Host Grayslake Central was fired up to win its Fox Valley Conference homecoming football game Friday night against Johnsburg.
And after building a 22-0 halftime lead the Rams did just that as they held off a strong surge by the Skyhawks in the third quarter before capturing a 29-12 FVC Fox Division victory.
After winning on opening night, Grayslake Central (2-3, 1-2) was able to snap a three-game losing streak as a big-play offense and some opportunistic play set the tone in the pivotal first half.
A diving interception by Davonta Jennings off Johnsburg quarterback Nick Brengman on the third play of the game set up the Rams' first touchdown.
It only took one play for that to happen as Grayslake Central's Natori Galmore took a pitch, broke a tackle, and went 44 yards around left end for the TD before Kevin Dunk's extra point made the score 7-0 just 1:23 into the contest.
Johnsburg (0-5, 0-3) had its second drive stall deep in Grayslake territory, leaving the Rams with a long field ahead of them on their second drive.
But once again it was a big play to the rescue as Grayslake Central senior Jourden Swopes (119 yards on 10 carries) bolted 74 yards for the TD on a running play off left tackle for a 14-0 advantage with 2:57 left in the first quarter.
The Rams' offense was not the only part of their team that wanted to share a piece of the limelight on homecoming weekend, though.
Because on the Skyhawks' next possession deep in their own territory, it was Central's Matt Loeffl who scooped up a fumble on one bounce off of the field turf and ran it in from 5 yards out for the TD and a 20-0 advantage after a missed extra point with 9:15 left in the second quarter.
Things did not get any better for Johnsburg just 1:41 later as a high snap sailed over punter Brandon Boyle's head and out of the end zone for a safety and a 22-0 Central lead.
"When we've been successful offensively, it's been with big plays and you have to take advantage of them," said Grayslake Central coach Ben Ault. "To come out 2-3 with our injuries is very positive, and our quarterback (Tyler Gustke) stepped up nicely and he did a much better job than last week."
Gustke was filling in for injured quarterback Alex Lennartz for the second straight week and the Rams' troops are still not at full strength at running back, linebacker, and offensive line.
The third quarter saw a big momentum change as a lost fumble by Gustke on the first play of the period led to the Skyhawks' first TD of the game.
Starting at the Rams' 31-yard-line, Johnsburg took seven plays to reach paydirt as Brengman scored on a 1-yard keeper to cut the lead to 22-6 after a botched 2-point conversion attempt.
Good field position once again benefited the Skyhawks on their next scoring drive as they took over on the Grayslake 45.
A 46-yard run by Jake Hauck (96 yards on 13 attempts) took the ball down to the 4 before Brengman would score his second 1-yard keeper to pull to within 22-12 with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
After getting only one first down in the third quarter, Central played much more inspired football in the fourth quarter as the Rams began a 9-play, 83-yard scoring drive.
Gustke got 7 yards on huge third-and-7 play before Swopes broke off a 22 yard run on a second-down play to move the ball to the Johnsburg 39.
Then came yet one more big play for the Rams as junior Kacey Adams ran right and somehow managed to stay inbounds as he raced down the right sideline for a 39-yard TD and a 29-12 lead with 7:21 to play.
Galmore had 51 yards on 3 carries while Adams had 43 yards on 8 carries. Johnsburg's Christian Nugent had 74 yards on 16 carries.
"As a team it worked out real well with our blocking and on those big plays we executed," said Swopes. "We just really wanted it on the (last) scoring drive and coming off the loss last week (against Woodstock) gave us fuel to push us through."
Ault was very happy with his squad's performance, especially the productivity of Swopes.
"Jourden has been in the program for four years," Ault said. "And now he's really starting to blossom and he does what you ask him to do."