DECATUR — There’s only one word to describe a Millikin football schedule that included a Week 2 bye leading up to a nine-week conference gauntlet.
“Very weird,” Millikin coach Dan Gritti said. “It’s not desirable and it’s hopefully something that will be fixed in the future. We’re used to having our week off in October sometime.”
The schedule came as a result of the CCIW adding Washington University-St. Louis as an associate conference member for football, giving CCIW teams nine conference games and just one non-conference game. Millikin’s schedule, for 25-plus years, began with two or three non-conference games before beginning CCIW play, with the bye coming later in the season.
This year, Millikin began with a non-conference game at Hope College, which the Big Blue won 25-21, then had last weekend off. Millikin will play North Park on Saturday in its CCIW and home opener.
“This ratchets up the intensity in a hurry,” said Gritti, in his third season as Millikin’s coach. “Usually we get to ease into it, but we won’t have that opportunity this year. In some ways it’s a positive because it’s going to make the kids focus more.”
Focus was an area Gritti said was a problem in Week 1, in which Millikin fell behind early and trailed until scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 8:40 left on a 16-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Nicco Stepina to senior wide receiver Gerald Perry.
“When we went back and looked at the tape, we were happy with the effort and ability our guys showed, and their ability to handle adversity,” Gritti said. “But what really came through was that, mentally, we weren’t ready. We had plenty of examples at every position of guys who weren’t focused. It was a positive in that we could point out plays and say, ‘When you’re not focused, this will happen.’”
Gritti said he also didn’t feel like his team showed they were in top physical condition against Hope, which was another aspect the Big Blue worked on during the bye week.
“We weren’t in good enough shape,” Gritti said. “But we are now. It’s going to be hot as heck on Saturday, but we’ll be ready to handle it.”
Last year Millikin handled North Park 30-15 in Chicago on its way to its best conference record (5-3) since 2001. Gritti said North Park, which was 3-7 last season, sees itself a lot like Millikin did last year.
“They’re ready to take that next step into a winning season and into the upper half of the conference, but they know they’re going to have to beat us to do that,” Gritti said.