A Wheeling squad that played Friday night like the team it thought it could've been all year found itself needing a little more than that if it wanted to knock off an Elk Grove team seeking an outright Mid-Suburban East football title.
And send its retiring head coach out with a win.
In an emotionally charged game at Wheeling, Elk Grove used big plays make that titanic plays to hold off upset-minded Wheeling 20-14 and a take a huge stride toward a high seed in the 7A playoffs next weekend.
"I know we won the [division] now," with this win, said Elk Grove (8-1, 5-0) head coach Brian Doll. But as to the victory, "It wasn't pretty."
Not after two lost fumbles and eight costly penalties for 90 yards. That can't happen next weekend. Wheeling turned one of the fumbles into an 11-yard TD strike from Tyler Brady to Kevin Gross and the other into a 4-yard TD scamper by Ed Scanlon, who was clearly the inspirational Wildcat (2-7, 1-4) leader in the second-half rally.
"We knew what we wanted. We sat down at halftime and got our emotions straight. It was everybody knowing what we wanted," Scanlon said after a lengthy, teary-eyed, postgame session on the field with his teammates, coaches and parents.
What they wanted was a win, but after Tom Jansen corralled Brady on a scramble on fourth-and-7 at midfield with 2:37 left, Wheeling had run out of chances.
But not emotions. "It was an incredible experience," playing for retiring coach Dave Dunbar, said Scanlon.
Wheeling played that way all night too. "We proved to ourselves," that we're better than our record," said senior linebacker/swingback Leo Giordano. "We played our hearts out. We had a chance,"
to send Dunbar out a winner.
He still is one to Elk Grove's Doll. "I want to give a lot of credit to coach Dunbar and his kids," he said. "He's a class guy."
But he was aware Wheeling would play an emotionally upbeat game. So were his players.
"They had a lot to play for," said Grenadier wideout/runningback Fernando Lozano, who broke Wheeling's backs in the first half with a 96-yard dart up the middle to open the scoring. Then he stole a 61-yard TD reception, which he came back for, leaped and took away from a defender and then spun and turned on his jets to complete the play for a 14-0 halftime lead.
He likes his team's interchangeable parts, versatility, athleticism and chemistry. No matter who's at quarterback, the now healthy Dejan Basara or his capable sophomore Ryan O'Malley, the Grens live by team-wide rule: "Do something for the guy next to you," said Lozano.
He did his part, and Darren Little chipped in with a 25-yard bolt to cushion the lead in the fourth quarter, but Wheeling just wouldn't go away until Jansen stopped Brady.
"Bittersweet," was how Dunbar summed up his final game. "They played hard to the end. I'm just so proud of them. They just battled. They really wanted to win."