A punishing football season, which seemed doomed for Grant weeks earlier with the loss of its two most dynamic offensive players, provided one last parting shot.
The Bulldogs had to lose one more player, of course. Starting defensive lineman Patrick Purvin suffered a gruesome leg injury in the second half of Friday night's Class 6A second-round playoff game against host Crystal Lake Central.
No. 5 Grant lost the game, too, 30-13, as No. 4 Crystal Lake Central (9-2) for the first time in its history advanced to the quarterfinals, where it will play the winner of today's game between Chicago St. Patrick and Cary-Grove.
Grant's players hustled toward the visitors locker room at game's end, lined up to descend a small flight of concrete stairs -- and were denied. The outside door was locked. Dejected players stood in the cold, in the darkness.
A cruel season just wouldn't end.
"There are two things I'll never complain about. It's injuries and strength of schedule," Grant coach Kurt Rous said. "But this year has just been ridiculous."
Grant (8-3) played its fifth straight game without star running back Jonathan Wells and fourth in a row minus star quarterback Kyle Whitman. Wells (labrum) underwent surgery Thursday and did not make the trip to Crystal Lake. Whitman (knee), who had surgery a couple of weeks ago to fix his torn ACL, was in street clothes on the sideline and was accompanied by a handful of other Bulldogs whose seasons were ended by injury. Defensive back Chris Gomoll (broken neck) was also in attendance.
"We could probably suit up an injured team," Rous said.
Purvin would be the newest member.
"I was hoping he was all right," Grant senior linebacker Dan King said of his teammate. "I didn't want him to go out like that. No one does."
With 3:40 left in the third quarter, on the fifth play of what would be a momentum-changing, 19-play, 99-yard scoring drive for Crystal Lake Central, Purvin got injured. As trainers rushed to his aid, players from both sides took a knee. The stadium got quiet. Purvin was eventually carried off on a flatboard. He was sitting up, moving his head.
"His femur was sticking out," Rous said. "Hopefully it's a fracture and not a knee tear."
"We've had so many people go down," said Grant senior safety/wide receiver Keion Miller, who had an interception and caught 5 passes for 43 yards. "That just added to the adversity that we had to go through this season."
When play resumed, Crystal Lake Central kept pounding the football. Fullback Connor Hines (16 carries, 86 yards) finally capped the long drive with a 9-yard run for his second touchdown of the game, with 9:36 left in the fourth, padding the Tigers' lead to 23-7.
"They figured out what we really couldn't do on defense, which is stay with teams that are going to pound us," Rous said. "We're quick. We fly around."
Crystal Lake Central got another rushing touchdown from Matt MacAlpine (from 2 yards out). Grant scored on the game's final play, as sophomore Jeremy Bredwood raced into the end zone from 7 yards out.
"We had a lot of injuries, but we managed to push through," King said. "I was proud of everybody out here. They kept doing what they were doing, even though we lost two stars like that (Wells and Whitman) and (others) seemed to keep falling."
Trailing 14-0 late in the opening half and unable to move the ball against the Tigers' stout defense, Grant got a lift from its defense when linebacker Billy Sullivan popped the ball loose from quarterback Kyle Lavand at the line of scrimmage. The ball bounced right to defensive back Joe Sadausakas, who grabbed it and returned the fumble 20 yards into the end zone with 2:15 left before halftime.
"That got us a lot of momentum and got us back in the game," Miller said. "It helped a lot because we knew the game wasn't out of reach."
But the Bulldogs, who had Taylor Zielinski, their fifth-string QB, in at the end, couldn't do much against the Tigers.
"Each and every one of us came out to play," said senior running back Andy Cacchione, who banged out 51 rushing yards on 16 carries. "I love (my teammates) for giving their effort until the end."