After a wild fourth quarter, Lisle's luck ran out in overtime.
Wilmington senior running back Jeremy Bailey sealed the victory with a 4-yard touchdown run as the Wildcats squeaked by Lisle 34-28 in Interstate Eight Small Conference action Friday night in Lisle. But the game showcased a tenacious Lions defense that forced 3 turnovers, 2 in the final two minutes of the game.
"We played with a lot of courage," Lisle coach Dan Sanko said. "It was a fight, and I was so proud of them."
Late in the fourth quarter, Wilmington rumbled to the 3-yard line after what could have been a crippling fumble by Lisle on a punt. But two personal fouls - one resulting in the ejection of Lisle running back and linebacker Nick Leonard - and another motion penalty pushed the Wildcats back 20 yards. The result was a crucial turnover forced by the Lion defense.
Junior lineman Terrance Allen picked off a tipped pass as Wilmington quarterback Ty Anderson backpeddled on a blitz. Allen rumbled to the Wildcat 28, setting up a tense finish with 2:58 in the game. Yet the Lisle offense couldn't convert, and the game looked lost as Saul's pass on fourth-and-15 fell to the turf. But the defense wasn't done.
"Our defense has been so great all year," Sanko said. "They've been causing turnovers all season left and right, and they found a way to do that again. They put us in a position to get into overtime."
The Lions' defense forced a Wilmington fumble with 35 seconds left as the Wildcats tried to run out the clock. On third and 10, Lisle sophomore quarterback Nick Saul dumped a pass to senior running back Anthony Ventrella, who shook off a tackle and ran in for a 15-yard score with 22 seconds remaining. Senior running back Mitch McCarthy scored the 2-point conversion on a sweep right that tied the game. Despite cutting the field microphones due to a local ordinance at Benedictine, the crowd noise was deafening following the improbable comeback.
"It was a total team effort tonight," Sanko said.
But the overtime quieted the crowd and the Lisle momentum. The Lions pushed the ball to the Wildcat 4-yard line but couldn't get further. Saul was stuffed on a QB keeper and then sacked on fourth down to snuff out the Lion drive. Wilmington responded with the winning drive and the victory.
"We played toe to toe with them tonight," Sanko said. "This was a game to build on."
The Wildcats (4-0, 2-0) opened the scoring with a 10-yard run from senior running back Jeremy Bailey, and followed that score with an Anderson 2-yard touchdown run on their second drive, giving them a 14-0 lead. The teams traded scores through the next 2 quarters, but the excitement was saved for the fourth quarter.
Nursing a 21-12 lead, a 15-yard penalty gave the Wildcats the ball at the 19-yard line following a punt return. Wilmington cashed in with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to senior Garrett Saunders, vaulting the Wildcats to a 16-point lead with just over nine minutes left in regulation.
The Lions (1-3, 1-1) answered quickly. After a 15-yard pass interference penalty, Saul found Howell for a 28-yard strike, and junior running back Nick Leonard finished the drive off with a 35-yard touchdown scamper. Saul found Ventrella in the end zone to convert the 2-point try, pulling the Lions within 8. Despite the disappointing finish to an exciting game, Sanko said his team had nothing to hang its head about.
"This team never quit," Sanko said. "And I'm so proud of them."