DeKALB – Make no mistake, DeKalb-Sycamore is a rivalry once again.
And it doesn’t take Northern Illinois’ new high-definition video board to see it.
Whereas Sycamore blew DeKalb out of the stadium in the first half of last year’s game, the Barbs took every proverbial Spartan jab and fought right back in a 48-26 loss to Sycamore at Huskie Stadium that was a nine-point game heading into the fourth quarter.
Although it was two high school teams playing, there was some serious #MACtion going on Friday night and much of it had to do with a DeKalb team that acted and played much differently just a year ago.
It was evident in their body language, their confidence and their swagger. The yells of “Let’s go!” from defense to offense, the chest bumps near the bench and the encouragement shouted after every good play. That was all missing from the DeKalb sideline a year ago, disappearing after Sycamore pulled away early for a 49-30 win in 2012.
But this year that enthusiasm remained throughout.
At halftime, with DeKalb down by nine, DeKalb coach Matt Weckler echoed the lessons of the first two weeks, bringing up the Barbs’ second-half comebacks against Vernon Hills and Hampshire. He was talking to a team that looked like they believed and thought they could compete with a team that now has beaten them six consecutive times.
And Weckler is perhaps the biggest reason for the change. He’s brought an enthusiasm and energy that wasn’t there under interim coach Todd Hallaron. In the third quarter after a 15-yard penalty gave the Barbs a first down and new life, Weckler ran 10 yards out to the numbers and fist-pumped, doing his best Pat Fitzgerald imitation.
Who wouldn’t want to play for a coach like that?
The loss in Friday’s rivalry game doesn’t make or break DeKalb’s season. The final six games will tell us much more about where DeKalb is this season and where it is headed in the future. Overall, the Barbs gladly would trade one game’s bad result for a trip to the playoffs.
DeKalb might not be on Sycamore’s level right now. It’s taken time and coaching continuity – something DeKalb has lacked – for Sycamore to consistently be a playoff team. And even they still are trying to make that next step to become a state title contender.
But the Barbs are going in the right direction. There is tangible progress, even if the final scoreboard shows another defeat. Sometimes a team has to learn to win before it actually wins.
And 2014 might be the year when belief turns into result.
• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.