The fine line between winning and losing, especially in the IHSA football playoffs, is incredibly minute. The difference can come down to one play.
But for Glenbard West in a Class 8A second-round matchup with Oswego on Saturday at Glenbard East, it was a confluence of events that led to a 24-20 loss.
Sure, there was that one big play that went awry, in this case, a 41-yard touchdown by junior running back Tyquan Cox on the fifth play of the game that got called back due to a holding penalty. Put those points on the scoreboard, and perhaps the Hilltoppers skate by with a close win.
But look deeper. The secondary had a tough day, giving up 60- and 10-yard scoring passes by Panthers' senior quarterback Levi Olson in the first half and a 32-yarder from Olson to senior receiver Julian Bell late in the third quarter that set the final score.
Then there was a Glenbard West fumble on its third drive, a drive that had real potential but died at midfield. But in coach Chad Hetlet's mind, the fact that Oswego went 6 for 12 on third-down conversions was huge. In contrast, Glenbard West went 0 for 8 on third down, though it did convert twice on fourth down on four tries.
"We were so good on first down and second down, and then we give up third down and couldn't get off the field, and it was disappointing from that standpoint," Hetlet said. "They made the plays on third down and we didn't make the plays on third down. You get a game like today and all the little things become big things."
Despite all that, including a 17-0 deficit late in the first half, the Hitters refused to go quietly. It started innocently enough, with a 10-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Alex Hollensbe to senior running back Dre Thomas with 13.4 seconds left in the half. That was the culmination of a 13-play drive that covered 70 yards.
Glenbard West wasn't done. After forcing the Panthers to go three-and-out in its first possession of the second half, Cox busted through with a 41-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep right down the Oswego sideline. He wasn't touched by a defender.
Oswego (10-1) went 10 plays on its ensuing drive, but that ended when Olson was intercepted by Glenbard West linebacker Pat Howard, a play where the ball was tipped by the Panthers' receiver. The Hitters parlayed that miscue minutes later into a 4-yard touchdown run by Thomas, who finished with 75 yards on 15 carries.
Suddenly, Glenbard West (9-2) had a 20-17 lead and all the momentum. But Olson responded with his 32-yard scoring strike to Bell.
Glenbard West got the ball twice in the fourth quarter and couldn't get past its own 23-yard line.
As the Hitters' milled around on Glenbard East's artificial turf postgame, an exhausted Thomas drifted off by himself and reflected on the experience. What will he remember about high school football?
"Just the bonds you make with your teammates," he said. "Don't ever forget the bonds you make with your teammates because they're going to be there forever."
As for the scatback Cox, a junior who finished with 182 yards on 18 carries, the journey is simply on hold.
"We just got to build on what we have this year, and just put it all on the line next year and try to get to state," he said.