McHenry County notes: Cary-Grove makes strong return after COVID-19 layoff

Everyone around the Fox Valley Conference wondered how much of a negative effect missing two games for a COVID-19 quarantine would have on Cary-Grove’s football team.

The Trojans provided that answer on Saturday – not much.

C-G took a while to get going offensively, but took advantage of good field position from turnovers to beat Prairie Ridge, 20-7, at Al Bohrer Field.

The victory means when the Trojans (2-0) host Crystal Lake Central (3-1) on Friday, the winner of that game will play the other division’s winner for the FVC championship in Week 6.

The Trojans tried to maintain strength and fitness levels on their own since learning on March 25 they had to quarantine for two weeks. Coaches conducted online meetings and tried to boost morale as one-third of the abbreviated season was lost.

“Up until the Wednesday before McHenry, we were ready to play with whoever we had,” Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said. “We only had 16 guys left, but we were ready to play. Once we found out there was a second COVID case, we were completely shut down.

“We did Google meetings, Google workouts, we gave the kids drills to do on their own. At that point, we hoped the kids were doing that and hoped when they came back they’d be as fresh as possible.”

Having Prairie Ridge as the first game back meant a tough opponent, but also was a team C-G knows all too well. The two teams run similar triple-option offenses and have been two of the top Class 6A (or sometimes 7A for C-G) programs in the state for more than a decade.

“Everyone was down in the dumps, but we all knew what was coming and right when we came back, you could tell everyone was fired up and excited,” fullback Nick Hissong said. “We came to practice and everything was popping. We had a real good week of practice to prepare against PR.”

Hissong utilized a steep hill close to his house for sprints. Players lifted wherever they could and kept one another motivated.

“You can’t let something like that stop you,” defensive lineman Nick Wojcik said. “We had to make to with what we had and start preparing early and getting ready as soon as we could. We were confident. We knew what we had to get done.”

‘Brand new day’: Sometimes the attraction of sports is its unpredictability. Not many could have figured McHenry, with a 42-16 loss to Prairie Ridge and a 52-8 loss to Huntley, would beat Crystal Lake Central, which was coming off a 14-13 win over Prairie Ridge.

Warriors defensive back Kyle Kaempf said it best: “You can’t look at previous scores. It’s a brand, new day and take it to them, no matter what.”

McHenry did that, with a proficient passing game behind quarterback Andrew Hoffman (13 of 20, 256 yards, four touchdowns) and a defense that did a commendable job containing Central quarterback Colton Madura, who gave Prairie Ridge fits the week before.

McHenry coach Jon Niemic lifted his two sons in his arms and smiled, but tried not to overhype the moment.

“It’s another victory. It’s a win,” Niemic said. “They kids just played really, really well. I’m really proud of them.”

Central coach Jon McLaughlin and his staff warned their players about a letdown after an emotional win against Prairie Ridge, which it had not beaten since 2012.

“We didn’t have the same fire we had last week,” McLaughlin said. “It’s tough coming off that high. We beat an elite team and how do we handle success? We told the kids, ‘(McHenry) is a very good 0-2 football team.’

“We control the things we can control and learn from it. Come back and get better.”

Central gets its shot Friday at C-G.

Two big games: The FVC schedule worked out well for drama in Week 5. Central vs. C-G decides one FVC championship participant, while Hampshire (3-0) at Huntley (4-0) decides the other.

In the division with Central and C-G, the other three teams each have two losses, so the winner goes to the title game. The FVC is tossing out games lost by COVID quarantine and determining standins on winning percentage.

Enough Evanses: Seaburg was happy to see an Evans for the last time at Prairie Ridge. Wolves senior fullback-linebacker Carter Evans is headed to Eastern Michigan in the fall where he will play with his brother Samson, a running back and three-time Northwest Herald Player of the Year.

Samson Evans quarterbacked the Wolves’ 2016 and 2017 Class 6A state championship teams. Older brother Shane, a 2014 graduate, was an offensive lineman on the 2011 Class 6A state champions and played college at Northern Illinois and Purdue.

All three brothers played varsity as freshmen.

“I told him after the game I am so glad you family is done at PR,” Seaburg said. “It’s been 10 years there’s been an Evans in that program. He’s a tremendous player.”

Record setter: Prairie Ridge quarterback Taidhgin Trost fired a pass to wide receiver Will Komar from the Wolves’ 2 in the second quarter and Komar took it the distance for an FVC record 98-yard touchdown reception.

The old record was set in 2018 when Crystal Lake South’s Ian Gorken hit Jacob Rana for a 95-yard score. The record before that was 94 yards, shared by two quarterback-receiver duos.

Rarity: The last time that Prairie Ridge lost back-to-back FVC games was in the 2014 season when the Wolves fell to Cary-Grove and Huntley in Weeks 5 and 6.

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.