Hampshire's opening act in Johnsburg Friday night was Devin Hester-like.
In fact, a kick return-a-thon broke loose in the first quarter as the Whip-Purs housed 2 kickoffs, as Tim Jansen returned the opening kickoff 85 yards and Chris Calvin bettered him with 91-yard return 7 minutes later in Hampshire's 27-21 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division win over winless Johnsburg.
But the Whip-Purs' final act, its defensive stand in the fourth quarter, more importantly kept its playoff hopes alive at 3-3 overall, with 5 wins being the magic number.
The Whip-Pur defense that had struggled the last 2 weeks giving up 103 points to Cary-Grove and Grayslake North had the curtain call when it preserved the win on 2 sacks from linebacker Mason Fleury and lineman Grant Bender on the Skyhawks' final drive plus a fourth quarter full of Johnsburg punts.
"It was the end of the game, it was a do-or-die situation," Fleury said. "We just needed to get some stops and we did. It was a little rough in the beginning of the game, they were starting to score but once we got pumped up, I think we went out there and did fine."
Johnsburg (0-6, 0-4) threatened after a Hampshire (3-3, 2-1) punt with 1:46 remaining on their own 18. The Skyhawks' 2 fourth quarter drives resulted in boots, but its third quarter brought the game even at 21 with 13 unanswered and for a while Johnsburg's run game was gaining steam.
But on the Skyhawks' fifth play of the drive at their own 34 with 1 minute to go, Fleury rushed through the middle to sack Johnsburg quarterback Nick Brengman for a loss of 5. Bender on third down pushed his 6-3, 230-pound body through the line to get Brengman again, backing up Johnsburg to the its own 23 with 40 seconds left. An incomplete pass on fourth-and-21 sealed it.
"I'd like to see three sacks in-a-row, that'd be even better," Fleury said. "Two sacks in a row is beautiful, I went out there and told (Bender) we need to go out and get this sack and he did. That really brought down their momentum and brought us up. We fought hard at the end."
Hampshire's defense needed a shot in the arm, especially after giving up 949 total yards in two games. The Whips held Johnsburg to a quarter of that at 230, and the special teams spark turned out to be such a beneficial phase to the win.
"Special teams were good for us all night," Whip-Purs coach Dan Cavanaugh said. "Without a doubt."
Fleury even had the key block on Calvin's return and Jansen expected just a small return on his.
"I just didn't expect it. I thought may be a 50-yard return, may be less, but I just went all the way with it," Jensen said. "I think it was really vital, if we didn't come out with that, there's probably no pump-up attitude, which really moved the offense."
Johnsburg recharged at halftime and came back with 13-straight to tie the game at 21 with Jake Hauck's 21-yard run with 1:27 left in the third and a 34-yard run by Christian Nugent (17 rushes, 110 yards) prior to that.
But a 6-play, 62-yard drive that began with 1:16 left in the third helped Hampshire grab the lead right back after quarterback Kyle Anderson took it himself for 14 yards with 10:54 left in the fourth for the game's winning score.
Johnsburg punted on its next 2 drive and even when Anderson tripped and fumbled with 5:13 left at midfield, the defense stood and allowed just 4 yards on the next Skyhawk drive.
"Our defense has been kind of shaky, but to finally to get a win with the defense is just huge," Bender said.
When Phil LaPointe (16 rushes, 58 yards) punched it in from 5-yards out, the Whip-Purs looked well on their way with a 14-0 first quarter lead.
The Skyhawks answered on the next drive on a play action pass from Brengman to Brad Iverson from 12-yards out then Calvin busted it from 91.
All of Hampshire's total yards except for 2 came via the run. Although Johnsburg outgained Hampshire 230 to 192 in total yards, Hampshire ran for 190, behind running backs LaPointe (16 rushes, 58 yards) and Tyler Crater (11 rushes, 63 yards), and 56 yards from Anderson.