It will go down as a loss but Christian Liberty did not play like the 1-8 football team it was last season.
The Chargers nearly came all the way back in the fourth quarter from a three-score deficit but fell 26-21 to Luther North in their Northeastern Athletic Conference season opener on Saturday afternoon in Arlington Heights.
"I'm not going to lie, they came out a lot better than we expected," said Luther North coach Ricky Ludwig, whose team won last year's meeting 40-0. "I think our guys were expecting last year's team."
Like last year's squad, the 2012 Chargers found themselves in familiar territory, trailing 20-7 at halftime.
Luther North's offense was fueled by a sophomore backfield tandem. Wildcat tailback Anthony Vega gashed the Chargers for 3 touchdowns to go with 150 yards on 10 carries while Felix Loja chipped in 45 first-half rushing yards.
"We were shuffling around guys and we were thin but luckily (Vega and Loja) really found the holes, the line opened them and they were able to bounce them outside," Ludwig said.
Christian Liberty coach Jim Calkins said his thin squad didn't have an answer for the Wildcats' first-half ground game.
"It's tough, especially when you only have 20 kids like we did today," Calkins said. "It's tough because you can't rotate people in and tell them to adjust. They're just out there."
But a knee injury to Vega slowed the Luther North rushing attack and allowed the Chargers to get stops.
After trailing 26-7, junior quarterback Gabe Grob completed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Shawn Andersen and Frank Pavlik to pull the Chargers within five. They even recovered an onside kick with 3½ minutes left to give them a chance for the comeback win.
But the Chargers offense stalled and failed to muster a final score. It was an effort Calkins said he knew his team was capable of.
"I honestly wasn't shocked," Calkins said. "I knew we had a solid team coming in. We've just got to keep improving and stay strong the whole season."
Ludwig, on the other hand, admitted these aren't the same Chargers as years past.
"They shocked us a little bit," Ludwig said. "I'll even say I underestimated them."