Friday night's 29-15 Glenbard North victory over Metea Valley showed that sometimes the distance between a team preparing for the playoffs and one playing out the schedule isn't that great.
This game wasn't in the books until late in the fourth quarter.
After Vittorio Tricase scored his third of four touchdowns on the night, giving his team a 21-8 advantage with 9:48 to play,
However, Metea (2-6, 2-6 DuPage Valley Conference) wasn't done. On the first play of the ensuing drive, sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne found junior wide receiver Jayden Reed in open territory for a 70-yard touchdown pass. Sam Barton's extra point made it 21-15 Panthers at the 9:31 mark.
Glenbard North (6-2, 5-2) went three-and-out on the following drive, and then Metea took over on its own 12 with 7:55 remaining. Thorne ran a 29-yard keeper on the first play, but the drive ended on the next play when Northwestern-bound Jace James made a highlight-video worthy one-handed interception and the Panthers had the ball on their own 27-yard line.
James wasn't done. On the drive's first play he stretched what looked like a short connection from quarterback Shane Conway into a 64-yard gain that put his team on the Metea 9. Three plays later, Tricase hit the end zone from 4 yards out to make it 29-15 with 5:17 left in the game.
"Our offense is extra dangerous. We have a lot of (Division I) talent. But that doesn't define us. Everyone gives 110 percent and we have too many players for a defense to focus on," Tricase said.
He finished with a game-high 144 yards
Metea drove the ball for three minutes when it got the ball back but didn't go deep into Panthers territory.
Glenbard North led 14-0 at halftime and went three and out in the second half's opening drive. The Mustangs' offense had sputtered during the first two quarters, earning just 69 yards in total offense.
But Metea had the ball on the move when it got its first possession of the third quarter. Thorne scrambled and found Ashton Creal, and that moved the ball from the 50 well into Glenbard North territory at the 29. Four plays later, Thorne threw to Alonzo Taylor-James. Taylor-James ran about 5 yards before he was all alone going into the end zone along the sideline and it was a perfect aim from the Metea quarterback.
"Overall, I thought we played really even. I'm proud of the defensive play in the first half. They held them. We just came up short on offensive plays," Taylor-James said. "We had complete confidence in the third quarter with that score. We're telling each other that we are as good as them as they are as good as us."
It was a big night for Mustangs punter Ryan Kriceri. Early in the second quarter, he had booted a punt that was uncatchable and when it stopped, it was a 78-yard kick. But Metea was called for an illegal formation and he had to kick again. He didn't lose any momentum and he racked up a 70-yard kick. The public address announcer told Friday's crowd that it was a stadium record.
The Panthers now have their playoff reservation stamped and confirmed. But that's not on coach Ryan Wilkens' mind right now. The team hosts Neuqua Valley next Friday in the regular-season finale.
"It's great that the kids are in the postseason. But we're focusing on Neuqua Valley. It's our senior night. We want to beat them and increase our chances for a better seed in the playoffs," he said.
Metea is done with DVC play for the season and will close out the 2016 schedule Friday at Lincoln-Way Central.