Streaks make football playoffs

by John Ring

It used to be that the winner of the Galesburg-Peoria High football game in Week 9 of the season would use that victory as a building block for the next season.

It used to be that the Galesburg-Peoria High football game was between two teams with no hope, no cause and no future.

And it used to be that the games were pretty much one-sided, either for the Silver Streaks or the Lions.

It wasn't that way last Friday night. Both teams were 4-4, with each having a chance to make the state playoffs with a victory. After a sluggish first half which the Lions led 13-6, both teams picked it up in the third quarter, especially the Streaks.

Senior fullback Derrek Blackwell started pounding the Central defense to the tune of 124 yards in the second half and Galesburg eventually built a 27-20 lead. But it took the Lions just three plays and 56 yards late in the fourth quarter to get to within 27-26 after scoring a touchdown.

Facing the prospect of more Blackwell against a worn-out Peoria defense, the Lions did the right thing. They went for two points. It was do or die for both them and the Silver Streaks.

''At first I thought they would kick the extra point and try to send it into overtime because they were playing at home,'' said Streaks Coach Zach Shay. ''I think that's what I would have done. But they lined up for the two-point conversion so we sent our goal line defense into the game.''

After lining up and calling a timeout, Peoria quarterback Tyson Langhorn gathered his offense back on the field. He took the snap but didn't run wide, as he did earlier in the game when he burned Galesburg. Instead, he tried a quarterback sneak straight up the middle.

''I got a hold of his leg and just held on,'' said defensive tackle Andy Dawson. Two other linemen (James Nally and Tyler Mason) got a piece of Langhorn as well. Then Blackwell and Pierre Williams finished him off.

Despite a delayed call by the referees, the Streaks knew Langhorn didn't make it.

''I was on the bottom of the pile,'' said Dawson, ''but I could hear our guys shouting and celebrating. I couldn't see anything but I knew we'd stopped him.''

''There was no way that guy was getting in the endzone,'' said a jubilant Blackwell. ''No way at all.''

''I thought for sure they were going to run off tackle or some kind of quarterback sprint out because they had hurt us with that all night but they opted for a sneak,'' said Shay.

''I knew that we would stop them. It was our turn.''

The win culminated a wild and bizarre four-month stretch for the Silver Streak football program. Spurned by their newest coach, who fled Galesburg weeks after being hired for an assistant coaching position at a high school in North Carolina, Galesburg turned to native son Zach Shay.

All Shay did was this.

He never complained about being the ''second choice.''

He assembled a coaching staff based on knowledge, loyalty and dedication.

He stayed positive, not dwelling on what had happened before his arrival--player suspensions, coaching changes or the shattered spirits of his players.

Most important of all, he instilled confidence in his players.

That's the intangible. That's the bottom line.

When you consider the absolute failure of this program over the last several years-- the humiliations, the running clocks, the taunts, the routs, the jokes, the cruel remarks, the 1-26 record over three years, you wonder how Shay could have possibly turned this thing around.

''This team has overcome a lot of adversity,'' said Shay. ''Galesburg is way overdue to get into the playoffs. Anything worth having doesn't come easy. We're playing our best football right now and that's what you want.''

And now, just two disclaimers about the Galesburg Football Miracle.

For those of you whining about having to drive up to Chicago or complaining about the IHSA tournament games, be quiet. Put things in perspective. Remember the lean years.

How lean was it? Remember when Sterling beat the Streaks by a score of 59-0 in 1995?

The other thing to remember is that this is still a 5-4 team. They jelled late, they've won three out of four and made a strong run but they're going to play an undefeated Richards team from Oak Lawn, ranked number two in the division, in the playoffs.

But Coach Shay is saying the right things.

''I expect our kids to work hard this week to prepare for the playoffs,'' said Shay. ''They should expect to win. Records don't mean a thing right now. I know our seniors will lead us in a great battle.''

Heck, Iowa is ranked 9th in the Nation this week. And Shay, a Hawkeye alum, is pretty proud of that.

''Hey, the Hawkeyes, the Silver Streaks. It's been quite a year.''

No doubt about that.

Uploaded to The Zephyr website November 2, 2002

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