Finding myself in right place at right time this past season
I'll admit it -- I was spoiled this football season.
As a longtime high school sports writer being assigned to games on a weekly basis, many seasons come and go without the benefit of watching dramatic, down-to-the-wire finishes.
It is sort of the luck of the draw.
On paper, some matchups look like they have the potential for greatness -- only to fall woefully short of expectation by whistle's end.
This season was not one of those.
In fact, I had the privilege of covering three of the finest high school football games I've seen in quite some time.
In no particular order, here's my terrific trio for 2018:
Oct. 12: Batavia 27, St. Charles North 24.
With his team trailing 24-21 with no timeouts and 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining, Batavia quarterback Jack Meyers faced a tall challenge.
Needing to march 81 yards downfield, Meyers didn't have the luxury of huddling with his teammates or overthinking things.
"We just had to get the ball to our playmakers," said Meyers. "There's not a whole lot you can do -- you have to pass the ball."
One play after a 37-yard completion to Ethan Neibch, who somehow managed to get out of bounds inside the North Stars' 10-yard line with 17 seconds left, Meyers tossed an 8-yard pass to tailback Art Taylor for the go-ahead touchdown with 12 seconds remaining to lead the Bulldogs to an eventual DuKane Conference title.
Looking for its third consecutive victory over Batavia, the North Stars controlled much of the first half, leading 17-7.
However, the North Stars were unable to run out the clock late as the Bulldogs forced a late punt to help set up their game-winning drive.
"I'm glad that we pulled it out because I felt like we didn't play very well in the first half," said Batavia coach Dennis Piron.
Despite the loss, St. Charles North maintained a positive approach.
"Hopefully, we'll meet up with them again," said North Stars coach Rob Pomazak.
The coach was thisclose to getting his wish -- but more on that a little later.
Nov. 10: Batavia 34, Willowbrook 27, OT.
Batavia's Class 7A state quarterfinal victory appeared to be all but a formality with the Bulldogs ahead 24-7 with 7:54 remaining.
And then Willowbrook stunned the Bulldogs by scoring 3 touchdowns within a 5-minute, 46-second span -- on TD passes covering 27, 32 and 34 yards from Sam Tumilty to his older brother, Scott Tumilty, the latter putting the Warriors on top 27-24 with 59 seconds remaining.
"I felt like the game was in hand but they have athletes -- a real good quarterback and guys who could catch a ball in space and take it to the house," said Piron. "They made it difficult on us."
Trailing for the first time, Batavia marched 67 yards to set up Jackson Williams' clutch 24-yard game-tying field goal with 10 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
"We've been fairly resilient like that," said Piron. "These kids have been doing this for a while. They're calm under pressure."
Playing on his home field for the final time, senior Michael Jansey's 10-yard TD run on the first play in overtime and a much-needed defensive stand enabled the Bulldogs to squeeze past Willowbrook, 34-27.
"Ending like that was a real special moment for me," said the Northwestern-bound Jansey, whose team was eliminated the following week in a 47-29 semifinal loss to Nazareth.
Nov. 17: St. Charles North 27, Mt. Carmel 21, 2 OTs.
Making its first Class 7A state semifinal appearance, St. Charles North showed its confidence in 2-way standout Tyler Nubin -- and the all-state selection didn't let the North Stars down.
The Minnesota-bound Nubin scored all 4 of his team's touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 10-yard run from the Wildcat formation in double overtime during the North Stars' 27-21 victory over perennial powerhouse Mt. Carmel on a snowy Saturday in St. Charles.
"That's his stamp for Player of the Year," Pomazak said of Nubin's 24-carry, 134-yard game that included a 34-yard TD reception. "He has the heart of a champion."
"It's really amazing," said Nubin. "The families, players and coaches -- we've put so much time into this. It just feels good reaping the benefits of our hard work."
Even Nubin was a bit shocked by his team's magical postseason run.
"No, I did not see any of this happening," said Nubin, whose team lost a 31-10 title decision to Nazareth last weekend in Champaign.
Neither did I -- but thank you to the North Stars and Bulldogs.
It was a great ride.
You can reach Craig Brueske at firstname.lastname@example.org