Positive yardage was difficult to acquire in Friday's Lakes-Vernon Hills skirmish, let alone points.
So Vernon Hills decided not to pass up a chance to tally the game-winners with 31.3 seconds left.
After closing within 7-6 on a 10-yard touchdown pass, the host Cougars went for the 2-point conversion. They had the right play called, but when quarterback Steve Nelson rolled right, his pass sailed over the head of 6-foot-3 receiver Jarrett Wood.
Lakes recovered the ensuing onside kick to clinch a 7-6 victory in North Suburban Prairie action. The Eagles improved to 4-1 on the season, with a first-place showdown against Antioch looming next week.
"I had no doubt they were going to go for 2," Lakes coach Luke Mertens said. "I wasn't surprised. I would have, too."
"We run that play all the time," said Nelson, a third-year starter. "We run it in practice. I just didn't execute tonight."
Before the 2-point attempt, Nelson led Vernon Hills (2-2, 1-1) on an improbable 80-yard scoring drive that began with just 1:30 on the clock.
On a third-and-15, Nelson was hit as he threw, but got the ball to MJ Crowley for 15 yards. On the next play, Nelson scrambled to buy time and found Colin Krippinger behind the defense for a 35-yard gain down to the 20.
A short pass to Sam Maloof brought the ball to the 10. Then Nelson (11-for-25, 170 yards) eluded pressure again and found Maloof between three defensive backs for the game's lone offensive touchdown with 31.3 seconds left.
"It felt nice to get the offense going, but I really wish we could have finished it out," Nelson said. "It stings a little bit. It stings a lot, actually."
The first half couldn't have been much more inoffensive. The two teams recorded 2 first downs each before halftime and combined for 10 punts. At one point, the two sides ran 13 consecutive plays that netted 2 yards or less.
So it figured the lone first-half highlight came on a punt. Lakes junior Andrew Spencer made the play of the game, breaking three or four tackles on his way to an 80-yard touchdown return early in the second quarter.
"Actually, I don't know (how I did it)," Spencer said. "I just ran straight and looked for the colors of my guys. There was great blocking out there. My guys were yelling, 'Come on. This way, this way.'"
After scoring 38 points against Grant two weeks ago, Lakes has gone two games without an offensive touchdown. The Eagles were shut out by Lake Zurich last week.
"Sometimes, you're going to have to lean on your defense and we did and they bailed us out," Mertens said. "We didn't do a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage whatsoever. Also, penalties are killing us."