Two teams not headed to the state playoffs put on quite a show Friday in Round Lake.
Grant scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take a 24-17 lead with 24.2 seconds left in the game. But the host Panthers pulled out a miracle.
Senior quarterback Tabieas Young hit 6-5 sophomore Darrius Calhoun for a 50-yard bomb down the visiting sideline with just 4.3 seconds on the clock. Round Lake went for the win and senior Alan Espinosa dove over the goal-line for a 2-point run, giving the Panthers a thrilling 25-24 victory, their first of the season.
"I was running a fade ball and I saw (the defender) tip it," Calhoun said. "It landed right in my pocket. It feels great, first win."
It was Round Lake's first win over Grant since 1998, snapping a 17-game streak. Espinosa powered the Panthers' offense all night, rushing for 139 yards on 19 carries. He was right in the middle of a jubilant celebration on the field when the game ended.
"There's no better feeling, man," Espinosa said. "I've been with this team since I was a sophomore. Prior to this, I've only won one game, but I stuck with the program. I trusted in my players and coaches. I knew we could do. I have no words for the feeling right now. There's no better way to go out. I wouldn't want to be on any other team. This is the team I want to be on for life. I'm a Panther for life."
Second-year Round Lake coach Cristo Garza wore a wide smile as he credited his seniors for bringing a strong performance after eight losses to start the season.
"Our goal since Day 1 is always 1-0 (each week) and it won't change," Garza said. "I told the seniors at halftime, 'You've got 1-0 for the rest of your life and no one can take it away.' So I'm just proud to be a part of something like that and 20 years from now, hopefully we'll go out and they'll bump into me and be like, 'Coach, remember when we won that game in the last second?' I'll probably start crying then, too, because I'm so proud of these seniors and my whole squad."
Round Lake's offense moved the ball well all night behind a sweep-heavy run game and a few big passes. A 49-yard run by Espinosa late in the first half set up a 1-yard TD plunge by Alex Valladares and the score was 7-7 at halftime.
A field goal by Gianni Ocana and 39-yard touchdown pass from Young to Brendon Matallanes put Round Lake up 17-7 heading into the fourth quarter.
Grant (2-7) finally got to work, capping a 55-yard drive with a 5-yard run by junior Kenyon Jones on fourth-and-goal to make it 17-14 with 8:32 left. Junior Andrew Ryczek knocked home a 36-yard field goal to tie the score with 3:34 left.
After another defensive stop, Grant took over at its own 41-yard line with 1:27 left. After three runs by Jones (25 carries, 134 yards), senior Drew Walker broke free on a counter for a 40-yard TD run with 24.2 seconds on the clock.
It's been a tough three years for Grant. Coach Vito Andriola is now 7-20 at the school. Prior to that, the Bulldogs made the playoffs seven time in nine years.
"That's typical of what we are," Andriola said. "We did everything to ourselves. We don't make plays when we have to. It's been like that since we got here. We've got to look at things where we're at."