Visiting Grayslake Central only ran 10 plays from scrimmage in the first half of its Northern Lake County Conference football game at Round Lake Friday night.
But after going into the intermission deadlocked at 7-7 with the Panthers, the Rams found the second half much more to their liking as they built a 28-13 lead with 2:02 to play before holding off the stubborn hosts for a hard-fought 28-20 NLCC victory.
As was the case last week against Grant, junior quarterback Nick Paul was the driving force behind Grayslake Central (2-2, 2-0) in the contest as Paul rushed for 127 yards on 25 carries while running for 3 touchdowns and throwing for another.
Round Lake (2-2, 0-2) completely dominated time of possession in the first half as the Panthers marched 70 yards on 16 plays on their first drive of the game.
A great spin move by running back Brandon Kisiel for 16 yards put the ball on the Grayslake Central 4-yard-line before a TD pass from Round Lake quarterback Alex Larson (12-for-16, 93 yards passing) to Brett Kneeland was called back due to an ineligible man downfield.
But Larson (90 yards on 14 rushes) would not be denied, as he scored on a 12-yard keeper on a third-down play before teammate Manny Toscano's extra point made the score 7-0 with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
After a potential touchdown pass was dropped on the previous play, Paul (4-for-8, 71 yards passing) struck pay dirt when he hit teammate Peter Brewster over the middle as Brewster broke a tackle on his way to a 26-yard TD catch. The first of four extra points by Austin Wagner made the score 7-7 with 6:51 left in the second quarter.
"When it's homecoming (for Round Lake) you've got a lot of emotion here, and we had to adjust some things at halftime and get the ball moving," said Grayslake Central coach Jason Schaal, whose team led 14-13 after three quarters. "Our defense was on the field for a long time, but they got the job done, and it's just a great group."
The Rams struck first in the third quarter as Paul scored on a 2-yard keeper midway through the period for a 14-7 advantage.
Penalties really hurt the Panthers again this week (12 for 90 yards), but Larson manufactured a 57-yard scoring drive capped by a 10-yard TD pass to Justin Langwinski with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.
But a 5-yard penalty before the extra point resulted in a 25-yard extra point attempt which was short leaving the Panthers trailing 14-13 at that point.
Central was also very opportunistic in the fourth quarter as the Rams recovered two Round Lake fumbles.
After the first lost fumble at the Round Lake 45, the Rams marched quickly down field with Paul scoring on a 2-yard keeper for a 21-13 lead with 5:15 to play.
Then junior Joey Murphy recovered another fumble at the Panthers' 36-yard-line and eight plays later Paul would score on a 4-yard keeper for a 28-13 cushion.
"It was just a team effort, and from the beginning of the week we knew we had to have good practices," said Paul. "I was a little nervous with this being my first real start (at quarterback), and my offensive line did a good enough job to get the job done."
Even with starting running back Anthony Tellez (61 yards on 15 attempts) out with a knee injury since late in the third quarter, the Panthers never quit as Larson scrambled 55 yards for the TD to cut the gap to 28-20 with 1:23 remaining.
But with no timeouts left for Round Lake, the Rams were able to run out the clock when the ensuing onside kick failed.
"All we can ask for is to give ourselves a chance, and we were fortunate to give ourselves a chance after fumbling twice," said Round Lake coach Cristo Garza. "Hats off to Alex Larson, it was a great scramble in the end, I love our kids, and I love the way they competed."
"Hats off to Grayslake Central, they got some things going, and their quarterback should be proud of the way he played," added Garza.
Kisiel ran for 36 tough yards on 15 carries while Central's Jordan Franco had a 33-yard pass reception during the Rams' third-quarter scoring drive.
Besides Langwinski, Larson mixed it up effectively in hitting Chandler Nixon with three passes caught in the contest.