Rolling Meadows' football team found itself in an unusual spot at halftime at Lincoln-Way Central on Friday night.
The Mustangs, the No. 3 seed in the Class 7A playoffs, found themselves trailing for the first time this season. It was 13-9, and the difference in the team's mood was noticeable.
"I saw some heads hanging as I began speaking to them at the half," said Rolling Meadows coach Matt Mishler. "I told them that we were either going to win or lose, but to play hard and have fun."
And then, Rolling Meadows (11-0) went out and did indeed have some fun. The Mustangs regrouped and defeated the No. 19 seed 23-13 to advance to next weekend's quarterfinals. Their opponent will be either Benet Academy or the downstate Normal Iron Men, at Rolling Meadows.
The Mustangs' defense shut down the 7-4 Knights on their first drive, taking over the ball at their own 14-yard line.
Led by quarterback Asher O'Hara and running back Kevin Lacosse, the Mustangs marched 86 yards in 12 plays to take a 16-13 lead with 5:04 left in the quarter.
Lacosse had a 25-yard gain on the drive, and O'Hara finished it with a 12-yard run on fourth down and a long one.
"That drive showed me that we had it," said Mishler.
"We had just some great blocking on that drive, and all night," said Lacosse, who later scored on a 3-yard run to clinch the game. He finished as the leading rusher with 101 yards on 20 carries. O'Hara rushed 19 times for 70 yards and had a few key big pick-ups.
The offensive line of Andrew Neville, Thomas Larson, William Rezny, Jonathan Hering, Matthew Pedraza (who suffered a left knee injury and was backed up by Zhontrel Payne) controlled the line of scrimmage.
"Lincoln-Way had a very good defense," said O'Hara, who also completed 14 of 21 passes for 137 yards. "But I was able to run some when I was able to pick up their defense reads. You just have to take what the defense gives you. I'm really happy with has been happening, but I don't concentrate on my rushing and passing numbers."
Lacosse's touchdown with 10:01 left in the game was set up by Devonte Amos' interception at the Mustangs' 30 late in the third quarter.
Again it was O'Hara and Lacosse keying the drive. LaCosse rushed 4 times for 15 yards while O'Hara ran twice for 16 yards.
"Asher really helped with my ability to run," said Lacosse. "They had to key on him, and that opened up some holes for me."
The Knights helped with a 15-yard penalty, and then a 5-yard encroachment penalty when the Mustangs faced fourth-and-2 from the Lincoln-Way 36.
Rolling Meadows junior defensive back Willis Goodwin intercepted a pass from the Knights' Hunter Campbell pass with 6:11 left in the game.
While the Mustangs were not able to score, they used four minutes before turning the ball over with 2:14 left.
"That was big for us," said O'Hara. "Using up time like that just took away their chance to score."
Goodwin's interception made up for a few times the Knights made some big plays of their own, including a 53-yard option pass from Zack Stoklosa to Matt Pollack to give the Knights 6-3 first-quarter lead.
"We hadn't played against an offense that did so many things," said Goodwin. "I got hurt on two cut-back passes, but on this one I stayed with the receiver and made the play. Our defensive line and linebackers just did a great job tonight."
Rolling Meadows took a 3-0 lead on Logan Reese's 22-yard field goal with 1:17 left in the first quarter.
Lincoln-Way countered with the option pass touchdown.
O'Hara finished an 85-yard, 8-play drive with a 3-yard run with 7:12 left in the half for a 9-6 lead.
Campbell, though, scored from the 1 with 2:47 left in the half.
After that, the Mustangs' defense took over.
Lincoln-Way Central manged just 83 rushing yards and 131 passing.
"Lincoln-Way was just so big and physical," said Mishler. "Our players were up to the task and matched them with our physicality. Our defense was unbelievable. A real team victory."