The gold-and-black sign that hangs from the scoreboard in the south end zone at Sycamore's Engh Community Field screams appreciation for this farm town.
It reads, "SYCAMORE HAS BEEN GOOD TO ME!"
Funny, opponents of Sycamore's football team keep having bad experiences at the Spartans' stadium.
Antioch became undefeated Sycamore's latest victim Saturday, as the Sequoits committed a bevy of first-half mistakes in falling behind by four touchdowns, before the losing the Class 5A state playoff opener 48-24. The opening half alone saw the visitors miss a 22-yard field goal attempt, fumble at their own 33-yard line, surrender a punt-return touchdown and drop a pass in the end zone.
"We had a bunch of silly mistakes," said Antioch senior fullback Cameron Corey, who rushed for a team-best 77 yards and a TD and ran in a pair of PATs. "We just came in with the wrong mindset and came in with pregame jitters. We didn't know what to expect, and it just didn't end up too good in the first half."
It went extremely well for second-seeded Sycamore, which advances to play No. 10 Nazareth, while ending the season of No. 15 Antioch (5-5).
Speedy Spartans junior Dion Hooker rushed for 226 yards and 2 scores on 19 carries, despite still recovering from a stress fracture that caused him to miss most of the regular season. Hooker is the defending Class 2A state champion in the 200-meter dash.
"He got caught," Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said with wide eyes, referring to Hooker getting pushed out of bounds by Sequoits defensive back Cameron Ayers after a 50-yard gain late in the opening half. "He's not 100 percent yet. Normally, he wouldn't get caught. He's just not in great shape yet, because he's been out."
Antioch had its own burst, opening the game by marching from its own 33 to the Sycamore 5. But the Sequoits' field-goal try went wide, and the home team countered with a 16-play, 80-yard drive. Riley Hurley's 1-yard run on fourth-and-goal, after Antioch's defense snuffed Hurley for no yards on Sycamore's previous two plays, put the Spartans on the board.
Antioch then fumbled, and Sycamore's Logan Schneider recovered at the Antioch 34. Two plays later, Hooker scored from 29 yards out on the final play of the first quarter.
"That's how you want to get out of the gate," Ryan said. "It's a new season, and you're playing teams you have not seen before. It's like the start of the season. You've got those anxious moments. You're just not quite sure how things are going to go."
It got worse for Antioch when Ben Niemann grabbed a punt at the Sycamore 41 and returned it for a touchdown. One play after Ayers pushed Hooker out of bounds at the Antioch 27, quarterback Nick Feuerbach faked a handoff and raced up the middle and into the end zone.
"We had chances to make plays and we didn't," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said.
Antioch tried to make a game of it after halftime, trailing 28-0. Matt Stiglic recovered Wes Zegan's onside kick to start the second half, leading to Zach Andre's 43-yard completion to Alan Taylor on a fake punt to give the Sequoits first-and-goal from the 5. Corey scored on the next snap and ran in the ensuing conversion try.
"At halftime we talked about everything we could fix," Corey said. "We fixed everything. We came out and played our hearts out."
Antioch tried another onside kick following Corey's TD and the Sequoits' Patrick Krause recovered that one. But the Sequoits went three-and-out, and the Spartans responded with a 10-play, 96-yard drive that Feuerbach capped with a 9-yard toss to Devin Mottet.
Feuerbach gashed Antioch, too, rushing for 122 yards and a TD and completing half of his 4 completions for scores. The Spartans rolled up 376 rushing yards.
"They kept pounding it up the middle," Ayers said. "There were just holes that they were finding, and they were making great plays."
The 6-foot-2 Feuerbach has been quarterbacking the Spartans only since starter Mottet suffered a shoulder injury in Week 8 against Kaneland. Mottet played wide receiver against Antioch and caught 2 passes.
"He just got back this week," Ryan said. "He didn't have a lot of reps yet so I didn't want to put him in at quarterback. But he's a senior and he wants to be on the field. He's played receiver before so I asked him. We have no egos on this team."
Andre (13-of-26 passing, 194 yards) threw a 10-yard TD pass to Jacob Lanahan (6 receptions, 97 yards), before Hooker busted off a 54-yard run to extend Sycamore's lead to 41-16 after three.
Antioch got its final TD when Ayers intercepted Feuerbach and returned 32 yards into the end zone.
"We had a situation there where we needed to make a play," Ayers said. "Even though it was late in the game and it wouldn't change (the final outcome), it was still good to make a play like that and keep the team going."
Feuerbach's 2-yard pass to Michael John Poorten finished the scoring. To Antioch's credit, the Spartans didn't go to their backups until less than two minutes remained in the game.
"It was 'man ball' there and they 'man-balled' us," Glashagel summed. "The thing that they're so effective at doing is, you put points up and then they just drive and take time off the clock, so you can't get the ball back quick enough."