SENECA – Dwight and Seneca have played annually in football for many years, yet their opening-week game in 2014 will offer some unique aspects from the perspective of both teams.
The game will be Dwight’s first as a Sangamon Valley Conference member, although it is a nonconference game. For Seneca, it will be the first regular-season game against a non-Interstate Eight Conference opponent since 2001, even if Dwight was an I-8 school through the 2013-14 school year.
Seneca’s schedule will be a bit different from what it has been for the past few years in some other ways. Its Week 2 opponent, Nokomis, is a newcomer to the Fighting Irish schedule. Nokomis has made 12 playoff appearances since 1995 – six in Class 1A, five in 2A and one in 3A. The Sept. 6 game also will be Seneca’s first in the regular season on a Saturday since 2010.
“Dwight is a [nonconference opponent] that we obviously know, and then we get to see a team we do not know for what should be a real good game,” Seneca coach Ted O’Boyle said. “There’s no real tie [between Nokomis and Seneca]. They happened to be open, we happened to be open and it should be a good test both ways.”
Seneca has faced its Week 4 opponent, Herscher, in each of the past two seasons, but this year’s meeting is different because it is a conference game, as the Tigers are dropping down to the I-8’s Small Division after several years in the Large.
In Weeks 8 and 9, the Irish will play I-8 crossover games against opponents in Plano and Coal City that they have not faced since 2011.
“We haven’t played Coal City since I’ve been here,” said O’Boyle, who is in his third season at Seneca. “From what I’ve heard, that’s always a big rivalry game. With that being a Week 9 game and it being [at Coal City], there could be some major playoff implications for both teams.”
To Irish quarterback Zach Russell, a game against an opponent with whom the Irish are very familiar stands out above everything else on the schedule. Wilmington will bring what is currently a 32-game winning streak in the I-8 Small and a 12-game winning streak against the Irish to Seneca on Oct. 10.
Not only did Wilmington hand the Irish their only conference loss in 2013, Russell said that his teams also have lost every time they have faced opponents from Wilmington going back to his youth football days with the Seneca Pride.
“It would be about the best feeling you could have,” Russell said of beating the Wildcats, “especially to have it happen my senior year.”
Center Colin Griffin said the 2013 game between the Irish and Wilmington only furthered their desire to dethrone the longtime conference champion.
“The atmosphere when we lost, 14-6, in Game 5 last year was incredible,” Griffin said. “There were hundreds and hundreds of fans lined up all around [the stadium]. It was an adrenaline rush all the way through.”
One advantage the Irish will have this season against Wilmington that they lacked in 2013 is that they will face the Wildcats at home. It is an advantage they will enjoy often. They are scheduled for six home games, including two to begin the season and three straight in Weeks 6 through 8.