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A lot of teams would have found a way to lose a game, missing two key players for half of the game.
Not Wheaton North.
John Peltz led the No. 5 seed Falcons on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, and a stout Wheaton North defense helped preserve a 14-7 win over No. 13 Prospect in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs at George Gattas Memorial Stadium.
Wheaton North (10-1) advances to play the winner of No. 1 Glenbard West and No. 9 Libertyville in the state quarterfinals next week.
"That game could have gone either way," said Wheaton North coach Joe Wardynski. "We happened to make a couple of plays at the end there, but I felt like it was two evenly matched teams."
"Wheaton North is an exceptional football team," said Prospect coach Mike Sebestyen. "That is a state championship type team."
The visitors were without star quarterback and wide receiver Clayton Thorson for the second half and top running back Patrick Sharp in the first half, but their senior leader stepped up when it mattered most.
With Wheaton North trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter, Peltz (17-of-24, 171 yards) marched the Falcons 83 yards in 11 plays, fiishing the drive with a touchdown pass to Matt Biegalski with 5:01 remaining. Peltz then hit Biegalski for the 2-point conversion.
Most important for Wheaton North was that Peltz was 3-of-3 for 43 yards on third downs on the decisive drive, including a 19-yard strike to Biegalski on third-and-14 at the Falcons' own 13.
"I can't do it without my receivers getting open, and that was the key on that last drive," Peltz said. "They found spaces and openings."
The Falcons defense held Prospect's vaunted rushing attack to just 50 yards, 33 of which came on Stevan Isteefanos' second-quarter touchdown run that put the Knights on top 7-6, a lead they held for nearly two quarters.
Kellen Cleveland (3 sacks) and Luke Sahly made life difficult for Prospect quarterback Devin O'Hara (18-for-29, 187 yards), who battled through a back injury lingering from last week's win over Glenbrook North.
"Our defense won the game for us today," Peltz said. "They came up with huge stops. Seven points, that's pretty good."
Thorson, who was already dealing with a shoulder injury, landed awkwardly after hauling in a 33-yard bomb from Peltz on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. The early diagnosis was a broken collarbone.
Sharp sat out the first half with a foot injury, and backup Dom Garza took advantage with a 1-yard touchdown run to give Wheaton North an early 6-0 lead.
Prospect (7-4) also had its own share of injury woes as two-way standout Andrew Hajek left the game with 2:43 remaining in the first quarter after injuring his knee and only returned to punt.
But that didn't deter the Knights defense from giving an inspired performance. Seniors Joe Gleason (5 catches, 64 yards), Shola George, Danny Fiumetto, Mike Houghton, Joey Zalewski and Colin Olson made key stops on defense and were part of a class that won just one game as freshman and one as sophomores -- but as seniors managed to come within five minutes of reaching the quarterfinals.
"I'm proud of these kids for what they've done and what they've accomplished," Sebestyen said. "I hurt for them. It's a tough way to end but the kids fought, and that's all I can ever ask."