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Bulldogs are known for their tenacity, and never giving up.
That's exactly the spirit that the Wauconda Bulldogs displayed Friday night on a crisp fall evening at Zion-Benton in a North Suburban Conference crossover game with playoff implications.
Unfortunately for these Bulldogs, their tenacity was not accompanied by quite enough bite. Wauconda fell short 20-13 after losing the ball on downs at the Zee-Bees' 14-yard line with 43 seconds remaining. The loss takes the Bulldogs (4-4) pretty much out of the playoff picture, barring a minor miracle.
"We just came up a little short tonight," said Wauconda coach Dave Mills. "All night we came up one play short. When we look at film tomorrow, the kids will each find one to five plays where they could have done something different.
"But this is a team that never gives up. We always feel like we have a shot. I love the character of this team. And it really is a team, not a bunch of individuals. They're all in it for each other and they show it by the way they play."
Trailing 20-6 after Zion-Benton's Maurice Young intercepted a Kevin Malisheski pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter, the Bulldogs looked down and out. It appeared even worse after they lost the ball on downs on their next two possessions.
But Wauconda got the ball back on a fumble recovery and pulled to within 7 points at 20-13 with 6:24 to play in the fourth quarter when Michael Prate plowed into the end zone on a 3-yard run and Adolfo Carrillo booted the extra point.
The Bulldogs regained possession three plays later on another fumble recovery, but again lost the ball on downs with 1:36 to play when Josh Anderson was ruled out of bounds on a reception at the Zee-Bees' 5-yard line that had the Wauconda bench in an uproar.
Once again, Zion-Benton (2-6) turned the ball over on a fumble and Wauconda took over at the Zee-Bees' 14-yard line with 1:06 remaining. But four incomplete passes later, the game was over, and with it, the likelihood of the Bulldogs advancing to the playoffs.
Wauconda took a 6-0 lead midway through the second quarter when Malisheski connected with Joey Lovelle on a 45-yard TD pass play. But Zion-Benton quarterback Doug Gates and running back Eric Gilmore hooked up for TD scoring passes of 43 and 16 yards in the final 2½ minutes prior to intermission.
"Over the summer, Doug and I worked on long passes over and over again," Gilmore said. "Nothing short, just long passes all day, and it has paid off."
Zee-Bees' coach Robert Strickland was happy with his team's second victory of the season, but was disappointed at how it almost got away.
"We can't play that sloppy and expect to win," Strickland said. "We got into a groove and got up by a couple of touchdowns, but then we really let things fall apart. Fortunately, when it really got scary, the kids responded."