High school football: Marengo has high hopes for 1st playoff berth since 2004

MARENGO – There is a completely different vibe around Marengo.

A few years ago, football victories were either scarce or nonexistent.

When Marengo did catch a sniff of the playoffs, in 2011, Burlington Central squashed the hopes with a 57-0 defeat in the final regular-season game.

Last season, when they knew five wins was not enough, North Boone overcame a two-touchdown deficit and broke the Indians’ hearts, 29-28, in the final game.

“It was one of the biggest things that fueled us this year,” running back-linebacker Kyle Gara said. “We didn’t finish last yea. This year, we have to finish. We know what it’s like to come close. We have to get past that.”

There is two-thirds of a season remaining, but the first playoff berth since 2004 seems a certainty and the Indians (3-0 overall, 1-0 Big Northern Conference East Division) look like a division contender as they head into Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Richmond-Burton (3-0, 1-0).

R-B should provide the toughest challenge so far for a team averaging 41.6 points and 478.3 yards a game.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Gara said. “I’m really confident, especially with how the season’s gone so far, in our guys doing their jobs. We have a really good chance of going deep into the playoffs.”

The Indians believe they can reach the postseason and grab their first playoff win since 1997.

“I want to go deep into the playoffs and see what happens from there, get a good seed and stuff,” linebacker Drake Stravopolos said. “We’re capable."

It might sound funny coming from the program with the area’s longest current playoff drought. But the Indians have dominated their opponents to the tune of 125-21 and appear, along with defending champion Johnsburg and R-B, to be the cream of the BNC East.

The senior class has been successful since its days in the Marengo-Union Junior Tackle program, where it won Illini Youth Football League Super Bowl titles in seventh and eighth grades.

“We’ve always had winning records,” senior tight end-defensive end Colton Wightman said. “We don’t take losing lightly. We love to win. Now, it’s going to be a lot of competition coming along with Richmond, Harvard, Burlington and Johnsburg.”

Yet those teams likely are viewing Marengo in another manner.

Wide receiver Craiton Nice leads the area with 22 receptions, while wide receiver Jarrell Jackson has 12 catches and an area-best seven touchdowns. Jarren Jackson, Jarrell’s junior brother, has run for 318 yards, and quarterback Zach Knobloch, who sat out of football his junior season, has passed for 739 yards.

“I’ve been playing with Zach since we were 6 years old,” Stravopolos said. “I’ve been talking to Zach for more than a year about playing. I’m really glad to have him back.”

Knobloch concentrated on basketball last season and set the Illinois state record for 3-pointers at 167. He led the Indians to a 27-6 record and was Northwest Herald Player of the Year. With more to do this fall after school, Knobloch sometimes shows up at school at 5 a.m. to get in his basketball shooting.

“[The playoffs] would mean everything to us,” Wightman said. “We just want to start the fire again back in this town. We started it in basketball, and to have the town behind us, it was something awesome to feel. Going down to Rochelle [for sectional], having everybody there. We want to start that again in football.”

Gara, Jarrell Jackson, Stravopolos, Knobloch, Brandon Temple and Kwinn Velasquez were up as sophomores two years ago. Their other classmates joined them last year, minus Knobloch, and notched the Indians’ first winning season since 2004. Now, it’s time to take another step … or more.

“We won two [IYFL] Super Bowls,” Gara said. “It was a long time ago, but we had our minds set to do great things in high school, and we’re here and we can do that.”

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