina in Geneva’s familiar (if not Shakespearean) “to punt or not to punt” formation. The fourth-seeded Vikings, who won their first two playoff games at home, also see their penchant for risk-taking as a possible edge.
“I don’t know. This reminds me a lot of a first-round game,” Wicinski said. “I hate first-round games, because, you know, I’m kind of supposed to win and yet my playbook’s not completely open because the window’s smaller now with turnovers and all. I’ve got to feel that [Seaburg] feels like that. All the pressure’s on them. We’ve been loose all playoff season, but we’re really going to be squirrelly on this one. I’m going to try to keep their heads into it.
“It’s kind of exciting. I’ve always had great memories playing the best programs in the state, and this is one of them. So we’re kind of excited. I’m done with this field. Burgess Field, I’m done. I want to go somewhere. That’s what playoffs are about, you know They’ve been great. The fans have been great, but, you know what I mean? Let’s go. Let’s take a road trip. It’s like Wisconsin and back, right? Make it hurt.”
Geneva devoted a much shorter commute to stewing over the Batavia game, which put the Bulldogs on track for their fourth straight Upstate Eight Conference River Division title.
Santacaterina, who threw five interceptions that night – he had six in seven games coming in – called it “the best thing for us” earlier this week.
“On the bus back, you know what, we were all pretty down. But we knew there was a lot more to come. A lot of season ahead,” senior defensive end Matt Loberg said. “So, you know what, if we can’t go get that conference championship, we might as well get another championship that’s even bigger than that. So that was our mindset after that game.”
There’s no true defensive equivalent to going for it on fourth down, so Geneva defenders relish when Wicinski directs their offensive teammates to push the envelope. They insist there’s a trickle-down effect.
“I love seeing Wiz freak out the ref,” junior defensive lineman Steve Kemp said. “It makes me feel like he’s got my back.”
The Vikings, in turn, support one another, and are eager to match up against Cary-Grove. A win would vault them into the semifinals and provide a new talking point, to boot.