Each time he ran sprints in the offseason or practiced in the cold this season, Alleman senior football player Ben West did so with one thing in mind.|
"I was thinking about Evergreen Park," West said.
A disappointing 19-18 loss to Evergreen Park in last year's Class 4A second round stuck with Alleman the last 12 months as it tried to prepare for this season. While the team admits they are not seeking revenge ahead of their Class 4A state semifinal meeting with Evergreen Park on Saturday night, the Pioneers are not forgetting the past.
"It was a heartbreaker," Alleman senior receiver/defensive back Connor Whan said. "We played hard, but we definitely made a lot of mistakes."
The outcome was not what caused the most pain. How the loss happened presented the most frustration.
"We did not have a good night, and it cost us," Alleman coach Dave DeJaegher said. "You've got to learn from that. You've got to take that as motivation going into this year. Everyone did."
The reward comes Saturday night.
"That's the best feeling," West said of meeting Evergreen Park for the second consecutive year. "That's why you put in the hard work for a year."
Alleman insists the emphasis this week rests on securing a second state championship game appearance in three years, but rebounding from that loss lingers. The Pioneers led 18-16 midway through the fourth quarter before pinning the Mustangs at their own 1 after a punt.
A pair of third-down conversions then put Evergreen Park in field goal range with 12 seconds remaining regulation. Jeremy Esparza's 27-yard field goal capped the drive and sent the Mustangs into the state quarterfinals for the second time in program history.
"As a program, it was a pretty big deal," Evergreen Park coach Dan Hartman said. "To be able to get a win against a program with the tradition and success like Alleman was pretty big."
Duplicating the result is Evergreen Park's next challenge.
"Seeing them again, it's a little scary," Hartman said. "Anytime you knock off a program like (Alleman) a year prior, you know they're going to be motivated to return the favor."
First of all, the Pioneers are more focused on their preparation.
"It's about staying with the routine that got us this far," DeJaegher said. "We just need to stay with what we've been doing. Through the years, that's what we've stuck to. That's not going to change."
Alleman moves forward with an eye on the past.
"It really hurt at the time, but it served as a lot of motivation for right now," West said. "I'm going to be thinking about that every night before I go to bed."
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