Oswego finds itself in an unfamiliar, and unenviable spot entering the final third of the regular season.
It needs wins.
Traditionally, the Panthers are positioning themselves for another conference championship going into Week 7. Or a home playoff game.
Not so this season. Oswego’s 31-3 loss to Plainfield North last Friday dropped the Panthers to 2-4 on the year, putting them in a position of needing to win out to reach the five-win playoff eligibility mark. As of last week Shaw Media’s Steve Soucie had 12 4-5 teams in his playoff projections – but that is far from a guarantee.
How unusual is it for Oswego to be in this situation? The Panthers last missed the playoffs in 2010, two years before Brian Cooney came aboard as head coach. Oswego has only missed the playoffs three times since 1985.
It will be a challenge to keep Oswego’s streak of 10 straight playoff appearances going. After a game Friday with West Aurora, the Panthers finish with 4-2 Oswego East and 5-1 Yorkville.
“Our backs are against the wall now with four losses,” Cooney said after the loss to Plainfield North. “We have to win out in order to make the playoffs. That’s what we will start working toward next week.”
Oswego isn’t the only area team facing an uphill climb to the playoffs.
Plano, coming off a 40-20 loss to Johnsburg, is also 2-4 and likely needs to win out to reach the postseason. The Reapers, after a road game with Harvard this week, finish with Kishwaukee River/Interstate 8 Blue leader Rochelle and Marengo.
“Mathematically we’re not out of anything yet,” Plano coach Rick Ponx said. “You have to look at it that way.”
Even Oswego East, which on the surface looks in good shape playoff-wise at 4-2, faces a tricky path to five wins. The Wolves host 5-1 Yorkville Friday, followed by rival Oswego, and finish with unbeaten Plainfield North.
A welcome return in Yorkville
Yorkville’s offense got a nice boost last Friday with the return of Gio Zeman. The senior running back, who missed two weeks with a foot injury, made his presence felt in his return with 25 carries for 151 yards in the Foxes’ 10-0 win at West Aurora.
“Between the 20s, he had a ton of yardage, he picked up big chunks of yardage,” Yorkville coach Dan McGuire said. “I’m glad we waited a week to put him back in there. He seemed a lot healthier and physical.”
Zeman in four games this season has rushed for 454 yards on 72 carries with three touchdowns, a 6.3 yard per carry average. Last Friday was his second time over 100 yards.
“He’s a big difference-maker,” McGuire said. “Our team doesn’t have a lot of experience offensively. I think he takes pressure off our quarterbacks and receivers. Teams have to load the box a little bit more with him. He hits the hole quickly as well, hits that seam, so as a result our O-line doesn’t have to hold their blocks as long.”
McGuire said that Zeman compares favorably to another great Yorkville running back, Mike Kurtz, who also happened to wear No. 32.
“His physicality is contagious,” McGuire said. “Almost to a fault he’s one of the most physical backs that I have coaches in regard to liking contact. There are some similarities between the two in regards to always falling forward and hitting the hole hard. They both do a really good job of that.”
Yorkville with a win Friday over Oswego East can clinch the program’s fourth straight playoff appearance. It would mark just the second time in program history the Foxes have reached the postseason four consecutive times. They did so in 1987-1990 under then head coach Bob Williams. Yorkville’s win last week makes the Foxes playoff eligible and in all likelihood would be sufficient for the postseason, although they have bigger goals in mind.
“The expectations have been high for this group; we haven’t clinched anything yet and getting that fifth win is not easy,” McGuire said. “In high school football it’s not easy to get to the playoffs. There have been some years like last year where it took a while to get that fifth win. If anything the win last week guarantees a winning season.”
Plano is getting some much-needed reinforcements for the stretch return with the return of some key injured players.
Samuel Sifuentes was cleared to return the morning of the Johnsburg game, which helps the Reapers’ defensive backfield. Junior lineman Mario Melendez, who went out in the Ottawa game, is now back, and fellow lineman Andrew Harrelson played last week with a cast on his arm. Plano also welcomed back senior running back/linebacker Carnell Walls, cleared in the middle of last week.
“I think he was a little rusty but he’ll be full go going forward,” Ponx said. “You get a kid who is 6-foot, 210 pounds running the football and our middle linebacker, it makes a difference.”
The Reapers could use him going up against Harvard and its wing-T offense.
“They’re a wing-T team, which poses problems with the option,” Ponx said. “It will be critical for us to play disciplined football.”
By the numbers
It’s no secret what Oswego East is going up against Friday against Yorkville – one of the most fierce defensive lines and front sevens around. The Foxes have made life miserable for most offenses and quarterbacks.
How tough have they been?
Wolves’ coach Tyson LeBlanc, in preparation for this week, broke it down. Looking at third down alone, he noted that Yorkville’s defense has put offenses in 31 situations of third down and 11 yards or worse.
“You just look at how many negative plays they cause,” LeBlanc said. “You have to put yourselves in third and manageable situations. Because third and long, when those dudes can pin their ears back, they’re tough.”
Against a front like that, it helps to have a mobile QB like LeBlanc does in Navy recruit Tre Jones.
“A guy like that who can use his feet, absolutely,” LeBlanc said. “A year in the system, understanding the offense, our O-line has played better this year. I think it’s just Tre’s offseason work and not just with his throwing and stuff but with his weight room work. There were a couple plays last week where he carried some guys. He is stronger in that way.”
Jones and the Wolves’ offense, though, will need to do a little better job protecting the ball. Oswego East turned it over three times in last week’s loss to Minooka, two of which led to 10 points. The Wolves on the season have committed 12 turnovers in six games.
“We can’t keep turning it over and we need to get some turnovers which is tough to do with a team like Yorkville that’s going to run the football,” LeBlanc said. “We’ve made the emphasis the last two weeks to continue to work on that ball security. It’s got to be an emphasis.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle