Defending Class 6A champion Prairie Ridge garners a lot of attention for an offense powered by Iowa-bound standouts Samson Evans at quarterback and tackle Jeff Jenkins, but defense carried the Wolves to a 7-6 victory over Cary-Grove in a battle of state-ranked teams in Crystal Lake Friday.
Led by senior linebackers Joe Perhats and Jacob Ommen, among many, the Wolves limited Cary-Grove's triple-option offense to 124 total yard on 38 carries, a 3.3-yard per-play average. Fullback Max Skol led the Trojans with 80-hard-fought yards in 29 attempts.
"Being able to stop that option behind that offensive line that they have and Max Skol, who just runs so hard, that was a tough game, a tough offense to face," Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp said. "Our kids really stepped up and played well. They should be proud of themselves."
Trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter, the Cary-Grove defense forced a punt and the offense started from its own 20-yard line with 5:25 left. The Trojans picked up a first down on a defensive holding penalty, but the drive soon bogged down.
Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 39, Cary-Grove quarterback Quinn Priester handed off to Skol up the middle but the senior was met by Perhats and stopped for no gain. The Wolves took possession on downs and ran out the clock with a pair of first downs.
The lack of conversions was a common theme for Cary-Grove's offense, which converted 4 of 9 third downs and couldn't convert on its only fourth-down attempt.
"I mean, we were moving guys," Skol said. "It was just a matter of those third-down and fourth-down conversions that we didn't convert."
The Trojans jumped to a 6-0 second-quarter lead by converting three third-down opportunities on the same drive. Skol capped an 11-play, 61-yard march with a 1-yard leap into the end zone with 5:46 left in the half. However, the extra point kick by junior Cooper Schmidt sailed wide of the right goal post.
Evans and Prairie Ridge responded by driving 87 yards in 15 plays to take the lead with 10.4 seconds left in the half. The Wolves converted three third-downs on the drive but the key play was Evan's 7-yard run on 4th-and-4 from the 9. He scored on a 2-yard run on the next play and the kick was good.
"That whole drive gave us confidence going in (to the half)," Evans said.
In the second half Cary-Grove punted twice and turned it over on downs on an open fake-punt-pass attempt that Priester overthrew slightly. The final drive ended on downs at the 39 with 2:30 left.
The Prairie Ridge offense gained 229 of its 248 total yards via the rush. Evans carried 22 times for 105 yards and a touchdown and senior running back Zach Gulbransen rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries
The difference between two evenly matched teams turned out to be the missed extra point, though Cary-Grove had two quarters to remedy that situation and was unable.
"When you miss a PAT I think the natural reaction is to look at that particular play, but we missed a fake punt that was right there and not that many people are going to remember that one," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "I think you take a look at every play in the game matters and that was one play. There were a lot of plays that could have determined the outcome."