Changes pay dividends for WW South
ROCKTON -- Two years ago Noah Henkel was a defensive back and Jason Haw was a goalkeeper on the Wheaton Warrenville South soccer team. On Saturday they hooked up on one of the biggest plays of the football season for the Tigers.
Henkel avoided a sack and found Haw for an 80-yard touchdown as the Tigers overcame an 11-point second-half deficit and shocked previously unbeaten and third-seeded Rockton Hononegah 20-17 in a second-round Class 7A playoff matchup.
The Tigers will host St. Charles North in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
The Indians went up 14-3 with five minutes to go in the third quarter and looked to be cruising. But the momentum shifted in a stunning six-minute sequence.
The Tigers (10-1) answered Hononegah's score with a 61-yard scoring drive, mostly on the ground. Henkel broke off a 34-yard run to the 5-yard line and, two plays later, Jake Arthurs took it in from 2 yards out.
WW South stopped Hononegah's next drive and took over at the 20. On the first play Henkel was nearly sacked. Instead he escaped, rolled to the right, then threw back across the field to a wide-open Haw, who raced into the end zone, putting the Tigers ahead to stay.
"I almost threw a pick-6 probably, and kept myself from throwing it, tried to scramble out, Haw found himself open, made a great catch, and speed kills at the end there," Henkel said of the key play.
On the Indians' next play Christian Gomez fumbled. Jack Kelly scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the 2-yard line. Three plays later Jack Olsen kicked his second field goal of the day to give the Tigers a cushion.
Still, the Tigers couldn't breathe easy. Hononegah reached the WW South 34-yard line before Jake Stransky sacked Indians quarterback Ryan Vanschelven on fourth down and the Tigers ran out the clock.
Hononegah took the lead on a 94-yard completion from Vanschelven to Braden Sayles. Tigers safety Joe Ives, who has 8 interceptions on the season, nearly had another, but he couldn't quite corral it. The ball caromed right to Sayles, who caught it in stride and raced all the way to the end zone.
That put the Indians up 7-3 at halftime after Olsen's first field goal had given the Tigers the early lead.
"That play just surprised us," said WW South coach Ron Muhitch. "That was a great play on their part, but I thought the key play was that fumble. That play really gave us the field position which was the difference-maker.
"Noah's made those kind of plays for us all year. Offensively, we're a work in progress, but these kids have a spirit about them that competes, and we're proud of them and very happy for them."
Henkel completed 15 of 26 passes for 194 yards. Haw caught 4 of those for 108 yards.
Although the Indians (10-1) amassed 359 yards of offense, more than half of the total came on two plays: the touchdown to Sayles and a 46-yard completion to set up the Indians' second touchdown. Vanschelven completed just 10 of 27 throws, although they covered 229 yards thanks to the two long completions.