With the game and his team's season on the line, Benet quarterback Jack Beneventi worried for a split second that his throw toward the end zone was maybe a tad off target.
As it turns out, the throw was perfect, Jack Toner's catch at the back of the end zone was perfect, and the Redwings could not have asked for a more perfect ending to Saturday's wild Class 7A quarterfinal battle at Downers Grove North. When Toner hauled in the Beneventi pass and managed to keep a foot inside the back of the end zone, the Redwings claimed a stunning 26-24 victory to improve to 11-1 on the season and advance to the next weekend's state semifinals.
"It was just crazy," the sophomore quarterback said of the waning seconds of the contest. "I threw the ball a little high and for a second my heart dropped. But Toner made a great play."
The 5-yard touchdown, completed as the clock wound down to zero, capped a 65-yard, season-saving drive that started with 1:24 on the clock and Benet with no timeouts left. Toner's game-winning catch will be remembered for a long time, but if not for a couple other key plays, the Redwings would not have been in position to stun the Trojans, who had erased a 20-7 fourth-quarter deficit to go on top 24-20 only to have their hearts broken at the very end.
On third-and-10 with 1:13 left to play, Toner hauled in a 22-yard pass to the Trojans' 43-yard-line. Then on third-and-15 with half a minute to play, Beneventi tried to go back to Toner, but the ball was tipped and Benet's Joe Batina made a sliding 26-yard catch off the deflection.
Benet quickly spiked the ball to kill the clock with 22.7 seconds left, then another incomplete pass was followed by a short screen to Nick McTarnaghan, who got out of bounds at the 18 with just more than 10 seconds left.
In those final few seconds the Redwings managed to connect with Toner on a pass to the 5, spike the ball again and then snap the final play of the game with 3.4 seconds showing on the scoreboard.
When Beneventi then found Toner at the back of the end zone as time expired, Benet players and fans began a big celebration on the field while the stunned Downers North sideline was just hoping for the officials to rule Toner was out of bounds on the play.
After a brief meeting the officials ruled the touchdown was good and the shocked hosts saw their strong playoff push come to a close.
"I knew I had to make that catch otherwise my high school career would be over," said Toner, who was swarmed in a pile of celebrators while the officials gathered to determine the final call. "My team was on me so quick I didn't really know what was going on."
Downers North coach John Wander's team was one stop at the end from advancing to the final four and also one first down on its final drive away from ever giving Beneventi and the Redwings that final chance.
"That's three seconds that I wish I had back," he said. "That was a wild end."
Benet led 20-7 at the half after Porter Ontko and McTarnaghan each scored on the ground and McTarnaghan added an 11-yard TD on a pass from Beneventi late in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter the Trojans (7-5) stormed ahead after Vontae Diggs blocked a Benet punt a returned it 12 yards for a score to start a 17-0 fourth-quarter run that was also aided by a pair of Redwings fumbles.
"This is probably the coolest thing in my life, to be a part of this team and to win a game like this," McTarnaghan said.
For the Trojans, quarterback David Edwards ran for 60 yards and a 2-yard TD and Brandon Salter ran for 75 yards, including a 24-yard score that gave the home team a 21-20 lead with 7:39 remaining.
Following that score, the Redwings fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and that led to a 30-yard field goal by Gareth Jones and a 24-20 Trojans lead. Benet then turned the ball over on downs with 1:48 left in the game but stopped the Trojans on three runs and got the ball back after spending their three timeouts in the process.
Edwards ran for 7 yards on Downers North's first two plays of that critical possession, but after getting banged up, backup quarterback Sebastian Calvino came in and gained 1 yard on third-and-3, forcing the Trojans to punt the ball and setting the stage for Benet's clutch drive.