Sycamore’s Dylan Foster remembers well what it felt like to be on the field for his first rivalry game against DeKalb at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium last season.
The then-sophomore defensive back helped the Spartans to a 33-21 victory, their fourth consecutive win over the rival Barbs.
“The atmosphere there is pretty loud, but it’s a lot of fun playing under the lights and having DeKalb and Sycamore there,” Foster said. “It was a lot of fun.”
For the fifth consecutive season, Sycamore enters the Week 3 rivalry game at 2-0. After escaping with a home victory over Lincoln-Way West, the Spartans crushed North Lawndale, 40-7, on Saturday.
While the Spartans offense returned a number of playmakers from last season, the defense is almost completely turned over, losing 10 starters off last year’s defense. Senior defensive end Jake Davis is the only returning starter while Foster was in the defensive back rotation as a sophomore.
“We’re going to be really tested [today],” said Sycamore coach Joe Ryan, who will be coaching in his ninth Sycamore-DeKalb game. “Obviously, DeKalb is very good offensively and presents a lot of challenges. It’s still early yet and the jury’s still out whether we’re getting better defensively, but early signs are good.”
At the top of Ryan’s defensive checklist will be stopping DeKalb sophomore running back Dre Brown, who rushed for 179 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s game as a freshman.
Brown has been one of the bright spots for a DeKalb team that has struggled out of the gate. The Barbs lost two winnable games to Hampshire and Galesburg at home, putting them in an early hole.
The 0-2 record has created an even greater sense of urgency for the Barbs, who are looking to get back to the playoffs after going 4-5 in 2011.
“The guys are going to be up for this game regardless of what our record is. They want to get after Sycamore,” DeKalb first-year coach Todd Hallaron said. “I’m sure Sycamore feels the same way about us.”
While Sycamore has dominated the Barbs over the past two decades – winning 17 of the past 18 matchups – DeKalb has played the Spartans to close games in each of the past two years.
DeKalb senior guard Joe Diedrich said the Barbs have a little extra motivation knowing their senior class is 0-3 against Sycamore.
“We’re going to try and step it up this year,” said Diedrich, who played in the Sycamore-DeKalb game the past two seasons. “They have a great team over there and everything, but we’re going to do our best.”
Big rivalry games often bring a lot of emotion and nervousness, so Hallaron has focused on keeping the week-to-week schedule the same for the Barbs.
“We prepare exactly the same,” Hallaron said. “The difference is it carries a little bit more weight when it’s a rival. We try to do things in practice to improve our focus and attention.”
Tonight’s DeKalb-Sycamore game is only the first of five Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East Division games for each team. There will be games later on in the season that potentially could determine a conference champion and matchups that have larger playoff implications.
Yet this is the one game both teams play in a college stadium, the one game they match up against their rival and the one game they circle on the calendar every year.
“It’s a huge game, to be honest,” Foster said. “There’s always trashtalking, but we settle it on the game field. Both our teams have the mentality where we can lose all our other games, but as long as we beat DeKalb, we’ll be happy.”