It's for real: Buffalo Grove in playoffs -- and winning
It took Buffalo Grove coach Jeffrey Vik 13 years with the program before experiencing his first taste of the postseason.
And it was quite satisfying
Making its first playoff appearance since 2003, the Bison won its first playoff game since 2002 by defeating Belleville West 17-7 in the opening round of the Class 7A playoffs.
It's safe to say Saturday's win was long overdue for Vik, who has had a magical second season as the Buffalo Grove head coach.
"I have never seen a playoff game," Vik admitted. "This is the first Buffalo Grove playoff game that I've seen."
Buffalo Grove (9-1) fired out of the gates early against the Maroons (6-4), who seemed sluggish having traveled more than four hours for the game.
The Bison defense, which was averaging 11.7 points per game, forced a quick three-and-out on Belleville West's opening possession.
The Bison quickly drove 75 yards in seven plays on its first drive and took a 7-0 lead with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Connor Adams to running back Tom Trieb.
The score didn't change until 86 seconds were left in the first half even though Buffalo Grove dominated on both sides of the ball.
Trieb, the star of the game for BG, picked off a third-and-25 pass thrown by Belleville West quarterback Matthew Schmidt late in the second quarter.
That set the Bison up with stellar field position on Belleville West's 24-yard line. But Buffalo Grove could only muster a 24-yard field goal from Ryan Mueller to take a 10-0 advantage.
The second half was a much different story.
Belleville West coach Cameron Pettus inserted sophomore Jackson McCloskey at quarterback.
McCloskey provided an immediate spark to a Maroons' offense that hadn't waked up through 24 minutes. Schmidt finished the game 5-for-8 with 40 yards and an interception.
"He's a little bit more accurate right now," Pettus said of McCloskey. "Matt broke his thumb so he's kind of been out. With the cold weather and everything, he (McCloskey) can run a little bit. But they were doing a great job on Matt so I didn't know if we could get him loose running the ball. I thought our coaches did a good job in the second half making the adjustments and getting us back in the game."
McCloskey completed 5 of his first 7 attempts for 29 yards and had the Maroons moving on their opening drive of the third quarter.
The drive eventually stalled at Buffalo Grove's 24-yard line. But the Maroons were far from finished.
It certainly felt as if Buffalo Grove was about to stick a dagger in the scrappy Maroons after Adams completed a 42-yard reverse pass to a wide-open Matt Prawica, who had nothing but daylight between him and the end zone.
However, Prawica lost his footing after making the catch and fell down at Belleville West's 12-yard line. That was the first gift the Maroons received.
Trieb was stripped on the ensuing play and the Maroons recovered the fumble on their own 7-yard line. McCloskey staged a tremendous 10-play, 93-yard drive that was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Kriston Davis. The senior star tailback finished with 67 yards in his final high school contest.
However, that wasn't the biggest momentum swing of the third quarter for Bellville West.
Pettus called for a sneaky squib kick on the ensuing kickoff that was recovered by the Maroons on Buffalo Grove's 30-yard line.
Silence fell over the boisterous Bison faithful at Grant Blaney Stadium. It was safe to wonder whether Belleville West had hung around long enough to steal a victory with 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.
"I thought momentum was swung right to our side," Pettus said. "We needed to make a play to capitalize on that and you've got to give them credit. Their defense came out and did a nice job."
The Bison forced a turnover on downs in four plays.
It was a stand that might have saved Buffalo Grove's storybook season.
"That was a huge stop for us," Vik said. "One thing we talked about all year is responding to adversity and that was an adverse situation and they responded. The kids didn't freak out. The kids weren't nervous.
"It was just go out and play football and worry about the next play."
The squib kick wasn't the only rabbit Pettus attempted to pull out of his hat.
Facing fourth-and-3 from the Maroons' 16 with fewer than five minutes to play, Pettus made his boldest call of the game.
Belleville West receiver William Lanxon, who caught 14 passes for 121 yards, scampered out to his left before firing a pass down the sideline that was completed and would have been enough for a first down. However, the Maroons were flagged for having an illegal receiver downfield, negating the trick play.
Trieb put an exclamation point on the hard-fought victory just a few plays later with a 17-yard touchdown run.
The junior tailback finished the game with 136 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.
The two-way star expressed plenty of pride in leading Buffalo Grove to its first playoff victory in 15 years.
"It's huge," Trieb said. "This whole year, we've just had a whole different vibe to us and this whole school has just rallied around us. It's been amazing. It's a great feeling."
The Maroons have made the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons with Pettus at the helm.
But they have only one postseason victory to show for it. Pettus acknowledged his team must put an emphasis on getting through the first round.
"We've just got to get over this bar," Pettus said. "That's what we've got to do as a program and as a staff. We've got to continue to not just be happy making the playoffs. We've got to continue to win in the playoffs. We're getting close and we're going to continue to get better."
Buffalo Grove will face No. 7 seed East St. Louis in the second round next weekend after the Flyers defeated Libertyville handily.
Vik wouldn't even let his team think about the playoffs in August.
Two months later, the 'p-word' are the only thing on Buffalo Grove's mind.
"I can't say enough about them," Vik said. "It really started in the offseason. The kids totally bought in. I kept telling kids 'Please, just believe in the process.'
"In fact, we actually banned the "p-word," for a while. I told them we couldn't even talk about playoffs. The only p-word they could use was 'process'. So as we got closer and closer I said 'now let's talk about playoffs'. Once that became a reality, the kids just bought in."