Can Stillman Valley football rebound again? Here's what 4 stars have to say
Stillman Valley standouts, Andrew Latham, Jory Spain, Madix Barrett and Colten Cook give their sides of the stories
STILLMAN VALLEY — Stillman Valley sandwiched seven impressive victories around two 35-0 beatdowns at the hands of the Big Northern Conference's football elite.
Now the Cardinals have to find a way to bounce back a second time from the largest setback the program had suffered in four years. Stillman Valley (7-2) hosts Chicago Hyde Park (6-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday to kick off its Class 4A state playoff run.
"In some ways, this is going to be very similar in how we're going to go after it," said Stillman Valley coach Mike Lalor, who has been at the helm since 1998, and has led the Cardinals to five state titles. "After that Week 1 game, we had to wipe the slate clean; we had to start over. Now, it's a new season with the playoffs, so we're looking at it the same way.
"But that doesn't mean we don't learn from those losses."
Building a new streak
The Cardinals are in the playoffs for the third straight year after an un-Stillman Valley-like stretch of four years without a postseason berth. The program won its fifth state title right before that in 2013, and had qualified for the playoffs in 16 of 17 years leading up to it.
Now they're looking to win their playoff opener for the third year in a row, as well. But it's going to have to come in a bounce-back game, after they were blown out by Genoa-Kingston (8-1, second place in the Big Northern Conference) in the regular-season finale. They showed they could do it before, bouncing back from a 35-point shutout loss to Byron (9-0, first place in the BNC) in the season opener with seven straight victories.
Those wins included one-touchdown victories over Dixon and North Boone, and one-point wins over Winnebago and Lutheran. They also included a 48-0 beatdown of Rock Falls, to follow up the loss to Byron, and a 51-16 win over Rockford Christian, to gain momentum leading up to the pair of one-point victories.
"I really feel good about this group going into this playoff game," Lalor said. "Win or lose, I know this group will come in and play hard. They will play with everything they've got.
"Can we execute enough to win? Only time will tell. But these guys will put it all out there, I know that."
What they had to say
Here is what four of the team's stars believe they learned from the losses, and how they can use that first experience to turn things around again:
Sr. DE, RT Andrew Latham: "We were pretty confident on Week 1, but that really showed us that if you don't execute at game time, the score will show that. We started to fall apart, and they jumped on us. We learned a lot that day.
"That was kind of a crossroads for us, and this is another one. In that Week 1, we had a lot of players out (due to COVID-19 protocols) and we were out of it a little, but we re-grouped quick. Now we have to turn it right around again, and we know we can. We've done it before. And now, it's playoff time, so it's even more important."
Jr. RB Jory Spain: "In both of those losses, we were playing pretty good in the first half, and then some little mistakes just piled up. Those mistakes just cost us, and kept getting us.
"But we all believe, just the way we took that first loss and turned it around, we're going to take this last one to heart, learn from it, and get it all back."
Sr. LB Colten Cook: "After that first one, we pushed each other a lot, and we just really kept our heads up, and made sure nobody got down. We know we have to do that same thing now, and everybody knows that.
"We're ready to stick our noses in there and go after it. This is not going to be a team going into this game afraid or anything. It's playoff time."
Sr. S, RB Madix Barrett: "That first game was really rough; really rough. But when you win big right away after that, and get on a streak like that, you can kind of see what can happen.
"What I'm seeing already is that this team knows we can do it. We have to go out there and perform. We all have to go out and do our jobs. But we've built this up, and we believe in ourselves."