Schuckman: Blue Devils change perception, expectations of football program

QHS football

The Quincy High School football team won a single-season school record 11 games while reaching the state quarterfinals for the first time ever. | Matt Schuckman photo

QUINCY — The fans arrived early to tailgate, stayed late to commiserate and created a sea of blue that filled Flinn Stadium.

The final score of Saturday’s Class 7A state quarterfinal game against top-ranked Chicago Mount Carmel didn’t change the community-wide support for the Quincy High School football program or deter the overflowing crowd from celebrating a historic season.

Their pride ran too deep for that.

“I was fighting back tears the whole game,” senior defensive lineman Ryan Mast said after the 61-14 loss that ended the greatest season in QHS history. “You look up at the stands and you see the entire stadium shoulder-to-shoulder. (QHS coach Rick Little) shared all these stories and these texts of the whole community being proud of us. You see what we’ve accomplished.

“It’s joyful to see that. It’s hard to hang our heads when you know you’ve done so much.”

The Blue Devils made November about football, not just a prelude to basketball season.

That hadn’t happened at Flinn Stadium ever.

This team was different from any QHS squad ever. It went undefeated in the regular season for only the second time in school history and the first since 1935. It won two playoff games, doubling the number of postseason wins in school history. It broke more individual and team records than any group ever had.

Above all else, it raised the level of expectation for what the QHS football program can achieve.

“We left the program better than where we found it,” senior offensive lineman Chris Flachs said after the Blue Devils went 11-1. “That was the goal when we stepped in this facility the first day as freshmen.”

It was a process, and it didn’t happen overnight.

Forced to play in the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out sports the previous fall, the Blue Devils went 1-5 against an abbreviated schedule. A 4-5 season followed, but the return of so many talented underclassmen created a new vibe.

Last fall’s 7-2 record season was followed by an epic playoff performance in a 49-42 victory at Chatham Glenwood. The run ended with a loss to state runner-up Lemont, but it proved to be a springboard to an offseason of hard work and commitment.

That fueled the belief this group could win the Western Big 6 Conference championship and parlay that into postseason success.

Yet, there remained doubts because of Quincy’s past. Those were erased week after week until everyone believed anything was possible.

“It’s great knowing what we’ve done for the program, and it’s nice to leave a legacy behind,” senior offensive lineman Cole Wagy said.

It’s one that won’t be forgotten.

“Usually I’m an emotional wreck after a season-ending loss,” Little said. “But I feel very fulfilled. You have to credit the seniors for that. This is their team. It will forever be their team. People never say, ‘You remember Coach Little’s 17th year.’ They’ll say the last names of those senior when you reference this team.

“When we look back at this and reflect, we’re going to be pretty proud of everything we accomplished.”

The ending still hurt. It always does.

“Coming off the field for the last time, it’s sad,” Wagy said. “You don’t want it to end.”

The memories won’t fade. History will tell the tale of a team that changed the perception of a program and set a new standard for success.

The pride that comes with that is shared by all.

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