For members of the 1975 Geneva football team, the memories are flooding back.
Those seven regular season shutouts. That semifinal win against Geneseo, contested in Batavia because the Vikings’ field was unplayable. How it felt to take the field in a state championship game, and the sorrow of falling short.
As this year’s Vikings take aim at Saturday’s Class 7A state championship game against East St. Louis, the program’s longtime standard-bearers can’t help but let those poignant memories – mostly wonderful ones – wash over them anew.
Jerry Auchstetter, the head coach of the ‘75 team who returned to the program this season as a volunteer assistant, is hearing from many of his former players who recall the glory of competing for a state championship.
“When you take that field, it’s a memory you have for the rest of your life,” Auchstetter said. “I have players from that ‘75 team that are calling me now, and through the internet they know more about [this year’s] football team than I do. They know the stats and everything. It’s amazing how players in the past keep up with Geneva football. It’s like no other schools I’ve heard about.”
The ’75 Vikings, the only other Geneva team to make a state title game, lost to Metamora, 25-7, to finish the season 11-2. At the time, Geneva was a Class 3A team in a five-class system. The Vikings had a roster of about 40 kids, Auchstetter said, about half the size of the 2008 team.
Kevin Bell, now Geneva’s head freshman coach, was a safety on the ‘75 team, and intercepted a pass against Metamora that set up the Vikings’ lone touchdown. He said losing in the state title game packed an emotional wallop, though a rally at the school welcoming the players home temporarily lifted their spirits.
“It was very, very disappointing that we didn’t win of course because we thought we were the best team,” Bell said. “We went in in our hearts thinking we were the best, so not coming out on top gives you a little shock to your psyche.”
Auchstetter shared in his players’ sharp disappointment.
“I always coached teams to win and sometimes you forget how to accept a big loss,” Auchstetter said. “They didn’t want to even bring that trophy home.”
The title game was played on a Hancock Stadium field in Normal that was “like an ice skating rink” because of sleet that day, Auchstetter recalls. Despite the defeat, the season was the highlight of the first golden era of Geneva football. Auchstetter coached other superb teams as well, some before the IHSA began its postseason state tournament in 1974, some that lost in the semifinals in the years to follow, but the ‘75 Vikings were the ones to make history.
Defensive end Ed Gericke led a fearsome Vikings defense that recorded shutouts in seven of the nine regular season games. Quarterback Mark Schick, fullback Tim Sandman and receiver Tom Bashaw were among the other standout Vikings on a team that “had no egos, which is really rare,” Bell said.
After the championship game loss, Auchstetter found solace in envisioning he would return to a state championship game, considering the Vikings were an annual powerhouse.
“I thought ‘Well, I’m going to have another chance because I’m going to be coaching for a while,’” Auchstetter said. “Well, I didn’t think it was going to take this long.”
Though the backdrop this Saturday will be different – the IHSA now crowns its football champions in Champaign rather than Normal – Bell fully expects a wave of nostalgia to bowl him over on Saturday.
“When I get there I’ll probably run the whole game through my head again,” Bell said. “It’s like it just happened yesterday.”
Current Vikings coach Rob Wicinski said just like the 2004 season, in which the Vikings made the state semifinals, was special because of how long it had been since Geneva advanced deep in the playoffs, this year’s group is another trailblazing bunch.
“Nothing can replace the newness and how everything felt [in 2004],” Wicinski said. “I guess it’s like your first kid or something like that, I suppose. This is something special, too, being the second for the school but first for the [current program]. It’s uncharted waters and something unique and different to experience it for the first time.”
On Saturday, this year’s Vikings will become forever linked with their counterparts from 1975. And, judging by the way former players have talked to their old coach, the 2008 Vikings can give their predecessors a better night sleep if they emerge victorious.
“The last word they always say is tell them to finish what we didn’t finish,” Auchstetter said.