Contrary to popular belief, all Ws are not pretty.
So Michael Prate planned to swap his purple-and-gold Wauconda football helmet for a new one.
On the second of his 2 momentum-changing touchdowns during the Bulldogs' 34-14 win over Round Lake on an overcast homecoming Saturday, Prate ran hard into a Panther. Helmets collided, gashing a large W next to an earhole on Prate's helmet.
"I'm going to get a fresh one in a few minutes," Prate said after the game among smiling Bulldogs.
His helmet died a hero.
With Round Lake trying to become the latest team to spoil a Wauconda homecoming, Bulldogs coach Dave Mills inserted Prate, a two-year starting outside linebacker, at fullback. On his first carry of the season, Prate busted up the middle and raced into the end zone from 29 yards, pulling the hosts within 7-6 with 5:21 left before halftime.
After Round Lake went three-and-out, Wauconda got the ball back. The Bulldogs then gave the ball back to Prate, who broke off a 65-yard TD run to give Wauconda the lead for good with 3:53 to go before halftime.
That made 94 yards and 2 TDs on 2 carries for the senior Prate, who played running back as a freshman and sophomore but not last year.
"I practiced at fullback all week," said Prate, whose nephew is former Wauconda star Braden Prate, who's starting at defensive tackle for Illinois State. "I was prepared to go in the game at some point. I was just given an opportunity."
Prate carried the ball only two more times, finishing with a game-high 97 rushing yards on 4 carries.
"He's a kid who came up to me (during the week) and said, 'Coach, if you need help (on offense), tell me where,' " Mills said. "You saw that little burst of speed he brings to us. It's nice to see a kid step up to the challenge and deliver."
"My line did a great job up front," Prate said of a unit that included Graham Miller, Logan Bulich, Parmveer Kahlon, Michael Bianchi, Jeff Sanks and Michael Lezon. "When you give a shout-out to the those guys, you have to do your job. I was just doing what I had to do."
By game's end, Wauconda was celebrating its first homecoming win since 2007. The Bulldogs improved to 4-2 and 2-2 in the North Suburban Prairie Division heading into Friday night's key game with Antioch, which needs to win to keep its playoff hopes alive.
"It's crazy," Wauconda junior wide receiver Josh Anderson said of his team's homecoming dry spell. "Before the game, Coach (Mills) was talking about how there were going to be 'moments.' We went out there and had really good moments."
Anderson had plenty of his own, catching 3 touchdown passes -- covering 15, 8 and 40 yards -- from quarterback Kevin Malisheski (7-of-17 passing, 145 yards). Wauconda also got 86 rushing yards from Alex Payne, while the sack-happy defense held Round Lake (1-5, 0-3) to a staggering minus-95 rushing yards. Luke Fugle was in on 4 sacks for Wauconda, while Nate Magiera and two-way lineman Miller each had a hand in a pair.
Bulldogs sophomore wide receiver Justin Klein caught his first varsity pass.
"We all (had moments)," said the 6-foot-2, 160-pound Anderson, who had 6 receptions for 136 yards. "It was great."
Round Lake had its moments too. The Panthers, in fact, stunned the hosts early. Quarterback John Ridley threw a 74-yard TD pass to Cole Steger, who leapt to catch the ball over a defender before winning a race to the end zone, giving the visitors the lead with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
Ridley, who missed the Panthers' last two games with a knee injury, completed 16 of 36 passes for 291 yards. He did throw 3 interceptions, with Joey Lovelle, Joey Pausa and Tim Trocke coming up with picks for Wauconda.
The sophomore Steger, who repeatedly grabbed balls in traffic, finished with 9 receptions for 224 yards. Mauricio Tovar notched 2 sacks to help spearhead the hard-hitting Panthers defensively.
"We had a good start," said Jordan Eder, Round Lake's 25-year-old first-year head coach. "We just gave up too many big plays. We're playing good football. But it's just the big plays. We keep giving them up. It's killing us. But it's not our effort."
Anderson's diving catch in the right corner of the end zone with 2:22 left before halftime had Wauconda up 20-7. Anderson hauled in a pair of TD catches in the third quarter to make it 34 unanswered points, before Round Lake got a late TD from Tayler Stempinski (1-yard run).
For Wauconda, Saturday might have marked its last homecoming game on grass. Mills said the school officially learned this week that it will be getting a much-needed new track as well as artificial turf.
"We're excited about the turf," Mills said with a smile. "It'll be next year, but we're excited."