DeKALB – When DeKalb and Sycamore meet Friday in their annual showdown at Huskie Stadium, the number of subplots surrounding the game is even higher than normal in the meeting of the two rivals.
Both teams enter at 3-0, a first since the First National Challenge series started. DeKalb has won four straight in the series after a long string of dominance by the Spartans. And it’s the last conference meeting for the two teams, and depending on where DeKalb ends up next year, potentially the last meeting, period.
But players and coaches for both teams said the focus squarely is on the field.
“I get that all those things are out there, but we don’t even talk about them,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “It’s this game, this Friday night, just like any other team. I get it’s a great rivalry, and we want to be successful in it, but we can never forget about the process we do to get ready for an opponent, whether it’s DeKalb or Morris or Kaneland. If we put an overemphasis on one team over another team, then we’re not going to be very good the next week, anyway.” [Shaw Media file photos]
DeKalb linebacker Keegan Smith said it’s about trying to get to 1-0 each week regardless of the opponent – even in a prominent rivalry game such as this.
“It’s easier said then done, obviously, but our coaches do a good job of keeping us focused,” Smith said. “We tend to stay focused on getting to 1-0 and ignoring the name of the team.”
Ryan said that’s part of his team’s process, as well, focusing on picking up a win more than the team lining up opposite them.
It’s a message Sycamore center Gage Armstrong said the team gets.
“It’s definitely one of those things you have to keep reminding yourself of,” Armstrong said. “You know all those kids on the other team, so it’s really hard not to get emotional, so you have to keep it in check just to get through it. It’s another football game, it’s another football game – you have to keep reminding yourself of that.”
DeKalb only has won seven times in the series since 1997, but that includes the past four.
“We know the trophy’s been at DeKalb for a while now,” Sycamore defensive lineman Jake Siegal said. “We think it’s time for it to come home. It was at Sycamore for a while, but it’s been at DeKalb the last four, five years. So we know there’s a lot of pressure on our hands.”
It’s the third time the teams have met with a perfect record – in 2010 and 2011, both teams were 2-0 entering the contest.
Both teams also enter with very tough defenses – each team has allowed only 20 points on the season.
“Oh my goodness, they get after you,” Ryan said. “They give you a bunch of different looks and come at you from a lot of different directions. We have to make sure we don’t get behind the chains. If we get behind the chains, they can pin their ear backs, and they’ll be bringing a bunch of different blitz packages at us. I’d rather not be facing that.”
DeKalb coach Matt Weckler said he expects his defense to get even better.
“We haven’t really, I think, touched our potential yet on the defensive side,” Weckler said. “I think there’s some things that we do very well in terms of pursuit, in terms of getting to the passer, but there’s still a lot of mistakes we make in terms of scheme. I think once we clear that up and allow our kids just to flow and make plays, we’re going to be much better.”
Logan Egler has been the main back for the Spartans, rushing 34 times for 294 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Grant McConkey is the second leading rusher, with 28 carries, 222 yards and three touchdowns.
For DeKalb, the running game is split between Jaylen Hobson (39-194-4) and Jalon Redmond (47-177-1).
Both teams are averaging less than 10 passes a game, and both quarterbacks have thrown for 260 yards. DeKalb sophomore quarterback Kyler Evans is 15 for 28 with three touchdowns and two interceptions, while Sycamore junior quarterback McConkey is 12 of 19 with three scores and no picks.
“We’re going to have to break tackles, one, and get to the perimeter pretty quick ’cause they’re pretty solid,” Weckler said. “Our athletes are going to have to make some plays. Their athletes are stout up front. Their defensive line does their responsibilities very well, and that gives their backer and their secondary opportunities to make plays at the line of scrimmage. And they have one of the best safeties (Manny Dominguez) in the conference.”
While Ryan said the Barbs’ strength of schedule has been stronger then the Spartans’ so far, Weckler said his Barbs have taken their opponents lightly so far – most notably last week against Metea Valley.
Although they won the game, 34-6, against the winless Mustangs, they fell down, 6-0.
“Last two games, we’ve taken teams kind of lightly, and we haven’t performed as well,” DeKalb offensive lineman Spencer Harris said. “This week we have to be top notch and go from there. ... It’s a big game, big stadium, big rivalry. Obviously, we have to take this week more seriously than other weeks, but we’ll be pumped and ready to go.”
Armstrong said Ryan always is telling the team about leaving a legacy, and he added that he feels this game is a chance to do that.
“That’s what I think is the biggest thing for our seniors this year,” Armstrong said. “We want to go out on top, leaving our legacy, maybe being that final team to ever play DeKalb and come away with that big [‘W’].”