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The Illinois High School Association football playoffs are still another three weeks away, but someone forgot to tell that to Hersey and Elk Grove on Friday night.
The Huskies and Grenadiers entered with identical 4-2 overall records and 2-0 marks in the East Division of the Mid-Suburban League standings. For all intents and purposes, this game was for the conference championship, and both teams played like their season was hanging in the balance.
Jack Warner found Eddie Miklasz for a 3-yard touchdown with 30.1 seconds remaining to give the visiting Huskies (5-2, 3-0) a 43-42 lead. Elk Grove's attempt at a second straight miracle finish came to an end when Adam O'Malley's pass for Mike Bishoff was ruled incomplete as the final horn sounded.
Flags were initially thrown at the goal line but after a brief conference between officials, the flag was picked up and the Hersey players rushed the field in jubilation.
"What an unbelievable game," Hersey coach Dragan Teonic said. "It got a little crazy at the end, but what a fun game to watch. Probably not as fun over here in my shoes, but I am really proud of the way our guys played tonight."
It was a game for the record books for Warner. The senior signal-caller solved the Elk Grove defense to the tune of 363 yards and 5 touchdowns. Warner's main target was Miklasz; the 6-foot wideout hauled in 8 receptions for 197 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The 363 passing yards is believed to be an all-time mark for Hersey, according to Teonic.
"We did not know that was going to happen coming into the game," Teonic said of Warner's numbers. "The gameplan wasn't to do that, but as the game progressed we felt with the way they were loading up the box we had to throw the ball outside and take advantage of our weapons out there."
Not to be outdone was Elk Grove's Adam O'Malley. The senior entered the game with over 1,500 yards through the air and added another 261 in the defeat. O'Malley found John Pass (8 catches, 186 yards) for a 6-yard score with 3:41 to play to put the Grens ahead 42-36 with 3:41 left.
"You score 42 points and you expect to win the game," Elk Grove coach Larry Calhoun said. "But I am extremely proud of how hard our kids played tonight."
Half of Pass' 8 receptions went for touchdowns in the loss.
On the winning drive by the Huskies, Warner completed a fourth-and-8 play to keep the chains moving.
"He made some really nice plays tonight with both his feet and his arm," Teonic said.
The two teams battled to a 14-14 tie at the half and neither team led by more than 9 points in the game.
"I personally believe this was our conference title game," Calhoun said. "Rolling Meadows still has something to say about that, but we both came in at 4-2 and undefeated in the conference I felt like this was the conference title and I think they did too."
Hersey travels to Rolling Meadows next week, while Elk Grove (4-3, 2-1) plays at Wheeling.