GENEVA – After starting the season 1-2 and with some challenging conference games left to go, Geneva football coach Rob Wicinski acknowledged he would have been OK with a 5-4 record and squeaking into the playoffs.
That was three weeks ago, but it sure feels a lot longer the way the Vikings are playing now. These days, Geneva looks like a team that not only can qualify for the playoffs, but win once they get there.
Friday’s 35-21 win against St. Charles East gave the Vikings their third straight win and offered another 48 minutes of evidence that back-to-back, lopsided home losses to Wheaton North and Batavia only toughened up the Vikings for the stretch run.
Let there be no doubt, Geneva is headed back to a customary playoff berth after a one-year blip last year. The Vikings (4-2, 3-1 Upstate Eight Conference River) have a realistic chance to finish the regular season on a six-game winning streak, with only UEC crossover foe Metea Valley standing as a legitimate obstacle in the final three weeks.
One year after going 0-for-the-Tri-Cities, the Vikings rebounded admirably from their Week 3 beating by Batavia, topping St. Charles North and St. Charles East on consecutive weeks.
Offensively, the Vikings are flourishing, proving they can click through the air and on the ground, with improved line-play factoring in heavily on both accounts.
The offensive line’s emergence is all the more impressive considering the Vikings lost starting guard Quinn Einck to an ACL tear in the North game.
“We kind of challenged the line, if we’re going to make a run here, we need you guys now,” Wicinski said. “I think we did see some of that. I think they made strides, even since last week [against North].”
On a night when senior running back T.J. Miller rushed for four touchdowns, the Vikings’ three-headed receiving monster of Pace Temple, Kyle Brown and Michael Landi continued to make big plays all over the turf, too, capitalizing on quality QB play from Daniel Santacaterina.
“[Defenses] definitely lock down on Kyle sometimes, and still can’t really stop him,” Landi said. “But they try to, and that leaves the rest of us open, and when we’re open, I don’t think they really know what to do.”
The homecoming crowd at Burgess Field was treated to fireworks at halftime Friday night, but that must have seemed like a bore compared to what they witnessed in the opening half.
Geneva led 21-14 at the break after East (4-2, 2-1) scored on a memorable play to close the half. Running back Ramon Lopez took a direct snap, then seemed to be wrapped up by the Vikings’ defense before flipping the ball just in time to quarterback Jimmy Mitchell, who scampered in for the 4-yard TD to give the Saints new life.
That play was one of only a handful that made Wicinski cringe on the night.
“I tell you, [the Vikings defenders] better get in the weight room because that kid should have been down,” Wicinski said. “But he stood up and he held there and then he pitched it away. We need to make that play.”
Earlier in the first half, both teams managed touchdowns on fourth-and-goal plays, and Temple made a terrific play on a deep floater, barely beating East safety Brannon Barry to the ball before scampering upfield for a big gain.
Making the theatrics all the more enjoyable, the game mattered greatly to both teams. East entered play hoping to remain unbeaten in UEC River play with a showdown against Batavia two weeks way, while Geneva was not even assured of a playoff bid if it lost to the Saints.
Instead, it looks like earning a home playoff game should be the team’s goal for the rest of October. And enjoying some success in November is beginning to look well within the VIkings’ capabilities.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.