This weekend’s series of high school football playoff games is Round 1 for the 256 teams that qualified for postseason play.
But for Antioch, this has to feel like Round 4.
That’s because for the past three weeks, the Sequoits’ playoff hopes have literally been on the line. Since a big-spread loss to state power Lake Zurich in Week 6 dropped Antioch 2-4 on the season, the team has known it’s had to win out to finish 5-4 and make it to the postseason. A 4-5 record means it’s time for basketball.
And win out is what Antioch did, beating Wauconda, Grant and Vernon Hills to literally live to play again another day.
That day will be Saturday at faraway Sycamore, where the Spartans are 9-0 and look formidable. But then again, Antioch’s looked pretty formidable itself the last three weeks and is excited about the challenge ahead.
“I love it,” said veteran coach Brian Glashagel about playoff football. “This is why we do this. I hope our story is not done being written. It’s already a great moment for the school to do what these kids did, and I want to keep it going.”
The coach said he made it clear to the players where they stood after losing to Lakes for a 2-3 record, and with a non-winnable game at Lake Zurich still on the schedule.
“You plant the sense of urgency in them weeks ago, that we had to win four out of our last five. I think they realized this was not just another week,” he said after beating Vernon Hills last Friday to finish 5-4. “They knew that because of what we said, we put ourselves into position where this was the win that would get us in. They responded great.”
Things weren’t always great this year but, to be fair, Antioch wasn’t exactly playing JV-caliber teams. The North Suburban Conference Prairie Division has seen the bottom teams get much better and top-team Lakes stay great. The three non-conference games were losses against teams that went a combined 21-6.
“If feels great to make the playoffs. We can’t wait to play again,” said senior fullback Cameron Corey who conceded that early on this season, “it was tough, especially when we weren’t playing too hot. There were games where we made a lot of mistakes, took too many penalties.”
Griffin Hill, a sophomore wingback who is the team’s most dynamic player, had this observation: “We realized early on that we were the ones stopping ourselves. The losses stink, but you just have to get past them. You have to have a short-term memory.”
And for the final word, the ball is handed to junior wingback Alan Taylor, who figures to be a key, key player next fall. Note that Antioch’s sophomore team this year was the only team that beat Lakes’ sophomores.
“These last few weeks it was a lot about the mental reps,” he said. “It’s great to see it pay off.”