It was getting harder and harder for the Crystal Lake Central offense to fool its own defense in practice.
But the Tigers fooled Grant on the first play of the game Friday night and several times after with an option read by quarterback Jacob Staples that led to big plays, big scores and eventually a big 37-21 season-opening win in Fox Lake.
Staples got the visiting Tigers off on the right foot on the very first play of the game when he got the entire Grant defense to bite on what looked like a handoff to one of his running backs but was really a keeper. He motored down the field virtually untouched for an 80- yard touchdown.
That play kept working as Crytal Lake Central built a 17-6 lead at halftime and kept its foot on the gas throughout.
"All summer long, we were practicing that play against our defense and it kind of got boring because our defense became so disciplined at it that it didn't work much," said Staples, who completed 13-of-24 passes for 162 yards. He also had 12 carries for 205 yards. "But I knew that if we could get (the fakes to work), the (Grant defense) would start crashing (at the running back) and that's exactly what happened and the line blocked great and I just made the most of the play."
The option read with Staples is a new wrinkle that Crystal Lake Central put in since last season, which ended with a disappointing 2-7 record. The Tigers wanted some new looks on offense to jumpstart the season.
"It (the touchdown on the option) was a great way to start the season. It gives you a lot of energy, a lot of juice on the sidelines," Crystal Lake Central coach Jon McLaughlin said. "Jacob did a nice job reading what the defense was doing and he was making them pay for whichever direction they were going.
"In order for us to compete more this year, we knew we had to elevate our game over the off-season and add some things. That first play was one of the wrinkles we did in the off-season."
Crystal Lake Central added a 21-yard field goal by Cade Backe to go up 10-0 before Grant answered with about two minutes to go before halftime with an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Matt McGraw (13-of-24, 145 yards, 3 touchdowns) to tight end Klaus Kathrein.
Kathrein (3 catches, 91 yards, 2 touchdowns) also caught another touchdown pass from McGraw, a 78-yarder in the fourth quarter in which he made several nifty moves to elude tacklers on his way to the end zone.
It was Kathrein's first varsity game. And Grant's first varsity game under the new regime of first-year head coach Chris Robinson. The Bulldogs are coming off a 2-7 season.
"This is the most we've scored on this team in four years," Kathrein said, referring also to underlevel games against Crytal Lake Central in the past. "I think we are way better this year. A lot of positives.
"It was pretty fun making those catches. My first varsity game. I just really wanted to win. I think we're going to do a lot better this year. Fix a few things, and we'll be good."
Crytal Lake Central scored again just before halftime, going nearly 80 yards in about two minutes to pushed the score to 17-6 on a 2-yard run by Braden Bisram (16 carries, 87 yards, 2 touchdowns).
The Tigers scored back-to-back touchdowns in the third quarter, on a 29-yard run by Staples and a 15-yard Bisram run to put the game out of reach, 31-6.
But Grant did show some life in the fourth quarter when Kathrein scored on his 78-yard reception and then McGraw found Noah Lautner for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
The fight to the end has Robinson optimistic about his Bulldogs.
"Absolutely a lot of positives to build on," Robinson said. "You can't say enough about the effort that the kids played with tonight. Proud about that. All summer they've reacted to anything that's come at them and they take it in stride, like they did tonight.
"Hats off to them, but hats off to (Crystal Lake Central) too. They played a great game. But across the board our team did fantastic and keeping their chins up. After that first play, we could have had our heads down, but we came back swinging."