The second round of the playoffs was a dream come true for the Taylorville football team.
The Tornadoes hope the third round isn't a nightmare.
Following Taylorville's only second-round playoff win in school history, the Tornadoes will play a familiar but daunting opponent today in Class 5A No. 1-ranked Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
Last Friday was a night no one involved with Taylorville football will ever forget. The Tornadoes (10-1) won on the road at Highland and were met by a police escort as they got back into town. Fans lined the streets in the town square to cheer them on.
“That's something that rarely comes around in your sports career,” Taylorville senior quarterback Tanner Champley said. “They did it when we won the basketball regional my sophomore year, but it was nothing like this.
“Being part of the best football team in Taylorville history is special. And when we pulled into the square and there were all those people waiting for us, it was a crazy atmosphere. It was incredible.”
That night seemed impossible three years earlier after Taylorville finished its second of back-to-back 2-7 seasons.
But Champley said Taylorville's players knew brighter days were ahead.
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“Our freshman year, our team only lost two games in the Central State 8,” Champley said. “We knew we would be good once we got to the varsity level if we just kept working. Now we're a team with 22 seniors who stuck with it.”
Taylorville coach Jeb Odam said the back-to-back 2-7 seasons were “dark days,” but the players and coaches always stayed optimistic.
“The kids never stopped showing up and never stopped believing we could win games,” Odam said. “They never checked out.
“That led to this year having a team physically ready to play at the varsity level. You can have talented underclassmen, but when you have seniors, you're going to be bigger, stronger and faster.”
But is Taylorville big, strong and fast enough to compete with 11-0 SHG? The Cyclones are the defending Class 5A state champions and beat Taylorville the last 14 times the teams played. Last season, SHG beat Taylorville 66-12.
“They have a great tradition and they've built and built on the pride the people involved with the program take in it, and they really have it rolling,” said Odam, who was quarterback for the 1994 team that knocked off a then-undefeated SHG team in the regular season. “They're the whole package – tough, athletic and with a well-rounded coaching staff and big following.”
Taylorville's players don't need a history lesson on SHG's tradition or the Tornadoes difficulty competing with the Cyclones during their time in the CS8. Instead, Odam said he and his coaches spent the week showing his players what they could do on the field to pull the upset.
“As coaches, it's our job to put our athletes in the best possible places to make plays against what they throw at you,” Odam said. “We watched film and showed them formations that they don't like defensively and how we can take advantage of that.”