DeKALB – Two years ago, the DeKalb football team got to witness state power Montini up close, losing 49-14 to the Broncos in a Class 6A quarterfinal in DeKalb.
Two games later, the Broncos were back in DeKalb, at Huskie Stadium, finishing the season undefeated and claiming their fifth state title in a seven-year stretch.
The teams will play a rematch at 1 p.m. Saturday in a Class 6A first round game between the No. 5 Barbs and No. 12 Broncos.
DeKalb linebacker Dan Baggett said he was excited when he found out about the pairing.
"I played against the two years ago when they came here and beat us," Baggett said. "The history is great, but it's a new team every year. DeKalb doesn't have a great history but this year, last year we've played great. The history is great behind them, but it's a new team every year. We're preparing for the team we're playing this year."
Last year, the Barbs reached the 6A semifinals while the Broncos ended in the second round, capping coach Chris Andriano's 38-year tenure with the school – he finished with 300 wins in his career.
Mike Bukovsky took over as coach this year. He graduated from the school in 1983 and last year was his 31st year as a coach there – he's been head wrestling and softball coach and was also an assistant football coach.
He guided the Broncos to a 6-3 record this year and a share of the Chicago Catholic Green Division title.
Bukovsky called the season an interesting one that included losses to still-undefeated Lake Zurich, surging Mt. Carmel and Marmion in which the Broncos "stubbed our toe."
"In all reality was a really good season that could have been better," Bukovsky said. "But this time of year it doesn't matter because everyone starts all over again. It only matters what you do from this point on. You make your legacy in the playoffs and that's what we look forward to doing. We've got to bring our 'A' game Saturday."
Montini brings in a balanced offense with dual threat quarterback Nick Orlando. Jake Karczewski and Nick Fedanzo have been the main backs.
Bukovsky said the teams are somewhat similar in their balance – the Barbs (7-2) have a dual-threat quarterback in Noah Valin, who has passed for 1,089 yards and rushed for 675. Jaylen Hobson leads the DeKalb ground game with 1,139 yards.
"It starts with (Valin), we have to limit his opportunity for big plays," Bukovsky said. "I'm very impressed with (Hobson). He's a good running back, a downhill runner who runs hard and plays physical. I like him a lot."
DeKalb coach Matt Weckler said the Barbs aren't exactly banking on big plays against the Broncos.
"When we have the ball, we have to make sure we're grinding it our and satisfied with three to four yards per play," Weckler said. "Thai's fine. That's how we're going to be successful. If we're expecting big plays that's not going to happen."
Valin said Montini middle linebacker Jackson Bruscianelli has caught his attention.
"They're fast in the secondary, have a great middle linebacker and or flying around the field," Valin said. "We just have to go out there and execute and we'll be all right."
The Barbs are in their fifth straight postseason, all under Weckler. They've now made the playoffs more in Weckler's five years than in the program's prior history combined.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are in their 25th straight postseason and searching for the seventh state title in program history, all since 2004.
"You're going to get a good football team no matter who you draw," Weckler said. "I have no problem matching up and playing against Montini or good football teams like Montini in the playoffs. You're eventually going to have to beat a team like Montini to get where we want to go anyway. Our thought process is we might as well play them and see where we're at. If we're not good enough we'll find out right away."