Homecoming celebrations don't come any happier than Friday's festivities at Dundee-Crown High School.
In front of a standing-room crowd on the home side, the D-C defense forced and recovered 4 fumbles, and the offense played turnover-free in lighting up the scoreboard for a 35-21 victory over Prairie Ridge in a Fox Valley Conference Valley Division contest in Carpentersville.
The Chargers entered the season on a 26-game losing streak. Four weeks later coach Vito Andriola's rejuvenated program stands 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the Valley Division after beating the defending Class 6A state champions.
"From being 0-9 last year and losing 26 straight games to this? Man, it feels good." said D-C senior wingback JT Beasley, who made the Wolves feel anything but good.
Beasley led the attack with a game-high 120 rushing yards on 11 carries, highlighted by a 64-yard, weaving touchdown run on a counter play with 5:56 left in the third quarter that put the Chargers ahead 35-21. Beasley also caught 4 passes for 71 yards.
He was complemented perfectly by hard-running junior Cody Lane, who carried 23 times for 117 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a 52-yard run that gave D-C a 14-7 lead with 10:53 left in the second quarter. The Chargers rushed for 236 yards and quarterback Garrett Ryan completed 8 of 12 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown.
"This is the greatest feeling ever, to be with your family and keep winning and winning," Lane said. "It's a great feeling. If we keep our intensity up and keep going, we can go all the way."
A week ago the Chargers failed to protect a 10-point, third-quarter lead at McHenry, but there was no let up this time with a 14-point advantage and nearly 17 minutes still to play. The D-C defense kept Prairie Ridge (2-2, 0-2) from gaining traction by forcing fumbles on the Wolves' ensuing 3 possessions. Senior lineman Ray Griggle forced one of those fumbles and recovered another.
"As long as we sustained, we believed we could beat them," said Griggle, who registered 1 of the Chargers' 4 sacks. "As long as everybody did their job, we were good."
D-C set the tone right away by forcing a Prairie Ridge punt. The offense then drove 82 yards in 13 plays. Ryan kept the drive alive by converting 3 third downs via accurate passes.
"He played really well," Andriola said of his senior quarterback. "We kind of changed what we're doing with him to make him a little more comfortable. (Offensive coordinator) Mike Steinhaus has done a really good job with our offense. We tweaked it. We're a wing-T team, but we tweaked it a little bit to get what we can and you can see the results."
Prairie Ridge tied the game on a 2-yard run from Kingsley Ebirim, capping a 65-yard drive keyed by quarterback Oliver Kremer's 26-yard keeper.
The Chargers answered with 2 touchdowns in a span of 1:21. Lane bounced off a would-be tackler on a fold play to the right and scampered 52 yards down the sideline for a 14-7 lead.
Two plays later, defensive lineman Gerald Allen recovered a Prairie Ridge fumble at the Wolves' 27-yard. Ryan capitalized. He spotted senior tight end Nick Lodi wide open over the middle for a 24-yard strike and a 21-7 lead with 9:32 left in the second quarter.
"We worked on that play a lot in practice," Lodi said. "My line had to set up the play and so did my quarterback with the play-action fake. I just had to catch it."
The Wolves seemingly had the momentum going into halftime after they executed the 2-minute drill. They moved 70 yards in 5 plays, keyed by a 30-yard pass from Kremer to senior Ross Carpenter down to the Dundee-Crown 7-yard line. Kremer spotted Steven Ladd open in the end zone on the next play to cut D-C's lead to 21-14 with 22 seconds left in the half.
However, D-C had the ball first in the third quarter and marched 69 yards in 9 plays. The key play was a 40-yard pass from Ryan to a wide-open Beasley. Lane scored 5 plays later on a 1-yard run.
Northern Illinois-bound senior Sean Folliard returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards to the 19-yard line, and Kremer capitalized 2 plays later with a 17-yard keeper for a score with 7:53 left in the third quarter. Unfortunately for Prairie Ridge, Kremer was hurt on his dive for the end zone and did not return.
"His shoulder was out of socket," Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. Kremer joins a long and growing list of key Wolves out of action due to injury.
"I've never been part of a team that had so many injuries," Schremp added. "Both of our guards are out, we had two linebackers out. I've never experienced it before. What ever could go wrong has gone wrong. That's where we're at right now. We have to fight through it."
D-C regained its 14-point lead on Beasley's weaving scoring run, and the defense held the Wolves scoreless for the last 20 minutes of the game.
Now a legitimate playoff contender, the Chargers hit the road for three straight games at Huntley, Woodstock North and Crystal Lake South before returning home for games against Cary-Grove and rival Jacobs.
"The next two or three weeks are going to tell a lot about where we're going to be at, to see if we're going to do what we thought we could," Andriola said. "We'll see if we're capable. We practiced very good this week. We have to practice good next week.
"If we do what we're supposed to do, we can make some noise."