"September 8th."

That's all Jim Morrow said.

Vern Pottinger looked confused.

Morrow said it again. And again.

Finally, the young Harlem assistant explained himself to his former head coach at Belvidere after the two teams had played each other in a passing league in the summer of 1995.

"That is the night we are going to beat you," Pottinger recalled Morrow saying.

Pottinger shrugged it off. Belvidere was coming off back-to-back state titles, the first two in NIC-10 history. Harlem had made history of another kind. The Huskies snapped a state-record 47-game losing streak the previous year, edging East 7-6, but came into that game at Belvidere 1-57 in their last 58 games.

And then routed the Bucs 28-6 in a game picked as the fifth-greatest in Rockford-area history.

"When we won that game, it showed everybody," then-Harlem coach Brian Benning said. "It even showed our staff."

Harlem went on to finish 2-7 that season. And 2-7 the next. But the Huskies won their only outright NIC-10 title in 1997 and have made the playoffs 16 of the last 19 years.

"If any game got Harlem over the hump, it was that game at Belvidere," Benning said. "That game was monumental for our program. It showed everyone we were on the right path and we were going to get where we wanted to be. They’ve been an outstanding program ever since."

Others agreed.

"It becomes a culture when you keep losing and losing and losing," Harlem running back Scott Henderson said. "To get that little glimpse of what it’s like to win, it changes everything. That was the game that gave us the belief we could actually win and not be the team that was the joke of the NIC-9."

Henderson helped change things himself. He transferred to Harlem as a senior after three years at Lutheran. He became the first Huskie to rush for 1,000 yards and was named conference offensive MVP. He led the league with 1,056 yards rushing, was second in yards per carry (7.4) and third in receiving (244 yards).

"I wanted to go to Harlem and prove something to myself," Henderson said. "I wanted to prove I could do it at a larger school."

Scott Sholl, later a longtime Harlem assistant coach, "was just a puppy then" playing on the sophomore team, but was an all-conference defensive lineman on Harlem’s conference championship team two years later. His class had gone undefeated in seventh and eighth grades. But that’s a long way from varsity. But when he saw Harlem beat Belvidere in 1995, he knew he could trust Benning, the Huskies’ second-year coach who had led Orangeville to the Class 1A state title in 1989.

"I remember watching those guys celebrate," Sholl said. "Seeing Benning win games, we knew we had a varsity coach to go with the talent."

How Harlem ended a 19-year losing streak to Belvidere was almost as shocking as the win itself. The Huskies had come close the week before, when Henderson scored on a couple of long pass plays in a close 18-16 loss to Beloit Memorial. But this time Harlem outmuscled Belvidere.

Harlem scored on the opening drive, holding the ball for over seven minutes before Ryan Cline threw a 20-yard TD pass to Ken Jurgens. That pass was a rarity. Harlem ran 55 times for 306 yards to only 65 yards on 28 carries for Belvidere’s famed no-huddle wishbone attack.

"They really physically beat us," Pottinger said. "They knocked our starting quarterback out for the year."

The hard running of Henderson, who finished with 175 yards on 28 carries, and Gabe Pena (94 yards on 21 carries) helped Harlem to a 21-0 halftime lead.

"Our offensive line dominated all night and our defense just killed them," Pena said at the time.

Just as Jim Morrow had predicted to Vern Pottinger over the summer.

"I honestly don’t remember that conversation, but obviously Vern did," said Morrow, who went on to become Harlem’s all-time winningest coach (101-51) and is now back at his alma mater, taking over at Belvidere before the 2020 season. "Maybe I was speaking from a place of naivete, but Belvidere was always a special week for me and at the time they were the standard, and we knew we were turning the corner.

"It was a defining moment, a defining night. We had a good group of players, but we still hadn’t latched onto that concept that Harlem is good and can be good."

The Huskies got that message on Sept. 8, 1995. Everyone in the whole conference did.

Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; mtrowbridge@rrstar.com; @matttrowbridge