SYCAMORE – A win Friday and the Sycamore football team will complete what it set out to do since the shortened, playoff-less season began – win a conference title.
A victory at Plano and the Spartans will finish 6-0, assuring at least a tie with also-undefeated LaSalle-Peru, which hosts undefeated Kaneland. It also would be the first undefeated season in 54 years and the first undefeated regular season since 2013.
“It’s crazy. We haven’t had an undefeated season since 1967,” senior Dylan Shuman said. “We’re going for a lot at stake here. It’s a great way to finish off my football career.”
First, the Spartans (5-0) need to get past the Reapers (1-3). Coach Joe Ryan said that will involve limiting turnovers – they only committed one last week against Rochelle, but in their two closest games against Kaneland and Morris, the Spartans committed seven total turnovers.
“We haven’t turned the ball over in years, until the B game, as well call it,” Ryan said, referring to a 2019 Class 5A quarterfinal for the Spartans, a 19-16 loss to Boylan in which the Titans returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win, even though the Spartans ran the final 35 plays of the game. “We haven’t had a lot of offseason time to work on stuff like that. There’s a lot of implementation, so we didn’t have as much time to work on the little things. So it kind of catches you.”
Junior wide receiver Xavier Gagnepain said the team is focused on doing what it needs to do Friday to come away with a win.
“It’s our last week of practice. We want to have a great week of practice, leave on a great note,” Gagnepain said. “If we go out, handle business on Friday night, that’s a great way to end the season.”
Shuman said the energy and physical play in practices leading up to the games has been good and expects the team will be prepared for Friday.
“If we go out and play our best game, we will control the game and get that win,” Shuman said. “We just need to go out from the start to the finish, play 100%.”
Without a postseason this year, Gagnepain said Friday will have an elevated atmosphere as the team looks to win the I-8 for a second straight year. They were outright champs last year.
“We’re looking at it as if it’s a championship game,” Gagnepain said. “We’re going for conference. We have to practice really good to play really good.”
Ryan said the Spartans can’t and aren’t taking anything for granted.
“We couldn’t have put ourselves in any better position going in,” Ryan said. “But we still have to play. Nothing is given to you. You have to go out and take it, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The team also is in the position of rooting for conference rival Kaneland. A win by the Knights would give the Spartans the outright title.
“I hope they go there, handle business,” Gagnepain said. “They’re running back there [reigning Friday Night Drive Team of the Week MVP Corey Phillips] goes for a couple hundred and a couple touchdowns, beat LP. I’m hoping they win this one.”