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updated: 8/29/2017 7:00 PM

How Naperville North engineered a comeback like no other

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  • Video: Naperville North's comeback

 
 

Every football team -- every player -- has a different belief point.

At what point do you start believing the seemingly impossible is possible? Based on Naperville North's effort on Saturday, your answer might change.

This week's Eyes on Five column looks at one of the biggest comebacks in football history. The visiting Huskies rallied from a 42-0 first-half deficit to stun Edwardsville 53-49.

Belief. No matter the odds, at some point the Huskies found it.

There's been no bigger rally at the NFL or major college level and, after some searching, the IHSA has no record of a larger high school comeback. Considering a running clock takes effect when a margin hits 40 points in the second half, a similar prep rally is unlikely.

Eyes on Five checked in on the Huskies to learn what it means to truly believe.

Call this the anatomy of a comeback.

1. The ugly:

The Huskies pretty much trailed the moment they stepped off the bus following a 300-mile bus ride to southern Illinois. Edwardsville scored a touchdown three minutes into the game and added another 15 seconds later.

A 28-0 Huskies deficit after a quarter ballooned to 42-0 with a little more than five minutes left in the half. Proud football players don't even have nightmares this bad.

"When we went down 28-0 it was pretty demoralizing," said Huskies offensive lineman Nick Vogel. "But I think we all knew our potential. We all knew it was mistakes we were making, and we knew we could fix it."

While Edwardsville scored on its first six possessions, Naperville North went interception, fumble, turnover on downs, turnover on downs, punt, fumble and punt.

The Huskies faced a rolling train with no easy way to slow it down.

"I don't want to say there was a lot of doubt," said Huskies quarterback Drake Davis. "Once it started getting higher and higher, we just changed our motives. One play at a time, one drive at a time. Try to score as many points as possible."

At no point did it become overwhelming. For other teams, the reaction might have been different.

"When it got to 28, 35, guys were pretty down," said Huskies coach Sean Drendel. "But we didn't have a guy pointing a finger. We didn't have a guy upset with another teammate."

2. The bad:

Trailing 42-0 with five minutes left in the first half sounds awful, but it's miles better than 42-0 with no time left in the first half.

Why? If the score remained 42-0 (or worse) at halftime, there'd be a running clock during the entire second half. No chance at a comeback, just a mercifully quick end to the game.

The Huskies had to find a way to not only stem the tide of Edwardsville's scoring onslaught, they needed their own points to get the margin smaller than 40 points.

"Edwardsville had a chance to make it 49-nothing," Drendel said. "They were driving and we caused a fumble, got the ball back. We took it down and scored to make it (42-8), which then negates the clock."

It also flipped a switch.

The Huskies scored again 13 seconds before halftime to make it 42-14 heading to the break. They found a little breathing room between themselves and the dreaded running clock.

The point of belief was within reach.

"That first touchdown, we knew once we got one in we could get a whole lot more," Vogel said.

The Huskies weren't out of the woods yet. Edwardsville scored three minutes into the third quarter to boost the advantage back to 49-14.

The running clock loomed again if the Tigers scored another touchdown.

"It was kind of a downer because we had the momentum going in (to halftime)," Davis said. "They scored right away, but after that they didn't score again."

3. The good:

Trailing 49-14, the Huskies answered on the ensuing kickoff when Matt Maschmeier returned it 72 yards for a touchdown. Two three-and-outs led to two Naperville North touchdowns.

The margin shrank to 49-34 ... and more than two minutes still remained in the third quarter.

"We were clicking on all cylinders," Davis said. "In the second half we just completely turned it up."

A Jimmy Klaeren interception set up the Huskies at Edwardsville's 17-yard line. Davis found Nick Calcagno for a touchdown, but a missed 2-point conversion attempt kept it a two-possession game at 49-40.

The Huskies weren't done yet, though. Calcagno stunned the stadium by returning a punt 83 yards for a touchdown to put the score at 49-47.

That belief point? Everyone wearing Naperville North blue and orange had arrived.

"It was unbelievable," Vogel said. "Totally surreal."

Wait ... there's more.

A broken-up pass by Jared Saad on third-and-long led to a bad snap on an Edwardsville punt that landed the Huskies' offense at their 41-yard line with 5:49 left. Fifteen plays later, Davis burst through the middle of the line for a 1-yard touchdown run and a 53-49 lead with less than a minute to play.

The comeback was complete. Belief rewarded.

4. The aftermath:

Beyond the parents and the handful of students and administrators who made the trek to southern Illinois, few Naperville North fans experienced the awe of Saturday afternoon.

For those in attendance, it was unforgettable.

"It was a great experience," Vogel said. "We're hoping that at the end of the season, we have a very successful season and that can be something we look on. But for now we're just worried about next week."

The season will continue -- Friday at Metea Valley, in fact -- as the comeback story simmers and spreads. Drendel, a 1990 Naperville North graduate, spent 15 years coaching in the program before being named as its varsity head coach in 2010.

He's never seen anything like it.

"Not even close," he said.

If it is the greatest comeback in IHSA history, it's something to celebrate. The Huskies, though, also will remember the situation that forced the comeback.

"Most people would say, 'That's awesome, you're part of history, it's great', but it also was kind of a bad time," Davis said. "Being part of history is cool and all, but you've got to reflect on what we did in the first half when we didn't do so well."

With eight games to go, that's the focus. As Drendel said, the Huskies must be prepared the moment they step on the field.

There's a DuPage Valley Conference title to defend and a playoff berth to wrap up.

Someday, though, it'll be time to turn reality into legend.

5. Stat time:

Davis, a transfer from Bureau Valley, had a brilliant day in his first game with the Huskies. He completed 25 of 43 passes for 391 yards and 4 touchdowns. Calcagno, in addition to the punt return for a touchdown, had 13 catches for 238 yards and 3 scores while Ryan Laurenzo had 9 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown.

The Huskies outgained Edwardsville in total yardage, 476-464, with the Tigers rolling up 373 rushing yards.

Seventy-four Naperville North players experienced history.

Follow Kevin on Twitter

@kevin_schmit

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