Rolling Meadows survives Alton's upset bid
With the No. 27 seed, Alton's football team made the nearly 300-mile drive to Rolling Meadows feeling like it had nothing to lose.
And when the Redbirds showed they were not going to make this an easy game for the home team, Meadows didn't lose its composure.
On a night when big plays were abundant, the No. 6 seeded Mustangs survived a big scare and held on in the final minute for a 29-27 triumph in Friday's opening-round game of the Class 7A playoffs.
"I'll be honest," said Mustangs coach Matt Mishler. "I was a little nervous watching them on film. I was like, man, they got some dudes. They can play.
"And I thought what I saw tonight was as fast, as physical and as a complete a game as I'd seen from them on film."
He also saw some equal traits from his 10-0 club, including 2 touchdown passes (16 and 25 yards) from Arek Kleniuk (170 passing yards) to Justin Kretz and 2 touchdown runs by Jace O'Hara (9 and 23 yards), who rushed for a total of 156 yards.
O'Hara also a had huge quarterback sack for a 7-yard loss when Alton (5-5) was driving inside the Meadows 40-yard line and trailing 26-21 with under five minutes.
Moments later, Meadows held on fourth-and-20, leading to a 26-yard field goal by Danny Fallon that gave the hosts a 29-21 lead with 1:25 left.
Starting at its own 26, Alton made it into the end zone in six plays, capped by 29-yard TD pass from Andrew Jones (259 yards passing) to Ahmad Sanders with 24.3 seconds left in the game, but failed on a pass attempt for the 2-point conversion.
"This was a great game," said Redbirds coach Eric Dickerson. "That's (Meadows) a good team over there. We knew they had a good offense, coming in averaging 46 points game. We knew it would be a challenge. I thought we were up for it. We just gave up too many big pays."
After the failed 2-point conversion, Alton's onside kick was recovered by Meadows' Charlie Svoboda with under 20 seconds left.
"We rep those onside scenarios every Thursday in practice," said Kretz, who caught 4 passes for 80 yards. "Our hands team was ready to go for that."
"It felt great (the touchdown catches) but it all starts up front with the linemen (Joe Boyer, Tommy Schell, Josh De Luca, Andrew Baroota and John Carlstrom)."
Sanders' 11-yard TD catch gave Alton its third lead at 21-20 lead 3:45 left in the third quarter. The Redbirds got the ball right back on an interception by Charles Miller. But Meadows' Dillon Wagner had a hand in a key sack which eventually led to an Alton punt blocked by Max Salhani, setting up Meadows on the Redbirds' 25. On the next play, Kleniuk threw the 25-yard TD strike to Kretz for the 26-21 lead.
"It was closer than we would have liked," O'Hara added. "But it was a great win for the whole team."