In its home finale a year ago this weekend, Leyden celebrated clinching a playoff berth, as well as a share of a WSC Gold title.
In its home finale Friday night, there wasn't a playoff-clinching celebration. But it sure was a happy vibe as the Eagles came one step closer to securing playoff eligibility.
Thanks to a defensive effort that netted 4 turnovers, including a pair of interceptions run back for touchdowns, the host school garnered a 21-17 win over visiting Hinsdale South in Northlake.
"We challenged our kids in practice this week," Leyden coach Tom Cerasani said. "We said to them that they were no longer new to varsity, that they have 7 games under their belts. That this was a win or go home situation in terms of having a chance to go back to the playoffs. I would say that our kids responded to that challenge."
They would have to respond from being down 9-0 late in half number one as Hinsdale South (5-3, 4-2) got on the scoreboard first thanks to the running of Marquese Garrett, who gained 104 of his game-high 124 yards (13 carries) in the first half. The 6-foot-1 sophomore's 10-yard TD run made it 6-0 and capped a 6-play, 79-yard drive that began with a 34-yard Garrett run and featured a Justin Kolzow 25-yard completion to Joe Mazzei to set up the score.
Garrett went over the century mark before half on a 45-yard jaunt, which set up Eric Sitkiewicz's 27-yard field goal and a 9-0 Hornets advantage.
Leyden (4-4, 3-2) started its comeback with a 62-yard drive that got them back into the contest when junior QB Kyler Britten (9 of 15, 95 yards) found Ata Hinnawi in the end zone just 43 ticks prior to halftime. The drive's big play was a 47-yard halfback pass from Hinnawi to James Hana that placed the Eagles at the South 11.
Leyden took the lead for good 2 plays and 15 seconds later when senior linebacker Miguel Cooper got his fourth pick-6 of the season after intercepting Kolzow (18 of 33, 208 yards) at the 22.
"Our coaches talk to us about how big players make big plays," Cooper said. "I was able to successfully read the play right on that one."
Eagles linebacker Jason Kemp duplicated the feat on Hinsdale South's second possession of the second half. The 6-0 junior stole a pass after teammate Travon Thomas hit Kolzow as he let the ball go. Kemp took it in from the 5 to extend the Eagles' lead to 21-9 with 7:48 remaining in the third.
"Jason did the same thing," Cooper said. "He did a great job playing the ball."
The Leyden defense then preserved the lead by denying South 4 more times in remaining quarter and a half. Included in that span:
• A stuff of Garrett by the Eagle defense on a fourth and 3 at the Leyden 16 with 5:04 left in the third.
• A Cooper block of a Kolzow pass on a fourth and 2 at the Eagles 4 with 9:13 remaining.
• Another block of another Kolzow pass by Anthony Jones in the end zone on a fourth and 16 at the Leyden 23 with 2:38 to play.
• A Hinnawi interception on the Eagle 3 on the game's final play that settled matters after he'd run out of the end zone for an intentional safety that pulled Hinsdale South within 21-17 with eight seconds remaining.
The Hornets halved the deficit to 21-15 when 6-4 senior DL Oshikai Ebikhumi recovered a Hinnawi punt that he blocked in the end zone with 5:47 to go that set up the contest's final tense minutes.
For the visitiors, who will play host to rival Hinsdale Central in a WSC crossover match next Friday, coach Mike Barry rued his team's turnovers.
"Especially when two of them are returned for touchdowns," Barry said. "Leyden is a solid team that makes you pay for your mistakes which is what they did tonight. I talked to our guys about the lessons that we can learn from this game. I feel that we're going to be better moving forward."
For Leyden, it's a trip to Morton next Friday at the Mustangs' West campus in Berwyn.
"We're going to back to work trying to achieve something that's been our goal all season," Cooper said.
"Morton always plays us tough," Cerasani added. "We'll give it our best shot."