The Streamwood football team has arrived at its moment of truth.
After slogging through eight losing seasons in which the Sabres won just 10 games, Streamwood (5-2) can make its triumphant return to the state playoffs for the first time since 2002 with a victory over Larkin at Millennium Field tonight at 7:30 p.m.
The Sabres set the standings on fire this fall by firing from the gate with 5 straight wins. The winning streak sparked a revival of playoff fever among the folks on Schaumburg Rd.
"It's been great having so many fans come out and watch us," said senior running back Alex Morrow, who leads the Fox Valley area in rushing (962 yards) and scoring (14 touchdowns). "A lot more people are going to games than ever before. It's nice to see all those people happy and always talking about our team."
Unfortunately, talk about the Sabres in recent years centered on how badly they would lose. A big reason? For nearly a decade the players failed to fully buy into the idea of off-season preparation. In other words, too many players found excuses not to lift. That was a problem because if you don't lift in the off-season, you don't win many games in the physical Upstate Eight Conference, a league in which muscle often trumps hustle.
Cummins and his hardworking staff were able to spawn a culture change over the past two years after several years of trying. They were helped by dedicated team leaders like Morrow. His sturdy lower body generates enough power to rival a wind farm, a trait multiple Division-I schools have noticed.
The Sabres returned to the field this season a stronger and faster unit.
"When we were sophomores, teams like St. Charles East could run up the middle on us for 15 yards on every play and we couldn't do anything to stop them because we weren't strong enough," quarterback Dalton Lundeen said. "Now our line really can move people on both sides of the ball because we really are bigger and stronger."
Morrow isn't the only weapon of note, which is why the team is enjoying success. Lundeen, the No. 2 starting pitcher on the school's Class 4A Elite Eight baseball team last spring, has completed 62 of 117 attempts for 1,106 yards and 12 touchdowns. The maturing left-hander, playing his third varsity season, didn't throw his first interception until last week.
Lundeen has athletic receivers at his disposal in track star Blake Holder (15 rec., 433 yards, 5 TDs), 6-footers Deji Giwa (14-244-5) and Ryan Cook (6-94-1) and Alex Mugnai (7-92).
"They don't have just one good receiver, they have three or four," said Larkin coach Mike Scianna, who graduated from Streamwood and was a football teammate of Mugnai's father. "It's a lot for a defense to contend with."
Throw in a defense that limits opponents to 266 yards a game and it all adds up to a big improvement over recent failed campaigns.
But let's be clear: while Streamwood has developed into an above-average team, we're still not talking about a band of world beaters headed for a state title. The Sabres' 5 victories came against teams currently sporting a combined 3-32 record (Hoffman Estates, Dundee-Crown, Elgin, St. Charles North and East Aurora).
Granted, the Sabres did what they had to do by blowing those teams out by a combined score of 186-57, which gave hope they could acquit themselves well against the elite teams in the UEC River Division when the time came.
However, they slipped up against St. Charles East in Week 6, losing 49-34 to a team that had not won a game. It was a golden opportunity to notch a win against the Saints for the first time since 1990, but Streamwood simply made too many mistakes.
More mistakes followed in a 42-0 defeat last week at Geneva, a game Cummins, Morrow and Lundeen all agree should have been a 14-7 game at halftime had the Sabres been more disciplined. Instead it was 21-0 and the Vikings doubled that score in the third quarter for a 42-0 victory.
Those consecutive losses leave Streamwood needing one more victory in its final two outings to reach the magic number of 6 wins and an automatic entry to the playoffs. The Sabres close the season next week at undefeated Batavia, which defeated Geneva 49-34, so there's little reason to believe the Sabres can win in Week 9.
Therefore, tonight's game against Larkin (3-4) is essentially do or die for their playoff hopes.
"Certainly, our opportunities lie here more this week than the following week," Cummins concedes. "We're talking about two different types of teams in Larkin and Batavia. I think this is the one (Larkin) we've certainly been looking at."
In fact, it's the game Streamwood fans have been looking at since 2002.
"It's right there for us," Cummins said. "It's time to go out and get the job done."