It wasn't pretty, but like Benet football coach Pat New told his kids afterward, it's all about survival.
Hoffman Estates, making its first foray into the state playoffs in 22 years, rallied from a 23-0 halftime deficit to tie the game early in the fourth quarter, but Benet scored on a 30-yard run by Marty Dosen with 3:24 remaining and the Redwings held on for a 29-23 victory in a first-round Class 7A playoff game Friday at Benedictine University.
"It was an ugly second half," New said. "But credit Hoffman Estates. They showed great heart. It sounds like an excuse, but that wind was unbelievable. We kind of buried them in the first quarter with the wind and got momentum, and they kind of buried us in the third quarter and got momentum."
Benet (8-2) got on the scoreboard four minutes into the game on a 37-yard field goal by Victor Karam. After forcing a Hoffman Estates three-and-out, Benet marched 43 yards and scored on a 16-yard run by Dosen. The Redwings extended the lead to 16-0 on a 63-yard pass from Jack Sznajder to Michael Challenger, who shook off a tackler at the Hoffman Estates 30-yard line and danced into the end zone.
Meanwhile, Benet took advantage of the stiff breeze at its back to keep Hoffman Estates bottled up deep in its own territory. The Hawks' best field position, a first-and-10 at the Redwings' 30-yard line following a short punt into the wind, led to a 78-yard interception return by Benet's Erik Jones that pushed the lead to 23-0 at halftime.
But Hoffman Estates (6-4) stormed back in the third quarter. With a strong breeze at his back, junior quarterback Austin Coalson led the Hawks on a pair of scoring drives capped by touchdown passes of 15 and 29 yards to Jayson Blissett. Michael Eppenbaugh's 5-yard touchdown run an Tyae Grace's 2-point conversion got the Hawks even with 8:17 remaining.
"They came out and punched us in the mouth," said Hoffman Estates coach Mike Donatucci. "If I had to do something over again, I'd take the wind to start the game. But our kids fought to the end. When you get to the pearly gates, they're not going to ask you if you won. They're going to ask you how you played, and our kids played hard."