Mundelein's sideline was getting a little too quiet for Emanuel Jones' liking, too eerily similar to sad seasons past for the Mustangs.
A fired-up Jones had already raised his game in the second half against visiting Wheeling, and now the senior running back raised his voice. His language got colorful enough, in fact, that he drew a glare from the sideline official, who warned Jones to watch his words.
"I was hyped up," Jones said. "I was sort of upset with my teammates because they weren't really cheering our team on. We always need to be loud. I kind of lost my mind a little bit."
Dang, it was understandable.
Winless since its 2010 finale, Mundelein was in position to win a football game, and Jones wasn't going to let opportunity slip through his team's grasp. The guy his teammates call "E-Man" was "The Man." He busted off touchdown runs of 82, 51 and 79 yards in the second half, finishing with 255 rushing yards on 16 carries, as the Mustangs pulled out a 29-22 victory.
"It came down to three big plays (Jones' 3 TDs), really," Wheeling coach Brent Pearlman said. "I didn't see them driving the ball on us at all. (Jones) just outran us. Really in any game, three big plays are going to be hard to come back from."
Mundelein's raucous fans, who were plentiful and loud all game, stormed the field after their new heroes snapped an 18-game losing streak.
"It feels amazing," said outside linebacker Albert Mota, who had a pair of crushing sacks. "We worked so hard for this. We did it. We got the win."
It was George Kaider's first victory as Mundelein's coach after his squad went 0-9 in his first season last year. It was a 7-7 game at halftime thanks to Wheeling quarterback Amani Dennis' 5-yard touchdown run and Mundelein QB Gavin Graves' 18-yard scoring strike to tight end David Adams. The hosts, who sported new charcoal-colored uniforms with red numerals and white trim, took control in the third quarter to build a 22-15 advantage heading into the fourth.
"We worked so hard," Jones said. "We condition. We lift at 6:15 (a.m.) every morning. I don't know another team that works harder than us. That's why we finished the game like this."
And that's why Jones wasn't at all tired at game's end. It wasn't just adrenaline that was fueling him.
"My legs are still under me," he said. "I could go do a workout right now. I could condition right now. We work hard as a team."
Jones showed off his breakaway speed in the third quarter. His 82-yard burst up the middle snapped a 7-7 tie, and his score from 51 yards out, after he gained an outside edge, answered a 1-yard TD yard by Wheeling running back Isaac Branch.
"He's my idol right now," Mundelein fullback Matt Hutchison, who gained 32 tough yards, said of Jones. "If he has any (hole), I guarantee you, he'll cut up (field), he'll find something. He's definitely a playmaker this year. It's going to be awesome."
Wheeling's offense was essentially a two-man show, as Dennis and Branch were the only Wildcats to touch the ball in the first half. Branch rushed for 137 yards on 17 carries, while Dennis finished with 75 yards on 19 attempts. Dennis' QB draws from the shotgun hand Mundelein defenders scrambling for most of the first half.
"They were pretty tough," Mota said of the Wildcats' dynamic duo. "They were quick on their feet, but we stopped them. Our defense helped us win this game."
Jones' 79-yard touchdown run extended Mundelein's lead to 29-15 with nine minutes left in the fourth. But Wheeling answered immediately, manufacturing a nine-play, 68-yard drive that Branch capped with a 2-yard run (his second TD) with 5:35 left.
Mundelein had a chance to possibly run out the clock on its next series. But Wheeling's defense stopped Graves' sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Wheeling 40, giving the ball back to the Wildcats with 2:08 to go.
Four plays, including 3 incompletions later, Mundelein all but officially had its coveted win.
"I was thinking, 'You got to win the game,' " Kaider explained of his decision to go for it on fourth down late. "We're not going to play on our heels. We're not going to play to lose. I just said (to the offense), 'Hey, go get the first down and let's win the game. And if we don't get it, we're going to play defense.' I think it's good to put your team in adversity. Now we know what we're made of. We got winners here that are going to respond."