There was talk on both sidelines that to have a shot at reaching the playoffs, winning this opening football game was a must.
The atmosphere agreed.
A cross-town thriller ended with Sam Singleton's 11-yard touchdown run in the final minute to boost Wheaton North to Friday's 19-14 DuPage Valley Conference victory at Wheaton Warrenville South.
The Tigers got the ball back with 35 seconds left in the game, but Wheaton North held on fourth-and-25 at WW South's 35-yard line. On the winning drive, beginning with two minutes, 39 seconds left, the Falcons marched 52 yards in five plays and a critical pass interference call.
After three straight 4-5 seasons the Falcons hope this is the victory that propels them to an eventual playoff berth.
"Coach was preaching all week that we only get one chance to start a season," said Falcons defensive back Trenton Hegranes, who snared two interceptions, including a stunning 90-yarder for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.
"We just wanted to start out the right way," he said. "We've gone three straight seasons without making the playoffs and we're tired of it."
WW South took a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard Zach Harris touchdown pass to Jacob Odom. The teams traded punts after that, leading to Wheaton North's game-winning drive.
The Tigers came away empty-handed from numerous opportunities, including a fumble near the goal line and a missed field goal. The biggest play, however, was the final play of the first half when Hegranes returned his pick nearly the length of the field for a touchdown that tied the game 7-7 going into halftime.
"The defense did a great job all night long and kept us in the ballgame," said Falcons coach Joe Wardynski. "We've lost Week 1 to these guys before and it came back to bite us. It's a long season and a lot of things can happen. But to come here and get a win is big."
WW South scored first when Ryan Young, who had 31 carries for 104 yards, burst to the outside for an 8-yard touchdown run. The Falcons claimed a 13-7 third-quarter lead when quarterback Rhett Netzer's 68-yard keeper set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Singleton, who had 17 carries for 92 yards.
The Tigers outgained Wheaton North 360-231 in total yardage, including 245 passing yards by Harris.
"We've got to get our kids to believe they can win, and win in the fourth quarter," said WW South coach Ron Muhitch. "We're going to have to rebound."
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