SYCAMORE – For the seventh time since 2007, the Sycamore and Montini football teams are meeting in the postseason with the Spartans still searching for their first win.
After a close loss last year, 21-17, in the second round, Sycamore safety Manny Dominguez said last year's loss and the history of the series provide extra motivation.
"The people who played last year have been thinking about this game for a long time," Dominguez said. "We were excited when we got the matchup of Montini. We're just ready to go."
Of course, facing a highly motivated team that wants to avenge a loss or just take a shot at a six-time state champion is nothing new for the No. 6 Broncos (9-1).
"To be honest with you when you come to Montini you get used to having a target on your back," third-year coach Mike Bukovsky said. "It doesn't really come into play with anything. We don't think about things that way. They are a good team, a very good program, and we have a lot of respect for them. We don't look at how many times we beat them or we didn't beat them. None of that has any bearing on the game. They have good coaches and obviously quality players I don't care if it's 100 times or zero times we played. I don't look at the excess stuff."
In last year's loss, the Sycamore defense stymied Montini in the first half, holding the Broncos to just seven plays. But a kickoff return for a score kept the lead at 10-7 at the break, and the Broncos came back for the win.
"It was a big play in a big game," Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. "Ultimately it looks like the difference in the game. But there's a lot of plays... that make a difference in a game. That was just a big one that stands out. We have really improved our special teams in practices because we can just keep calling upon that. 'OK, you guys don't want to go hard today? Let's trip over the past a little bit and talk about what happened in that second round playoff game.' All of a sudden it's adjusted really fast."
Montini ended up taking second in Class 5A last year.
Ryan said with the shared history between the schools, the No. 3 Spartans (9-1) are less intimidated by the mystique of Montini and are more familiar with the on-the-field product and what to expect.
"So some schools, you play a school like Montini with their history you go, 'ugh jeez it's Montini,'" Ryan said. "We know what we're getting into. That's because we've played them. It's not going to be a shock of how fast their kids are or how physical their kids are. You can't simulate in practice. You can watch it on film but you still won't recognize it. But these guys already know what it's going to be like. Now they have to play to that level."
The Broncos are scoring more than 35 points per game, while Sycamore is allowing just 4.6 points per game.
Ryan said the defense will have to play a great game – they have five shutouts on the year – to slow down the Bronco attack.
"They do some really, really great things offensively," Ryan said. "Defensively they're always aggressive and physical. You just have to play really well. You're not going to get away with not playing well and then having a chance to beat them. There's no way. They're too well coached and they're too good of football players. We're going to have to play really well and we know that they're going to play really well against us."
Bukovsky said he's looking forward to another chapter in the rivalry.
"They do a lot right and I have a great respect for them," Bukovsky said. "We've had some great games over the years. The big thing is this time of year is to do whatever it takes to adjust and put yourself in a position to win. Last year was a great example of that. We expect the same type of effort from them so I think it will be a similar type of game."
Sycamore quarterback Grant McConkey agreed with Dominguez that the team has been waiting for another chance to face Montini.
"We basically use that as motivation throughout the whole summer and whole year this year," McConkey said. "We know they're not going to go away. They're going to be in our path eventually. It's just about getting through them."