SENECA – If you guessed that the last time the Seneca varsity football team started 2-0 was during its last playoff season, you would be wrong.
The 2001 Fighting Irish actually started 0-2 before winning their final seven regular-season games and earning what today is the program’s most recent playoff berth. Before Friday, the last time Seneca won its first two games was 2000, when it went on to finish the regular season 9-0 and make the Class 3A state quarterfinals.
Friday’s 12-7 win over Peotone, coupled with a 34-21 Week 1 win over Sandwich, ended Seneca’s drought of nonconference perfection. At least three, and possibly four, additional wins will be needed for a more prominent drought to end with a return to the postseason.
“They were probably in like kindergarten when that happened, so I’m sure that they probably don’t remember that, which is good,” Seneca coach Ted O’Boyle said of his players. “This group seems very focused on taking it one game at a time. We talked at the beginning of the season about how we needed to split the first two with the bigs. Now we put ourselves in a great position, but we still have to take care of business.”
Irish senior Bo Taylor, who contributed 195 rushing yards, two touchdowns and a fumble recovery to the Peotone win, guessed 2005 when asked if he knew the last time Seneca was 2-0 before being told the correct year.
“Hey, that’s a good thing, then, huh? Break a 13-year streak,” Taylor said. “We still gotta focus up. We gotta take it one week at a time. I know our goal is playoffs, but in order to get to the playoffs, you gotta take one team as serious as you took the last team, so we can’t be looking ahead or looking back. Gotta just get the blinders on and look at the team we’re playing.”
If Seneca can win against the Interstate Eight Conference Small Division’s three winless teams – Dwight, Reed-Custer and Westmont – it would reach five wins, which is the minimum number needed for a playoff berth. Seneca plays Westmont in Week 4, Reed-Custer in Week 6 and Dwight in Week 7.
The Irish found out the hard way in 2012 that five wins does not guarantee a berth, as they finished 5-4 but did not have enough playoff points to make the postseason. But with wins over those three winless teams, Seneca can clinch a playoff berth with a win in just one of its other remaining games. The Irish open Small play against 1-1 Lisle this Friday, go to Wilmington in Week 5 and end the season with Herscher in Week 8 and Manteno in Week 9.
O’Boyle was asked if the Irish will feel less pressure going forward with two wins already in the bank.
“Well, it’s either that or you feel more. The closer you get to the magic number, maybe the more pressure you feel,” he said. “I think this is a different group of kids. I don’t think they worry about that. This is a group that really enjoys playing the game. I don’t even know if they care what the record is, at times, which sometimes that’s a good way to play when you’re a high school kid.”
To get to where they are, the Irish first had to end a six-game losing streak against Sandwich. Seneca last defeated Sandwich 20-7 in the sixth week of the 2004 season. The Irish had also lost two straight to Peotone prior to Friday, with their last win in the series a 28-21 decision to conclude their 2010 season. Both Sandwich and Peotone were playoff teams in 2012.
“I knew Sandwich was going to be real tough, and I knew Peotone ... they’re both really good teams, and I knew it’d be so hard to get here,” Irish co-captain Austin Applebee said. “I knew we had a good team, but I didn’t know we were this good.”
Another captain, Brad Wyss, said he felt the early Irish success was possible prior to the start of the season.
“I didn’t expect not to be 2-0,” Wyss said.