Rockets, Sabres revel in return to playoffsStreamwood's Dalton Lundeen (13) and Tyler Hendershot (2) celebrate after their victory at Streamwood High School in Streamwood, Ill., on Friday, October 14, 2011.
| Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
Updated: May 9, 2012 9:54AM
From the biggest football powerhouse to the tiniest rural team, every squad in Illinois begins the season with the simple goal of getting at least six wins.
In the Land of Lincoln, six victories provides automatic entry into the state playoffs, and on Friday night a pair of success-starved local teams crossed that threshold in emphatic fashion.
With its 49-7 thrashing of North Boone, Burlington Central ended a three-year playoff drought and made reservations for its first spot in the postseason since 2007.
A three-year absence from the playoffs might not seem like much to some, but the Rockets hadn’t gone four straight years without reaching the postseason since the early 1980s. Enter first-year coach Rich Crabel, who has ushered in a return to prominence for Burlington Central with his hard-nosed brand of defense and a balanced offensive attack that has delighted Rockets fans.
Back to the east, the celebration likely lasted long into the night after Streamwood rallied to beat Larkin 22-12 to clinch its first trip to the playoffs since 2002.
Success and football usually don’t go in the same sentence when discussing the Sabres, who will make only their third playoff appearance in 19 years. By improving to 6-2, Streamwood matched its combined win total from the previous five years under the guidance of coach Cal Cummins.
It was like old times for Cummins after beating the Royals as he narrowly avoided getting totally soaked with a Gatorade bath.
“I still have a few moves,” Cummins said. “They got a little bit on my back, but they missed mostly.”
Such celebrations were the norm for Cummins during his successful 17-year run as Freeport’s coach, but wins proved hard to come by after he arrived at Streamwood in 2006.
That is until the current group of dedicated Sabres arrived on the scene.
“This is a great feeling for the school, for the program and for the kids who have been committed here the last few years,” Cummins said. “These senior and junior groups were the ones that really bought into a lot of the things we were trying to do.
“We always say good things happen when you work hard. This is definitely a good thing.”
The breakthrough victory didn’t come without some tense moments for the Sabres.
Following a 5-0 start to the season, Streamwood had suffered two frustrating losses in a row. Knowing there was no chance of qualifying for the playoffs with only five wins due to a weak strength of schedule, the Sabres found themselves with their backs against the wall against the Royals with a Week 9 trip to undefeated Batavia looming.
Things got really hairy for Streamwood when Larkin took a 12-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Sabres dug deep and got the job done. Senior running back Alex Morrow literally carried the offense with one huge run after another down the stretch, and talented junior Blake Holder helped seal the win with two late interceptions on tipped passes.
“We had to fight through,” Holder said. “We haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002, but this is a new feeling this year.
“There were a couple times we’d be in the offensive or defensive huddles where players would be like, ‘This is the biggest drive of our lives, so let’s make something out it.’ It was either playoffs or not, and we responded.”