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Fifteen years ago, Bill Clinton was our president, the top movie at the box office was "Titanic", the Chicago Bulls won the NBA championship, and the price of a gallon of gas was $1.21.
The year 1997 also marked the last time Aurora Central Catholic's football team qualified for the state playoffs.
That's one of the reasons why ACC's sixth victory of the 2012 campaign -- a 55-0 blowout of Guerin last Friday night at Bob Stewart Field -- carried special meaning.
Not only did the Chargers clinch their first postseason berth in 15 years with the victory, but coupled with their 42-7 Week 6 win over Walther Lutheran, helped erase the stinging pain of back-to-back losses to Guerin (18-15) and Walther Lutheran (28-26) that cost them a potential playoff bid during a 4-5 season.
"For it to happen with these two games (vs. Walther Lutheran and Guerin), it's kind of fitting," said ACC head coach Brian Casey. "It offered a little bit of closure. It was nice to do it now. The kids wanted these two (wins). It's a great day for them."
The 15 seniors on this year's squad -- Steven Amoni, Steve Belovich, Sean Canning, Joe Cisneros, Lucas Faltz, Nick Homan, Josh Karn, Javier Liz, Jake McCarthy, Matt Nass, Tyler Nelson, Michael O'Donnell, Josiah Padilla, Drake Riedy, and Izzy Rosa -- certainly haven't forgotten what occurred in 2011.
They weren't allowed to forget.
"On the door in there (locker room), the sign says, 'Never Again,'" said Casey. "That was something we talked about all off-season.
"That sign was in the weight room, and there was a video of all of our mistakes -- turnovers, fumbles, penalties, breakdowns -- that played in the weight room every single day," added Casey. "For the last two weeks, they've watched it over and over and over again."
Whatever the case, the not-so-subtle reminders have paid off.
"Last year was the worst and best thing that could have happened to this program," said Belovich, a 2-way starter at running back and linebacker. "Sure, losing to Walther and Guerin was terrible for us but you look around and you've got 15 seniors and a handful of juniors who all went through that last year.
"That just puts a fire in your stomach -- that we were there once and we aren't giving that back twice."
Belovich, currently ranked 32nd in career tackles with 131, entered the season with high hopes that were bolstered by the Chargers' 25-15 opening day victory over Pontiac.
"I was a little optimistic about the year but after that initial win and just seeing how everyone came out, I knew right then and there that we had something special," said Belovich.
Actually, that "special" feeling may have started with Casey's arrival in 2010.
From 2003-2009, the Chargers posted an unimpressive record of 8-55 and hadn't won more than 2 games in any of the 7 seasons.
In Casey's debut season as ACC head coach, the Chargers finished 3-6 before last year's 4-5 campaign.
After last weekend's victory over Guerin, Casey now owns a 13-12 mark at ACC -- the first time his overall record has been above the .500 level since the Chargers won 2 of their first 3 contests in 2010.
Why the sudden turnaround?
"It's that positive attitude he brings to practice every day," said Belovich. "He's always jumping around. He brings enthusiasm. He'll give you that positive encouragement. I just feel that his positive attitude has helped us out so much."
Casey deflects the praise back to his players.
"When you have the seniors that we have right now and the senior leadership we have right now, that was the big thing this off-season," said Casey. "We developed a leadership council and we had a bunch of kids out there who weren't happy with the way it ended last year.
"These kids had that taste in their mouths."
It wasn't the taste of filet mignon.
And it left them demanding more.
"I think when you have leadership and you have a great attitude, a lot can happen," said Casey. "I think that's our biggest asset -- we have the experience and we've been through it before. This year, they knew what it was going to take.
"They bought into the hard work," added the coach. "It certainly wasn't easy on them."
Belovich wouldn't want it any other way.
"It's incredible," said Belovich, who was 2 years old the last time ACC reached the playoffs. "My whole family came here (to ACC). When I was a little kid, I always dreamed of playing in a playoff game. Now it's my senior year and that dream has come true."
The Chargers, who are likely to fall into the 4A state classification for the postseason, will be plenty battle-tested heading into the first week of the state playoffs after closing out the regular season on the road against Class 6A foe Marmion (Oct. 12) and 3-time defending Class 5A state champion Montini (Oct. 19).
"Things are going well for us right now," said Casey. "We're in a great spot right now but there's still a lot of football left to be played.
"We're 6-1 and we've locked up a spot. We're in a phenomenal position in the sense that now we've got two games left with nothing to lose and really everything to gain."
What a difference a year makes -- and what a difference has been made from the past 15 years.
You can reach Craig Brueske at email@example.com
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