Jacobs hands Normal 1st loss, advances to quarterfinals
As efficient as Jacobs' 42-points-a-game offense had been, there was bound to be a point in the postseason when the Golden Eagles would need a masterful defensive effort.
That time came Friday night as No. 19-seeded Jacobs came up big several times to defeat No. 3 Normal, 17-7, in their Class 7A second-round playoff game at Jacobs Athletic Field.
The defense allowed 233 total yards and had three takeaways to put the Eagles (8-3) into the quarterfinals next against the winner between No. 11 Prospect (8-2) at No. 6 Buffalo Grove (9-1), who play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
"All year our offense has been our main look," Eagles safety Eli Vasquez said. "Today, our offense needed help, needed someone to bring them up. That was us. We did it for them. They do it for us constantly, we have each others' backs."
Vasquez provided one of the biggest plays with his early fourth-quarter sack-strip of Normal quarterback Chase Mackey. Jacobs lost a fumble on its 40 in an exchange between quarterback Max Benner and running back Ben Ludlum.
The Ironmen (10-1) drove to the Eagles' 17 and on first-and-15, Vasquez broke through on a blitz to knock the ball away and linebacker Joey Scrivani pounced on it.
"I was coming through the 'A' gap and saw the ball on the ground and jumped on it," Scriavani said. "Eli did a great job. The defense played tremendous this game. That play was a momentum-changer for us. It was awesome."
Jacobs started fast on offense, scoring on its first two drives. Normal then answered with a 71-yard strike from Mackey to Terance Washington to make it 14-7 in the second quarter.
After that, the game became a defensive struggle.
Following Scrivani's recovery, the Eagles put together a drive that virtually sealed the game, moving from their 20 to the Ironmen's 10. On fourth-and-goal, Dominic Rocha booted a 27-yard field goal that stayed just inside the right upright for a 17-7 lead.
"I knew I had it, but I heard silence, then the sideline erupted," said Rocha, who also plays safety. "The defense did a heck of a job. It was our best game from a defensive standpoint. We had coverages down, everyone knew what they had to do."
Jacobs finished with 384 total yards, but had 283 in the first half. Defensive back Ashton Niehaus intercepted a deep pass in the first half and broke up a pass late in the end zone.
Linebacker Paulie Rudolph snuffed out Normal's final drive with an interception with a minute remaining.
"Our defense keeps improving," Jacobs coach Brian Zimmerman said. "Our defense really came to our rescue tonight. We were missing some blocks, a pick, a fumble, we were churning out yards at times, but normally I would never go for field goal. Dominic's a good kicker, we just haven't used him a lot."
Ludlum finished with 152 yards and running back Nasir Canty ran for 124 and both Jacobs' touchdowns.
Normal coach Jason Drengwitz was proud of the way his defense reacted after a tough first quarter.
"Their offense was so explosive," Drengwitz said. "We thought we'd give up some points, but I thought we'd be able to score more. We had opportunities to score and didn't take advantage in the red zone, they played their butts off on defending us.
"We made some subtle adjustments to take away some of the things they were doing. Our defensive staff did a good job. Our kids are going to go down fighting and swinging and playing hard. That's what we've always done here."