You've seen it before: A football team scrapes and claws, overcomes turnovers to take a lead. Then it allows a kickoff return to negate all that work.
That was St. Edward's fate. Wheaton Academy's John Gemmel answered a Green Wave score with his 85-yard kickoff return and later scored the go-ahead touchdown for Wheaton Academy's 12-7 homecoming victory Saturday at West Chicago High School.
"That's a tough one. We kicked the ball right to their best player," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando.
Indeed, Gemmel is a tough one. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound tailback-linebacker has led the Warriors into the Suburban Christian Conference Gold Division race. With 2-5 Chicago Christian and 7-0 Marian Central coming up, Wheaton Academy (3-4, 3-2) has a realistic shot at a 4-3 Gold record. Leader Aurora Central Catholic is 4-1 but finishes with Marmion, stronger than its 2-5 record, and Marian.
"It's a big step in the progression of the program right now," said Wheaton Academy coach T.J. Ragan. "We're really excited about the last three weeks (3-0 with two 56-point games). And actually, the first four weeks prepared us for this. So we're excited. It's a great win for us against a very good team."
St. Edward (2-5, 1-4), led by DaVontae Elam with 80 yards rushing, including a 19-yard touchdown, did not click as Rolando would like. The Green Wave ran 20 first-quarter plays to Wheaton Academy's 4 but lost the ball on Justin Sargeant's interception and Taylor Johnson's fumble recovery, both within the Warriors 21-yard line. The Green Wave fumbled 5 times and lost playoff eligibility as well.
"We needed to play a good, sound game and execute well and we didn't do that," Rolando said. "Great effort -- that's one of the things we can control, is our kids' effort. But we didn't execute."
After a scoreless first half, however, St. Edward took a 7-0 lead at 7:05 of the third quarter. Mikey Castoro's 22-yard pass to Danny Favela and 11-yard runs by Castoro and Will Bothwell set up Elam's touchdown run off right tackle Pat Berlin with an inside cutback. Joe French added the kick.
Whereupon Gemmel's kickoff return brought Wheaton Academy back within 7-6.
"It was a huge morale boost," said Warriors quarterback Nate Martinez. "It was unreal."
Wheaton Academy went 70 yards on its winning drive. From St. Edward's 30-yard line Gemmel followed pulling guard Alex Budzisz and fullback John Mark Wiersema through a hole vacated by left tackle Johnson and left guard Justin Berg. Gemmel broke free for the 12-7 lead with 4:59 left in the game.
"They all sprung me," said Gemmel, who ran 20 times for 90 yards. "I can't score without my line and my fullback. I've got to give the credit to them."