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Penalty me this, penalty me that. It seems to be the theme for the Larkin football team this season and it's what did the Royals in last week in a loss at McHenry.
And with practically identical numbers this week — 12 penalties for 120 yards vs. 17 penalties for 117 yards last week — you would've thought the Royals were on the other side of a 20-12 Upstate Eight Conference crossover overtime final at Memorial Field on Friday in Elgin.
In a game that West Chicago and Larkin combined for 20 penalties totaling 205 yards — and we're not speaking about the other 4 flags that offset each other — somehow the Royals (1-1) managed their first victory with a 2-yard run by Damion Clemons on the first series of overtime and 2 defensive bat downs by cornerback Jawon Rispin on throws by Wildcats quarterback Jordan Lelito to end the game.
For West Chicago (0-2), it marked the 13th consecutive loss as Larkin snapped a 7-game losing streak against a team it defeated last season.
But by the way Larkin carried itself afterward, winning the edge in total yards 277-255 wasn't really a concern as much as its carelessness was.
"Where we want to get to this season, this is not where we want to be," said Royals' quarterback Kemmerin Blalark, who converted 8 of 13 passes for 92 yards and a touchdown with 1 interception. "We'll take the win, whatever we can do. But this is not where we want to be. We want to be an elite team and this is not an elite team. We'll get better. We've just got to keep getting better, keep progressing."
Blalark had a chance to seal the game in regulation when Larkin had possession on the West Chicago 44 with two minutes remaining. A holding flag pushed a reverse back to the Larkin 44 with 1:30 remaining and by the time Larkin reached the Wildcat 27 with 4.2 seconds left, Blalark held on when no one was open.
Larkin received the ball first in the OT and Blalark opened with an 8-yard scramble, which set up Clemons' run from 2-yards out, his third touchdown of the game.
On the Wildcats' possession, Rispin broke up passes on third and fourth down, which were identical plays on a slant to the middle of the end zone.
"The team just told me to focus," Rispin said. "Focus, got to make a play, so I went out there and made one."
Larkin led 12-0 at halftime behind a 53-yard pass from Blalark to Clemons down the left sideline on a screen with 10:46 in the second quarter and Clemons' run from 2 yards out on the a 6-play 64-yard to start the game. Clemons ran 18 times for 91 yards while Blalark ran for 47 yards on 10 carries.
West Chicago gained momentum late in the first half after the Wildcats dropped 2 near interceptions. On their first drive of the second half, Danny Lazzerini scored on a 26-yard run on a 7-play, 66-yard drive. When Blalark was intercepted by Jake Paler on its own 15 late in the third, West Chicago marched 85 yards in 8 plays, scoring on a 24-yard pass play from Lelito (5 of 13, 109 yards, TD) to Alex Mitchell (2 catches, 45 yards) to tie it with 9:19 left.
"This team is one of the strongest teams I've been apart of. We knew at halftime we weren't going to quit, we just had to fight," said Lazzerini, who carried 15 times for 77 yards. "That second half was one of the best halves we've ever played as a team and that's good to see. We just have to learn how to finish games. It'll come."