CHAMPAIGN – Seeing a backup playing with Cary-Grove’s offense was nothing new.
It had happened all year.
Kasey Fields, Jason Gregoire, Joe Warnecke and Nick Nibungco had done it during the regular season.
On Saturday, the next man up was Joey Scott. The junior hadn’t seen significant time all season, usually between six or eight plays a game. He had four carries for 20 yards all year.
But with the Class 6A state title on the line, it was Scott who entered the game when running back Ryan Mahoney was injured.
It didn’t go perfectly – rarely does. And the Trojans did come an 80-yard, two-minute drive short of tying Crete-Monee.
But Scott stood tall (at 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds) and did his job, running for 32 yards on six carries.
“It just shows how much unity we have with this team,” senior Kyle Norberg said. “We’ve been doing that all year.”
It’s what this Cary-Grove team was about.
On Saturday, they played a faster, physically imposing and hard-hitting Crete-Monee team.
And the Trojans played them to the wire, even without Mahoney and – in the fourth quarter – without offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland, who was injured and replaced by John Klodnicki.
“We’ve got a lot of faith in our backups,” C-G coach Brad Seaburg said. “If you can’t play, you can’t play. But we have a lot of faith in our guys.
“We tell them all the time that just because you’re a backup doesn’t mean you’re not going to get in.”
Because they do get in. And the coaches aren’t afraid to use them at important times.
Seaburg could have played Fields on offense. He had done it when Mahoney was hurt earlier in the season.
But he wanted to play Scott. Because Fields had his own challenge in front of him on defense.
The thing Scott probably will remember most from the game was watching a pitch hit the ground in front of him and turn into a 5-yard, fourth-quarter fumble recovery touchdown for the Warriors.
“It was just missed timing, and when that happens in our offense it’s a big breakdown,” quarterback Quinn Baker said.
What Scott needs to remember is that, because he was in the game, Fields was in on defense and came up with a big interception.
“In the playoffs, it’s really difficult to be a two-way guy,” Seaburg said.
After not playing significant time all season, Scott averaged 5.3 yards a carry in the state final.
Cary-Grove wasn’t the fastest team.
And it wasn’t the biggest.
But because of players like Scott, Klodnicki, Fields, Gregoire, Warnecke and Nibungco they were able to persevere and reach the state final.
That’s Cary-Grove football. And that’s why the Trojans were able to make the state finals for the third time in seven seasons.
Because there’s always a Joey Scott out there, ready to go in the game and make a play.
• Write to Northwest Herald Sports Editor Jon Styf at firstname.lastname@example.org.