Sunday, November 25th, 2018, 1 p.m.: The Trojan faithful braved the elements and collected in the lower gym. 95% of them had, exactly 24 hours earlier, witnessed the fourteenth win of fourteen games, and — who can blame them? — taken part in endless celebration since.
Now, a day later, a twinge of tiredness was present, but it was welcome. Everyone knew it was the product of a great game, weekend, and season.
Every fan was on their feet clapping and cheering with whatever voice they had left as the procession of championship medal-wearing Trojans paraded to their seats on the gym floor.
They were a relatively large team, both players and coaches. Each of them were one of the thousands who have been a part of Cary-Grove Trojans football since 1962. However, this group was also part of a smaller group of Trojans, a distinguished level so many great players and coaches of the past had come so close to but ultimately fallen short.
These guys were state champions.
Saturday’s 35-13 win over Crete-Monee was the final piece of an incredibly special season. For only the second time in school history, the Trojans are the state champs. Was it easy? No. Was it fun to watch? All the way down to the final victory kneel.
That morning, the Trojans fans started off what would be an incredible day by redefining “caravan.” The usually somewhat creepy location map feature on snapchat did a great job showing this.
Not long after what seemed like the whole town of Cary arrived in Champaign, it was time to buckle up and watch the 14th game in all its glory.
Crete-Monee started it off with an unorthodox kick formation, the same one they had used to beat one-seed Richards in the semifinals. It was an onside play that involved all of their players on field switching and running random patterns and therefore trying to not show the Trojans’ receiving team who would kick the ball and when.
The Trojans, however, had done exactly what they had for the last three months: prepare, prepare, and prepare. The amount of film they studied and kickoff situations they practiced paid off; not only did the Trojans gain possession of the ball then, but not once in the game did they let the strange kickoff fool them.
“It takes the whole week to prepare for a team like Crete-Monee, with all the things that they do, like the kickoff formations,” head coach Brad Seaburg said. “I know our coaches and our players did a great job this whole week on really honing in on what they were doing.”
Despite letting up a late touchdown in both of the first two quarters, all aspects of the Trojans’ game looked good in the first half. Blake Skol, Zach Perrone and Ben McDonald each had a TD, the second of which was followed by a successful two-point conversion run by Danny Daigle.
The defense limited the Warriors to 21 plays and 153 yards at half, and got them off the field enough for the offense to put together 40 plays and 221 yards of their own. The Trojans had the lead, 22-13.
The usual stars were shining, and at the level the Trojans were playing, they were only two quarters away from a state championship. They knew, however, to never let off the gas. Crete-Monee had become infamous for their playoff comeback wins in the last few weeks. If they wanted to keep the lead and win, the Trojans would have to keep the Warriors offense off the field and dominate the second half.
Throughout this long and successful season, we’ve been witnesses many times to the Trojans fully taking control of games or moments. The blowout wins over McHenry, Hampshire, Central, and more come to mind, or the several individual performances that won Trojans the conference player of the week. There are plenty more, but the point is this: the 2018 Trojans had shown before how they can take control of a game.
None of those instances, however, compare to the second half of the state championship, which included the greatest drive of the season. The Trojans offense first got the ball with 9:48 remaining in the third. The goal was, with the 22-13 lead, to limit the Crete-Monee offense from getting the ball.
The Trojans did eventually give it back — 20 plays, 90 yards, a TD, and the most dominant 11 game minutes of the season later.
The Trojans held the ball from 9:48 in the third until their post-Quinn Priester TD kickoff just over two minutes into the fourth, completely limiting any chance of the Warriors offense scoring, and adding to their own lead in the process.
“When we go into a week and prepare, we look at the defense, we practice plays,” quarterback and senior captain Ben McDonald said. “It’s just a matter of execution at that point.”
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the performance of the Trojans’ defense, especially in the second half. Much like they had against PR in week eight, CG’s resilient defense made up for their late-quarter scoring mistakes and came out for the second half as a steel curtain.
Not only did they not allow Crete-Monee to score again, but they also kept the ball in the hands of the Trojans offense. In fact, the Warriors only had the ball for 5 minutes and 33 seconds of the second half.
“With an offense as explosive as Crete is, to limit the number of touches they had and to get them off the field… what we did today defensively is something other teams in the tournament haven’t been able to do,” Coach Seaburg said. “Our guys just battled, and did an outstanding job.”
When all was said and done, the Trojans dumped the Gatorade bucket on their deserving coach and stormed the center of the field. Alumni, students, parents, friends, fans, Trojans — they all packed against the railing of the bleachers and cheered endlessly, as they had throughout every game for the last three months, and every season before it.
This championship means a lot for so many people, and not just for the average fan. For the past eight years, Coach Seaburg has brought the Trojans to at least the second round of the playoffs. Despite that, in the two times before this that he’s taken a team to state, 2012 and 2014, he’s come up a win short both times.
As long as I’ve been interviewing him after games, he’s always told me the ultimate goal every year is two things — helping the players become better people, and in the process win the state championship. I think it’s safe to say the goal has been achieved.
“It was beyond words,” Coach Seaburg said in his speech at the Sunday pep rally. “It comes back to our kids, and yes, it comes back to their talent, but it also just comes back to their role. I’m so proud to be a Cary-Grove Trojan. I’m so proud to be their coach.”
At that same pep rally, I had a chance to talk to CG’s principal and biggest superfan, Neil Lesinski.
“What I think is impressive is not just the players themselves, but also the commitment of all of the other programs and people involved,” Mr. Lesinski said. “What’s special about football, in particular, is it’s an opportunity for all of those kids, parents and grandparents to be involved. To me, that’s what makes it so special.”
Something heard more than ever this weekend, especially after the win, was the phrase “once a Trojan, always a Trojan.” This could relate the alumni chanting and cheering with the current students after the win, or the teachers who watched and celebrated, or any of the many players and coaches this championship team was made up of. This win and this season was for all of them and more.
So how do you find a way to wrap up an undefeated, championship season? How do you classify it as anything but great?
This season showed the power of preparing specifically for your opponent. This season showed the power of a great community. This season showed the power of true effort and determination. This season showed how a team could bounce back from a stunning playoff loss the season before and win every single game the next chance they get. This season brought fourteen different victory celebrations, each bigger than the last.
This season ended with the ultimate goal achieved for only the second time in school history, and it still was so much more than that. This season wasn’t 14 wins. Not at all. It was more than that. It was a win for every fan, player, coach, alumni, and Trojan — and that’s a lot more than 14.
On a personal note, I’d like to take a minute and thank everyone who has read my weekly content during this incredible season. To be the beat writer for this team has been nothing short of amazing. As I jokingly tell friends, it’s been the best challenge of my life every week trying to find a new way to tell you all that the Trojans won. I look forward to next season, but I hope you will stick around the Trojan Times and look for new content from me and my fellow writers for the rest of this year first. Thank you for reading and sharing all season, and congrats to the Cary-Grove Trojans — 2018 IHSA 6A State Champions.