SYCAMORE 34, GENESEO 6
GENESEO — Celebrating Senior Night Friday evening, the Geneseo football team is hoping it is not the last time it graces the Bob Reade Field turf.
Taking on Northern Illinois Big 12 crossover rival Sycamore in search of a season-best three straight wins, as well as a victory that would make them playoff-eligible, the Maple Leafs instead saw their bid for a seventh straight trip to the postseason made even harder with a 34-6 loss to the Spartans.
Friday’s setback means Geneseo (4-4) faces a must-win situation next week at DeKalb if it is to avoid staying home from the playoffs for just the fourth time in 45 seasons, and the first time since 2011.
“It all comes down to next week,” said Geneseo coach Larry Johnsen Jr. “It’s a playoff game for us. That’s the way we’re approaching it, that’s the way it is.”
With the game knotted 6-6 at halftime, the Spartans (6-2) gradually took control as their ground game wore down the Maple Leafs. Junior Manuel Dominguez led the attack with 92 yards on eight carries and three touchdowns, including TD runs of 63 yards and one yard that enabled Sycamore to go up 20-6 entering the fourth period.
After Dominguez’s third TD run, the Spartans cemented the win with 4:51 remaining when quarterback Grant McConkey hit Jason O’Donnell with a 15-yard scoring toss.
“We felt we were the better team the whole game, but we started off slow,” said Dominguez. “Geneseo is a very physical group, so we had to come out firing. We buckled down and got the job done.”
Geneseo running backs Zac Olson and Alex McAvoy combined for 94 total yards, but quarterback Jaren Brucher hit on just 3 of 12 passes for 51 yards and was intercepted twice.
“Their defense did a very good job,” said Johnsen. “They made some plays, and stoned us in the running game.”
Midway through the first quarter, the Leafs were set up with a perfect opportunity when they took over at Sycamore’s 34-yard line after a shanked 11-yard punt. The hosts appeared to find the end zone when Olson ripped off a 22-yard touchdown run, but a holding penalty wiped out that score. Geneseo ended up settling for a Carson Cocquit 24-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Late in the opening period, the Leafs got another golden opportunity when Tannen Rink pounced on a loose ball at the Spartan 35. Geneseo then put together a methodical scoring drive that took it to the one-yard line, but a five-yard holding penalty stalled its momentum and resulted in a second Cocquit 24-yard field goal and a 6-0 Maple Leaf edge.
“I thought we had chances to get points with touchdowns,” said Johnsen. “In a game like this, you’ve got to score touchdowns, you can’t settle for field goals.”
That edge did not last long. On the ensuing kickoff, Sycamore’s Gavin Crofoot found a seam in the middle, turned on the jets and went 87 yards to the end zone to tie the game. However, the Spartans’ bid for the go-ahead PAT was stymied on a high snap on the kick attempt and an errant pass that fell incomplete.
“Those plays hurt us,” Johnsen said of his team being denied two early TDs and Crofoot’s touchdown return. “But I thought our kids played hard. This (the first half) was probably the best defense we’ve played all year.”
With just under a minute before halftime, the Maple Leafs tried to set themselves up to regain the lead when a Brucher screen pass to Olson turned into a 28-yard gain that put the ball at Sycamore’s 37-yard line. However, Spartan linebacker Preston Ruud sacked Brucher for an eight-yard loss to end the threat and keep it a 6-6 game at intermission.