At the 3:42 mark in the fourth quarter, new Huntley football coach John Hart looked primed to get his first coaching victory for Huntley after 27 years and 2 state championships in the state of Indiana.
And all Huntley had to do to preserve a 26-21 win was hold onto the football to pull off quite an upset in the Fox Valley Conference crossover.
Instead, a costly fumble inside the Crystal Lake Central 10-yard line with under 2 minutes remaining opened up the worst case scenario for the Red Raiders and one last chance for the Tigers.
It seemed unrealistic. 1:49 left, 92 yards to go. No timeouts. An illegal shift on the first play of the series even backed up the Tigers to their own 4.
But Central drove down the field in 1:35 on a 7-play drive, capped off by Kyle Lavand's 6-yard throw to Ryan Alexander to give CL Central the 27-26 win.
The Tigers' student body rushed midfield while Huntley's fans sat in stunned silence.
"We had a chance to put them away," Hart said. "Obviously we fumbled, our starting running back goes out with a twisted ankle, so we played through a lot of adversity but you have to finish through adversity and like I told the kids, I thought they fought every last second of the game. And that's what you want. You want the clock to run out."
Hart alluded to running back Ethan Connor, who went out with an injury at the end of the third quarter. Hart said it was a high ankle sprain and he may miss a couple of weeks.
Huntley maintained a 26-14 lead early into the fourth quarter until Kam Sallee (10-for-21, 101 yards, 3 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing) threw a pick to Jordan Wallace, who returned it 21 yards to pay dirt with 9:56 left to cut Huntley's lead to 26-21.
The Red Raiders punted on their next drive, and Damario Hughes' second interception on the Tigers' drive thereafter put Huntley in the driver's seat with 6:02 left. CL Central punted on the subsequent drive and when Jake Scalise fumbled, the door opened for Central.
"A minute-40 for us is an eternity in 5-wide," Tigers coach Matt Fralick said. "That's all day for us."
Lavand, who threw for 301 yards, 19 for 36 and 3 interceptions, picked apart the Huntley defense in the last minute. He found Isiah Mosher for a 20-yard catch over the middle, then Alexander for a 9-yard grab with 50 seconds remaining. Lavand found Mosher (6 receptions, 136 yards) down the left sideline with 10 seconds left and then Alexander (8 receptions, 128 yards) made the game-winning grab with 4 seconds remaining. A 92-yard drive, but really a 96-yard drive in about 80 seconds.
"I felt so in the zone," Lavand said. "We believed in ourself, kept our heads up the whole game."
Huntley led 13-0 into the second quarter, but Central answered the bell with 2 scores to take a 14-13 halftime lead. Sallee's 6-yard run with 6:18 in the third made it 19-14 and then he and Bryce Beschorner hooked up for a 3-yard pass play to make it 26-14.
"It was frustrating," Hughes said, who had 2 picks and a fumble recovery. "We prepared for 5-wide, we just got to go harder, work harder."
Central outgained Huntley 449-178 in total yards, but Huntley capitalized on 4 CL Central turnovers. Beschorner caught 2 touchdown passes to go along with his 82 yards receiving.