The seniors on the La Salle-Peru football team vaguely remember the last time the Cavaliers played Sterling in the playoffs.
They were sixth graders at the time.
The year was 2003. Greg Sarver was head coach, and L-P owned a 7-2 record entering a game against the 7-2 Golden Warriors at Roscoe Eades Stadium in the first round of the Class 6A postseason.
Sterling had already knocked off the Cavaliers 15-7 in a conference game earlier that season, so they knew how to beat L-P.
L-P came out and dominated Sterling 21-7 on the way to a state semifinals appearance.
The year is 2009. Joe Sassano is the head coach, and L-P owns a 7-2 record entering a game against a 7-2 Golden Warrior team at Roscoe Eades Stadium in the first round of the Class 5A postseason Friday night at 7 p.m.
Weird isn't it?
L-P senior running back Eric Jenkins chooses to describe it another way.
"It's like ironic," Jenkins said of the similarities between the 2003 and 2009 teams. "Everything is falling into place. I am pretty excited about it because they went 7-2 and we went 7-2. One of our goals is to be like the 2003 team. We want to be remembered just like they were."
L-P sure remembers what happened this past Friday, when the Cavaliers had a shot at a share of their first conference title since 1979.
Oddly enough, all L-P had to do was beat Sterling.
In a muddy, sloppy, wet mess on the turf at Roscoe Eades, the Golden Warriors rode the powerful legs of senior tailback Corey Judd, who scored four touchdowns as Sterling clinched a share of the NCIC Reagan Division title with Morris following a 27-7 victory over the Cavaliers.
"There are some advantages to it. Obviously, we spent more time just on one film. That was last Friday's film," La Salle-Peru head coach Joe Sassano said of playing Sterling in back-to-back weeks. "There was a lot to learn for the coaches and for the players. Our kids saw the mistakes that they made. Getting their attention this week is not going to be a problem."
L-P's attention will be focused on performing better against Sterling's running game in what is expected to be another sloppy track at Roscoe Eades on Friday night.
The Cavaliers only trailed 13-7 in the third quarter after senior quarterback Sam Renk ran in a 21-yard touchdown, but the Golden Warriors responded with a game-breaking touchdown run by Judd.
On second-down-and-30 on Sterling's next possession, L-P seemingly had Judd and company stopped and the momentum on its side.
Judd then broke some tackles and busted loose past the Cavalier secondary for a 47-yard run to the L-P 3.
"He's been doing it all year. It starts up front with our offensive line," Sterling head coach Greg King said of Judd. "He has such good lower- and upper-body strength. He was able to shake some tackles and break free."
One play after the big run Judd bulldozed into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 20-7 Sterling advantage. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior later added a 22-yard touchdown run as he finished with 159 yards on 27 carries in the game.
Judd now has 1,187 rushing yards in 178 carries and 19 rushing touchdowns. He averages 6.7 yards per carry and 131.9 yards per game.
"Last week, they took it to us, and they were a lot more physical," said Jenkins, who is L-P's rushing leader with 627 yards and seven touchdowns. "We just kind of laid back and just let them do it. This time, we're just going to hit them in their mouth right from the get-go."
The Cavaliers may have to shift to a more run-oriented offense to swing that knockout punch against the Golden Warriors.
Week in and week out this year in the regular season, L-P's speed and passing game tore through opposing defenses, led by Renk, who has passed for 1,098 yards and eight touchdowns to go along with 460 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
The Cavaliers are almost untouchable outside on the edges. They just need to get there, which is tough with footing being shaky on a wet field.
There may mean more one-back or two-back sets instead of L-P's pistol spread formation that had the Cavaliers averaging 291.7 yards per game and 27.7 points per game entering the playoffs.
"We're going to be a little more flexible this week given the weather conditions," Sassano said. "In those conditions we may have to go with more of a running style, power football style. We can still throw the ball out of it. It doesn't change our offense a whole lot. It just changes the look."
Everyone hopes some drier weather could change the look of Roscoe Eades. But it's not likely.
There were two lakes on each side of the 50-yard line this past Friday night, and the football was wet before the center even snapped the ball. Reports out of Sterling are that the conditions haven't changed much.
According to King, the conditions Friday should be improved.
"Well, there's no lake in the middle now at least," King said. "It's still probably going to be a sloppy turf. That's kind of how it's been this year around the state of Illinois. I think most fields are probably pretty torn up at this time. It is what it is. You've just got to not worry about it and do what you need to do."
Jim Cogdal can be reached at 223-3200, ext. 139, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.