After a practice showered with rain, Sangamon Valley coach Michael Lee wasn’t done.
He took lineman Matt Standish aside and the two practiced blocking punts again and again. Soaked and wind-whipped, Standish obliged by diving after Lee’s kicks.
“You never know if you’ll need it,” Lee said.
That’s the approach Sangamon Valley took this week. Lee budgeted time for extra reps working on punt blocking and a little weather wasn’t going to get in the way.
And even though Sangamon Valley landed a rematch with Cerro Gordo-Bement for the first week of the playoffs, he’s not deviating from the scheduled playoff preparation either.
This was supposed to happen far less -- two conference teams matching up in the first round -- after the IHSA did away with quadrants and went to seeding north and south brackets 1-16. But the math worked out that the 8-1 Storm and 5-4 Broncos would rematch after Sangamon Valley won 41-25 in Week 5.
“I would prefer to play someone new, just for the excitement factor,” Lee said. “I guess, the familiarity is both good and bad. You know what they’re going to do, but in the back of my mind it’s ‘Are they going to get tricky?’”
CGB coach Andy Kerley is of the same mindset, although there’s one thing he’s happy to have.
“It’s a matchup that's we’re familiar with. It's a matchup the kids think we didn't play our best the first time around,” he said. “You don't get the opportunity a lot in football to fix it.
“But I don't necessarily know if we would rather play them than somebody new.”
Part of it is not wanting to knock out a conference foe, part of it is the playoffs can bring an exciting unknown.
There’s another angle for a Sangamon Valley team still looking to build its legacy – not wanting the “Well, you’ve already beat them” argument to come up.
“Playing some old people, it kind of gets old,” Storm running back Wyatt Royce said. “We already beat CGB. If we play someone new and beat them, it kind of gets our school name out there.”
There’s one new element for the Storm – playing at home. Last year’s comeback season featured a rarity in two straight road games. Tonight’s game will be the first home playoff game since 2007. Lee’s hoping with a scarcity of games tonight, Niantic will become a hotspot.
“I think it’s going to be crazy,” Royce said. “It’s something where if you have a home game, you don’t expect many people to be there, but since this is the playoffs, it’s a bigger deal and you’re going to expect a lot more people.”
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The Broncos fans making the 40-minute drive will see a coach in Kerley that’s determined not to make the same mistake twice. There were a handful of things that went wrong, including multiple turnovers (including Dalton Grohler’s only lost fumble of the year), while he felt it was one of Sangamon Valley’s best performances of the year.
“It was one of those games where right as soon as you're done, it’s, I'd like to do that over again,” Kerley said. “We walked out of there like Denny Green, ‘They are who we thought they were.’”
The Storm’s rushing attack was slightly different than what they had seen on film as well.
“They’d run some option in the past, but it had been more veer,” Kerley said. “They changed it up a little and ran more midline. There's not a lot a whole drastic difference.
“In the first half, they hit it us with it a couple of times, and we weren't ready.”
Knowing both were going to be in 2A, they’ve been keeping tabs on each other.
“I’m pretty sure they followed us in the schedule,” Lee said. “I’m pretty sure they have every game film other than Weeks 1 and 2.”
Lee’s made tweaks as well, simplifying the defensive backs’ reads after CGB threatened with the passing game late in the first half. One thing is the same – Lee wants to keep Grohler and the rest of the Broncos’ offense under control.
“We’ve done a good job of keeping their running attack to manageable plays,” Lee said. “They’re good at what they do, so not giving them the big play is the big focus for us.”
Whether Sangamon Valley can turn out the same outcome in the sequel remains to be seen.
Until then, there’s certainly plenty hype and noise sure to circle around Sangamon Valley’s field. And like player, like coach, Storm running back Wyatt Beals is focusing on 7 o’clock tonight.
“I usually don’t try to pay attention to all that (outside the game). No matter how many people are here, we’re going to play our hearts out,” he said. “You never know which game is going to be your last. “
NOTE: Kerley said lineman Tyler Walker, who missed last week’s game against Maroa-Forsyth with a concussion, would be questionable to play today.