Kewanee coach Brad Swanson said he knew in August he had a team capable of competing in the Three Rivers Conference and making the playoffs.
But it was only after the team ost by only one point in Week 3 to Newman Central Catholic — a team that has since gone 8-1 and is the No. 4 seed in Class 2A — that he felt the players saw that potential for themselves.
“They knew we could compete against anybody,” he said.
Kewanee finished the regular season on Saturday, beating Hall 21-13 on a soggy KHS Stadium field. It enters the playoffs at 6-3 and the No. 8 seed in the upper bracket of Class 4A.
While the team’s confidence has grown during the season, Swanson is convinced the team has yet to reach its potential. “We haven’t played a clean game yet,” he said.
Kewanee hosts Chicago Agricultural Science at 1 p.m. Saturday at KHS Stadium. The field’s been cleared of snow. The teachers’ strike in Chicago is over and Ag Science has completed its required three practices after the layoff.
Swanson says there is a playoff atmosphere in the school. “Kids are excited,” he said. “Students I’ve never met before are coming up to me and asking me about the game.”
As for the players, he is encouraging them to soak up the experience.
“Don’t take it for granted,” he said. “Enjoy it. Love it.”
Kewanee is coming off a stellar performance by its special teams. Defensively, it contained a triple threat of Hall running backs, holding state sprinter Marshall Walk to under 100 yards rushing.
Kewanee will need more of the same against Ag Science. Ag Science is 6-2 and making its third straight appearance in the postseason under coach Shawn Finnin.
Before the strike, Ag Science made an impressive run through the Illini Windy City league, beating Chicago Julian 36-0, Chicago Sullivan 28-6 and Chicago Goode 33-6. It’s win over Urban Prep was a 1-0 forfeit.
“They have fast athletes at a lot of positions,” Swanson said. “They do things you don’t see a lot of in the Three Rivers Conference.”
Keeping Ag Science’s speed guys contained will be a similar challenge to what the team faced against Hall.
“We compared their backs to Hall. They go east and west,” Swanson said.
Defensively, Kewanee can bend, but not break, Swanson said. Essentially, the goal is to stop Ag Science from getting to the outside and breaking out for big runs.
Kewanee quarterback Will Bruno is coming off a 77-yard passing performance. Receiver Kavon Russell had 34 yards on two catches, one a key fourth-down reception to keep a drive alive. Russell also moved under center in short goal-to-go yardage situations, part of what Swanson said is an effort to give him more touches on the ball. One of those situations turned into a touchdown run to seal the victory.
The conclusion of the strike permitted Ag Science to play in Saturday’s game. After a week of not knowing whether the game would be played, Kewanee athletics director Tim Atwell said he was happy when he learned of the news on Thursday.
“Just happy the kids get to play,” he said. “And that’s for both sides.”