Early-season challenges have paid off for Antioch
In recent years, Antioch has enjoyed a run of high notability among northern Illinois football teams.
Since 2016, the Sequoits have gone 40-9, making the playoffs all five years they were offered during that time span (Remember, the 2021 COVID-19-induced spring season had no playoffs).
The Sequoits' success in the Northern Lake County Conference also has been well-documented. Coming into this year, Antioch had won the conference every year since the circuit started play in 2015.
But two numbers stick out in that 40-9 ledger. First, Antioch went a perfect 6-0 during this past spring, seemingly setting itself up for continued momentum out of the chute this fall.
The second part is the one with a tinge of unpleasantness to it. The Sequoits started this season 0-2, including a season-opening loss to Waukesha (Wis.) Catholic Memorial, which is currently 11-0, and finished the regular season ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press in Wisconsin' medium division classification -- and as Antioch coach Brian Glashagel put it, is a favorite to win a state title.
Next, it was a 31-21 Week 2 loss to a Morris team that is now 9-0, was ranked AP No. 3 in Class 5A heading into Week 9, and is a No. 2 playoff seed.
But was this really an unpleasant start for a team accustomed to winning?
"No," responded Sequoits junior quarterback Quade Moll when asked if anybody hit the panic button. "We knew it would set us up and prepare us for later in the season. We knew what kind of a team we were and we knew it would make us better. No panic."
Indeed, no panic. Antioch proceeded to win six of its last seven games, the only further blemish a 24-13 loss to undefeated and new NLCC champion Wauconda in a game the Sequoits led in the second half. The two teams could conceivably meet again in the Class 6A quarterfinals.
Right now, the Sequoits (6-3) find themselves in the playoffs for the 10th time in Glashagel's tenure on the sidelines, and as the No. 11 seed in the north half of the 6A bracket. Antioch heads to No. 6 seed Lake Forest (7-2) to play the North Suburban Conference runner-up Scouts in a first-round game Friday at 7 p.m.
"We have the most playoff points I've ever had in my 15 years here at Antioch," said Glashagel, whose team had the seventh-most playoff points (46) among nonconference champions with 6-3 records in the state regardless of class. Antioch's 3 losses have come against teams with a combined 29-0 record.
Antioch senior running back Andy Bowles agreed there was no need after only two games to get out paper bags and cut eye, nose and mouth holes in them for fans of the maroon and silver to wear.
"Everybody on the team is in for the ride," he said. "It may have been a shocker to everybody in the community because over the past few years we have had zero-loss or 1- or 2-loss seasons. When we played Morris and could have pulled out the win, everybody still seemed pretty calm and everybody was ready to get back to work and get things better."
Glashagel said the reason for the team's success this fall is Football 101 stuff.
"We are running the ball very effectively and playing good defense," he said. "If you can do those two things, you are going to win a lot of games."
Antioch has piled up 1,813 yards on the ground or just north of two bills a game and is averaging a sound 5.44 yards per run. The Sequoits have five players with more than 100 yards rushing with sophomore Nick Day leading the team with 733 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 6 touchdowns. Aiden Lennon has 384 yards and 8 scores, while Bowles has 369 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and 7 scores.
"Our physicality is one of the best assets we have," Bowles said. "It's always a trench fight every game. Our running backs and wide receivers are finishing runs and catches. We're wearing teams down for four quarters and that is ultimately what gives us wins."
Glashagel also has been pleased with Moll's exploits. He's thrown for 952 yards and 7 touchdowns against only 3 picks in 115 attempts.
"Every year we have good coaching," Moll said. "We have guys who want to work had and come out ready to play every year. Good coaching and hardworking kids work well together."
After giving up 44 and 31 points in those first two games, Antioch has clamped down on defense, allowing a total of 54 points over the final seven games (3 shutouts and a 6-point stymying of Round Lake). The Sequoits are holding teams to 3.9 yards per rush and have forced 14 turnovers.
"We have this swarm mentality," Antioch senior defensive back Hunter Bukowy said. "Sometimes you will see in football where if the ball is on the other side the defensive end or corner won't go there. We believe in all of us pursuing the ball. It's rare with us to see only one guy making a tackle. There are always multiple hats on the ball. Everybody wants to be in on the play. When there is a fumble there are more Sequoits on that ball than anybody else.
Bukowy added he watched Antioch a few years ago surrender but 57 points the whole season on its way to a second-round playoff appearance.
"They let up barely any points," he said. "Seeing that personally was cool. And now I am part of this defensive success. Having a great defense is something that is real hard to beat."
With the sustained level of success the program has achieved, Bowles said there is a certain amount of personal expectations involved.
"This program has been good in recent years," he said. "There are a lot of expectations going into a season. We were undefeated in the spring and having the guys of the past few years graduated, we wanted to carry on their legacy. One of our big goals was to make the playoffs. Winning the conference would have been great, but we are in our end game now."
Moll added: "We carry a lot of pride within the community. We want to carry on what people have done before us. When we go out there, we expect we will be champs and win and go to the playoffs."
And Antioch is ready for its next challenge in Lake Forest against a Scouts team who lost to Warren 18-14 in a game that determined the North Suburban title in Week 9. Lake Forest's other loss this season was to Carmel (3-6) in Week 2. The two programs are no strangers to each other, splitting a pair of season-opening nonconference games in 2018 (Antioch win) and 2019 (Lake Forest 10-7 home win).
"Looking from the outside in this game we are the underdogs," Moll said. "We don't think so. We like feeling like we are underdogs. We like going to play teams in their home stadium. There is less pressure."
Bowles added: "We are ready to take any fight in 6A. We have the team, the coaching, the plays -- everything."
Glashagel likes where his crew stands as bonus high school football is about to get underway.
"We are physical and mentally tough," he said when asked what makes his team dangerous on each side of the ball.
"All phases of our game have improved every week. We are practicing better and getting stronger every week."