SENECA – One team will bounce back from a running-clock loss in its last game with its first playoff victory in years Saturday afternoon at the Seneca football field.
Like the host the Fighting Irish, their opponent, Kewanee, was blown out in its final regular season game – 42-8 by unbeaten Rockridge. Like Seneca, which will be appearing in its first playoff game since 2001, Kewanee has gone over a decade since its last postseason win. Kewanee advanced to the 3A quarterfinals in 1999 and has been to the playoffs once since going 0-1 in 2011.
The paths to their winningest seasons since 1999 and 2001, respectively, have been different for the Irish and the Boilermakers, however. Seneca’s victory total has increased from the year before in each of the last five seasons, including a 5-4 showing in 2012; while Kewanee was 1-8 in 2012 before going 6-3 this season under first-year coach Tyler Nichols.
“Nerves are gonna be a factor, definitely,” second-year Seneca coach Ted O’Boyle said. “When you haven’t been there in so long and don’t know what to expect. Kewanee’s in a similar situation. They’re not a perennial playoff team either.”
Seneca’s offense features quarterback Bo Taylor (143 carries, 1,419 rushing yards, 17 rushing touchdowns) and running back Tommy Lovett (149 carries, 916 yards, 9 touchdowns).
The Boliermakers pass more often than the Irish – Nichols estimates a 60-40 run-pass distribution – but their offense similarly revolves around two players in the backfield. Austin VerVynck rushed 134 times for 789 yards in the first eight games, and quarterback David Washburn completed 56 of 97 passes for 913 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
“They’re more of a pro-style offense. They run the I-(formation) and they throw the ball a little bit, but I think they’re predominately a running team,” Taylor said of the Boilermakers. “They’re in the playoffs, so they have to be pretty good.”
Schematically, the Irish offense is much like what Kewanee faced in its final regular season game.
“They are a very, very good spread option football team,” Nichols said of the Irish. “They do other things, too, but I would consider that their bread and butter. It’s similar to what we saw from a very good Rockridge team. I think it will all start with us stopping the run. We know they can throw as well, but our focus will be on stopping the run and forcing them into other things.”
Taylor and co-captain Brad Wyss both admit the Irish were not as focused as they should have been during the week of practice leading up to last Friday’s 54-6 loss at Manteno.
They noticed a change in the first few days of this week.
“The approach is way different,” Wyss said. “Everybody’s trying to challenge each other, getting our best shot every day, cause we don’t have that many days left ... unless we win again, then we got more days to play.”