Teamwork takes Vikings to state

After the party at Burgess Field last night - who knows, maybe it is still going on today - I'd like to point out that you can't spell Champaign without a G.

Just like you can't spell frigid without a G.

Which is appropriate, because Geneva punched its first ticket to the state championship game in 33 years on a night that cried out for a Ice-Bowl-like nickname.

OK, so you can spell frost bite, hot chocolate and winter-like conditions all without a G.

But you need a F, R, O, S, B, C, L, W, M...

... As in Fagot, Ratay, Olenek, Shannon, Boenzi, Biel, Beitzel, Clausen, Lee, Wicinski, Martin, May - those are just a few of the players and coaches who helped make history on a bitterly cold night in Geneva.

The weather wasn't the story, not by a long shot, other than kudos to the thousands of fans who packed the stands and stayed warm by making more noise than I've ever heard at a Geneva game.

Like the saying there's no I in team, there's no I in Geneva, and they proved it on the biggest stage Friday night.

All year Michael Ratay has put the team on his back, now just 1 touchdown shy of the state record. On Friday, Geneva found a way to win a game when Ratay had 20 rushing yards at halftime.

"We always say it is a different guy every night," said defensive back Sean Grady, who if it was baseball season would have hit for the cycle with his field goal, 2-point conversion pass, interception, fumble recovery and kick return.

"We've always had Michael Ratay, but we always feel we need everyone else to step up and do their part and if they play assignment football then we'll come out of their with a W."

Handling their assignments like punter Harrison May, pinning Crystal Lake South at the 5-yard line at a time in the first half when Geneva was struggling. Or linebacker Trevor Hyslop, sealing the win with an interception.

Or overlooked receivers like May, Brandon Lee and Jason Holmes, making one key third-down reception after another to keep the chains moving through the air, instead of the ground.

"We have more depth than we have had any other year," Holmes said. "We have guys that can come in and play if guys go down. We've had that all year which is a great key to our success."

Who personifies that more than defensive tackle Richie MacDonald? After not playing all season, MacDonald played three stellar playoff games filling in for All-Stater Frank Boenzi, who was out with mono.

MacDonald played well again in the first half, then gave way for Boenzi's return. Unfortunately for Geneva, Andrew Clausen went down with an injury in the fourth quarter, and there was MacDonald again filling in for another of the Vikings' standout linemen.

"He's stepped up huge," linebacker Brennan Quinn said. "He's been tearing it up. I knew he had it in him."

Quinn is one of the few Geneva players who walked off the same field two years ago on a night the Vikings came up one game short of state, losing to Batavia.

"Finally, it's our time to go," Quinn said. "That (Batavia loss) hurt but now it feels that much better to go."

Coach Rob Wicinski was there with Quinn for that loss, and for many more in his first four years. Geneva went 5-31, with an 0-9 and two 1-8 seasons.

That same program is now 35-3 the last three years, and now with a signature, breakthrough win to get to state.

"I thought right away of all the players who have come through and built the base," Wicinski said. "Those guys who were 0-for and 1-for, they worked just as hard. They didn't quite see the results these guys are seeing. These guys put the talent together with the belief and base that was established with these other guys, and I'm proud of the coaching staff. I'm just so happy for these kids."

Nope, there's no I in Geneva, not even an ME. It's team-first, from the head coach on down.

Just one more letter for you before I leave you to make your hotel reservations and travel plans for Champaign.

You can't spell Vikings without a V, just like you can't spell victory without a V. And with this program, especially this year, when you see the Vikings, you'll see a victory.

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