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Ottawa players raise their helmets to their fans following their 42-6 loss to Crete-Monee in a Class 6A quarterfinal game Saturday in Crete. The 2012 Pirates are only the second team in school history to go 11-1 and reach the quarterfinals. NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
CRETE — Only two Ottawa football teams have ever started their season 11-0, and only two Ottawa teams have ever made it to the quarterfinals of the IHSA playoffs. The 1995 team was the first to accomplish the feat, and 17 years later it happened once again.
Trent Swords was the defensive coordinator in 1995 and is currently the head coach of the 2012 Pirates.
“It’s an exciting time for Ottawa,” ’95 defensive captain Dan Leibhart said. “It seemed like the entire city was there when we were going 11-0 and it looked like they were getting that same support this year.”
In the 1995 quarterfinal against Mt. Carmel, the top-seeded Pirates had size and speed and showed it early against the Caravan.
“We came out and had some impressive drives in the first half,” said Tom Hart, who was an outside linebacker and tight end on the ’95 team. “I think we had three drives over 80 yards each and that gave us a first half lead.”
The tide started to turn at the end of the first half when an offside penalty allowed the Caravan another shot at a field goal. It paid off as the field goal was good, making it a 20-16 halftime lead for Ottawa.
“We played a much better first half against Mt. Carmel back in ’95,” Swords said. “In that one, we got out of the gate well but just faltered down the finish with turnovers and some big plays.”
The turnovers led to two Caravan touchdowns for a 30-20 Mt. Carmel victory on the Caravan’s way to state runner-up finish.
In 2012, it was the first half that did the Pirates in at Crete- Monee.
A couple of bad bounces, punting into a strong wind and a talented Crete-Monee offense led to a 35-0 halftime deficit for Ottawa.
“You feel so invincible and when you are beat it’s hard to find answers,” Swords said. “When I talked to the kids, it’s hard to tell them anything because you feel invincible. You’re 9-0, you’re 10-0 and 11-0. You feel invincible and like you can’t get beat. But then all of a sudden you get beat. You start looking for answers and questioning.”
Hart saw parallels between the 1995 quarterfinal loss and Saturday’s loss to Crete-Monee.
“When we looked across the field, Mt. Carmel had guys lined up from the 30 to the 30,” Hart said. “They used them well. Crete was also smart with how they managed things. They called a timeout on fourth down when Ottawa was about to punt into that crazy wind. Next thing you know what looks like a good punt seems to stall in midair and Crete has another short field.”
Both Ottawa teams left the quarterfinals having the best season in school history with matching 11-1 records.