Buzz in the stands
Whether the Vikings can rediscover the thrill of winning in the playoffs.
That used to be almost a given for a spoiled Geneva fan base. Coach Rob Wicinski’s program won at least one playoff game every year from 2004 to 2010, but the Vikings were eliminated in the first round in 2011 and did not make the postseason last year.
Geneva’s offensive line vs. St. Patrick’s defensive line
The Shamrocks’ defensive line is considered one of the team’s chief strongsuits, led by East Suburban Catholic defensive player of the year Quentin Voce, an end. Joe Haniacek is a 260-pound defensive tackle that also could cause recurring angst for Vikings quarterback Daniel Santacaterina and Co.
Geneva coach Rob Wicinski considers matching the Shamrocks’ physical line-play a serious concern, although he said it was hard to determine on film how agile the Shamrocks’ linemen are.
“We’re going to have our hands full on both sides of the ball up front,” Wicinski said. “They’re nasty like buffalo, but if they can run like gazelles, too, this is not going to be a good matchup for us.”
If the game comes down to the final minutes, both teams’ penchants for pulling close games out of the fire will be tested.
Geneva scored dramatic victories this season against Oswego (29-27) and Metea Valley (49-45), while St. Patrick has relied even more heavily on winning the close ones, topping Bloomington (21-20), Joliet Catholic (22-21) and Carmel (17-15).
“It’s been exciting, that’s for sure,” St. Patrick coach Dan Galante said. “Our fans don’t leave the games early.”
Best-case scenario for the Shamrocks
St. Patrick is able to gouge a Geneva defense that has occasionally looked vulnerable, as recently as the Week 8 shootout win against Metea Valley.
Galante’s team relies heavily on workhorse running back Jeremy Molina behind an offensive line that includes all-conference left tackle Jack Donovan and cousins Patrick Moriarty and Billy Moriarty.
“We definitely have an identity,” Galante said. “We do like to run the football. I think that sets up a lot of stuff we do, and then we have the ability to get into some spread stuff. It’s a nice balance, a lot like what I’m looking at with Geneva on film. They have the ability to run power and they have the ability to run spread. We’re pretty similar in that way, too.”
St. Pat junior quarterback Zach Fuller is plenty experienced, having taken over late last season because of an injury, and will try to connect with a receiving corps led by two-way standout Mike Warner and recent sophomore call-up Trevor Heinlein.
Best-case scenario for the Vikings
The Vikings continue what Wicinski sees as steady, week-to-week progress his team has been able to make.
Last week, for example, Geneva’s Chis Barger had the team’s first kickoff return for a touchdown this season.
“I think as far as kickoffs and kickoff returns, we’ve seen markable improvement all the way through,” Wicinski said. “Just like in all phases of the game, I’m excited to see them play again because each week we’ve seen improvement in most areas.”
Senior defensive lineman/place kicker Billy Douds has been relatively quiet in the kicking game since converting a key field goal in the Oswego game, but in a potentially close game like this one, Wicinski thinks Douds has the right mindset.
“I asked him last year why he didn’t do it and he kind of shrugged his shoulder and said ‘No one asked.’ … So he’s the perfect guy [to be a kicker],” Wicinski said. “He doesn’t really think about it.”
Jay Schwab’s prediction: Geneva 30, St. Patrick 26
There aren’t many first-round matchups between teams as hot as these two, with Geneva coming in on a six-game winning streak and St. Patrick winners of five in a row.
The Vikings will need to be locked in mentally to oust a St. Pat’s team that owns a signature win against Joliet Catholic (8-1) and has adopted a do-or-die mindset since starting the season 1-3. It could get hairy, but playing at home and with a multidimensional offense that has been outstanding in the second half of the season, the Vikings merit the benefit of the doubt.