An achy ankle, which has failed to keep him off the field, wasn't going to keep Arnold Shead down. Nor was a celebratory, leaping chest bump from a teammate that was delivered exuberantly enough to knock the North Chicago football star off his cleats.
It was the day after his 18th birthday, after all. And crushing defeats in back-to-back weeks wasn't an option.
So Shead mustered up the moxie and will, and willed his Warhawks to victory, 10-3 over previously undefeated Wauconda.
With overtime looming in Saturday's North Suburban Prairie Division homecoming matinee at North Chicago, Shead showed off his athleticism in leading a late-game drive that he finished with a 14-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left.
"He's played hurt," said coach Glen Kozlowski, whose Warhawks (3-1, 1-1) improved to 2-3 against the team he once coached. "He's one of those kids. He's a rare, (potential) D-I kind of player."
Nine days earlier, North Chicago suffered a 1-point loss to Antioch, which scored the go-ahead TD midway through the fourth quarter to complete a rally and hand the Warhawks their first defeat.
"Last week hit us hard," Shead said. "It was the same way. It was down to the wire. We just couldn't move the ball. ... (Against Wauconda), we stayed together like a family. We didn't want to give up on each other. We all said, 'If we got each other's back, we're going to win this.' "
With its veteran defense having contained North Chicago's speedy and physical athletes most of the game, Wauconda (3-1, 1-1) was feeling good about its chances to at least force OT after Adolfo Carrillo kicked a 40-yard field goal with 1:45 left in the fourth quarter.
North Chicago's Isaac Louis returned the ensuing kick 30 yards to the Warhawks 35. Shead then went to work, scrambling for 21 yards on first down and three plays later flipping a 6-yard completion to Sharif Blackmon to the Wauconda 33.
After an incompletion, Shead was in trouble in the backfield. But while in the grasp of a defender, he shoveled a pass to Blackmon. The 13-yard gain put the ball at the 14.
"Athletes make plays," Wauconda coach Dave Mills said. "There was some backyard football there a little bit and some broken-down plays. You don't draw up getting sacked and throwing to the tailback. If (the ball) bounces a little bit different and we pick it out of the air, our kid's running the other way."
Shead had one more "play" left in his 6-foot, 184-pound body.
On second-and-10 from the 14, he again dodged tacklers in the backfield, raced toward the right sideline and sneaked into the end zone.
"I was looking for the pass, first, but then I made the run," said Shead, a potential college defensive back who's drawn interest from Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Northwestern and Iowa. "Everybody stayed together, and everybody kept their head in the game. When we do that, we can't be stopped."
Happy Birthday, Arnold Shead.
Compliments of Arnold Shead.
"When I was younger, playing (youth football), I had a good game on my birthday," said Shead, smiling. "But this is where it counts."
"I was surprised," Mills said of North Chicago's ability to drive the ball on his team's staunch defense in the end. "Our defense has been the strength of our team all year long."
Wauconda's defense held North Chicago off the scoreboard after Donte Rowell's block of an Elliot Hill punt gave the Warhawks the ball at the Wauconda 11 early in the first quarter. The Bulldogs' defenders stepped up again on North Chicago's next possession, as Michael Prate led a gang-tackle on third-and-1 from the Wauconda 2. The Warhawks settled for a field-goal try, which was unsuccessful.
Defensive tackle Nate Magiera had a couple of tackles for loss for the Bulldogs.
A 31-yard field goal by North Chicago's David Guadarrama broke a scoreless tie with 8:26 left in the third.
"We wasted a great defensive effort today," Mills said. "Our kids played their hearts out. We'll take that every day."
After Wauconda's offense was unable to capitalize on a Prate fumble recovery at the North Chicago 42 early in the fourth, a leaping interception by Joey Pausa at midfield led to Carrillo's field goal that pulled the visitors even at 3-3. A 25-yard pass from Kevin Malisheski (9 of 28, 109 yards) to Josh Anderson (5 catches, 86 yards) put the Bulldogs in field-goal range.
Senior linebacker Tazari Bryant was all over the field for North Chicago, recording an interception, sack and another tackle for loss. Caleb Washington also picked off a pass for the Warhawks, who held Wauconda to 63 rushing yards on 30 attempts.
"We had to overcome a lot of mistakes," said Kozlowski, whose Warhawks committed 13 penalties for 95 yards. "Wauconda has a really good defense, so (the low-scoring game) doesn't shock me. They look great on film, and they're all that is advertised. We felt like our defense could carry us, and they did. And we did just enough to finish it off."