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State title game at last for seniors

Caption
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Cary-Grove’s Ryan Mahoney (left) runs past Lake Forest’s Charles Moss to score a touchdown during the first quarter of Saturday’s Class 6A semifinal game Saturday in Lake Forest.

LAKE FOREST – I believe.

I believe that we. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win this game.

Four years ago, Ryan Mahoney believed. So did Quinn Baker and Kyle Norberg.

As the three current Cary-Grove seniors stood on the sideline their freshman year at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, along with Zach Marszal and Patrick O’Malley, they watched Trojans capture the 6A state championship over Providence Catholic. And they believed.

They believed one day, their turn would come.

But in the moments immediately following C-G’s 42-21 semifinal victory over Lake Forest Saturday, Mahoney struggled to put his emotions into words, trying to come to grips with the fact the Trojans will return to the championship game next weekend.

Earlier this season, when Mahoney sustained a high-ankle sprain, he believed. He believed his teammates wouldn’t miss a step without him. He believed that when the time came for him to return, it would be like he had never left.

That’s what makes Cary-Grove such a feel good football story. They believe. They believe in themselves. They believe in each other. They believe in the community members that line the fences after every game – win or lose – to congratulate them, to thank them for what they do week in and week out.

When you play football at Cary-Grove, faith is simply part of the equation – even when the success the Trojans have experienced this season seems – at times – too good to be true.

“It’s hard to believe that we’re here just because it’s so amazing and such an unreal experience,” Mahoney said. “But it’s easy to believe it because I know how hard all of us worked.”

The Trojans toiled together, never forgetting that if they ever stopped working as one, the finished product would suffer. They worked through summer workouts and battled through injuries to key players. Yet, even through times of adversity, the Trojans believed.

Baker believed. When the senior quarterback broke a bone in a hand, he believed that his teammates would carry on in his absence. He believed in sophomore Jason Gregoire, who engineered C-G’s triple-option for three weeks until Baker returned the second week of the playoffs, leading the Trojans to three straight victories to leave them one win away from the state crown he and his fellow seniors believed they were destined to win four years ago.

Now, C-G is one win away. The Trojans will face fellow No. 1 seed Crete-Monee Saturday in Champaign. This week, Mahoney and his teammates will prepare for the final game of their high school careers, finishing on the same field where their championship dreams began four years ago.

And as they have all season, they will rely on what brought them to this point, putting their trust in the game plan their coaches formulate and trust in both their abilities and each other.

After all, it’s all they know.

“We would do anything for the guy next to us – we trust everybody on the field,” Norberg said. “They’re going to do their job, I’m going to do my job and we’re going to leave it all out here on the field.”

That’s the message the Trojans will carry with them to Champaign. It’s the mantra they will walk onto the field with and the belief system they will live out and that will echo when their frenzied fan base echoes the cheer that has been a part of every game this season.

I believe. I believe that we. I believe that will win. I believe that we will win this game.

After all, after 13 wins, believing has been made easy. Now the Trojans just need to finish.

“This has been our goal since the beginning of the season,” Mahoney said. “So we’ve got to go win it now.”

• Jeff Arnold is a sportswriter for The Northwest Herald. E-mail him at jarnold@shawmedia.com and follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.

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