Crystal Lake South holds off Jacobs for 5th win
The script didn't go exactly as Crystal Lake South had planned or even hoped, but in the end, the Gators persevered for a 28-21 Fox Valley Conference win over Jacobs.
The Gators twice had 14-point leads, but the Golden Eagles kept coming back and continued to make a game of it, and it never had the feeling that it was over until the final minute of the game when the Gators went into the victory formation.
Gators coach Rob Fontana credited his offensive line in moving the line of scrimmage and was proud of the way his team fought through the adversity of several comebacks by the Golden Eagles.
"Our linemen really bought into changing the line of scrimmage and that was pretty much our focus all week," Fontana said. "We wanted to keep their offense off the field and we struggled with that a little bit, so we tried to take care of as much clock as we could. One of the things we talk about all the time is the adversity ... how will you respond when you have adversity. I tell the guys all the time, it just comes down to who wants it more and who can execute."
The Gators struck first on their first drive, using an 11-play drive that paced 83 yards and ate up nearly half the first quarter. Des McCarthy scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 2-yard run.
"I sound like a broken record, but I just want to give credit to our offensive line," McCarthy said. "They open the holes for me and I couldn't do it without them. We had some problems down in the red zone, but we pulled together as a team and fought hard to come through with the win."
Jacobs (4-4, 4-4) bounced back to tie the score 7-7 on its ensuing drive. Ayden Janchev's 4-yard run to start the second quarter knotted the score.
The Gators (5-3, 5-3) followed with another touchdown drive to take a 14-7 lead. Freshman Nathan VanWitzenburg carried the ball nine times on the drive for 32 yards, and the Gators scored on Justin Kowalak's 29-yard pass to Gavin Giejda.
"After the loss to Huntley, we got a little bit down on ourselves," Kowalak said. "We just went back to practice and focused and we really just came together. This shows what kind of team we have. I had no doubt in my mind that if they scored, we would have went down and scored as well."
The Gators went up 21-7 when VanWitzenburg scored from 9 yards out with just over 2 minutes remaining in the first half. The score seemingly put the home Gators in control of the game. But the Golden Eagles weren't done just yet. After three straight incompletions, Jacobs was facing fourth-and-10 on its own 35-yard line. Senior quarterback Cole Bhardwaj completed three consecutive passes to Matthew Lodi and Max Stec to move the Golden Eagles down to the Gators' 22-yard line. With 31 seconds left in the first half, Bhardwaj ran the ball in from the 7-yard line to bring Jacobs within one score heading into the half.
Both teams exchanged punts to start the second half. The Gators then went on a 12-play drive that stalled at Jacobs' 12-yard line to force the Gators to settle for a field goal. The field goal attempt sailed wide right and it appeared that the Golden Eagles would take over possession. However, a roughing the kicker penalty against Jacobs gave Crystal Lake South a first-and-goal from the 6-yard line. McCarthy scored his second touchdown several plays later to give the Gators a 28-14 lead.
On Jacobs' next possession, Bhardwaj found Stec on first down for a 37-yard gain, and three plays later he found him again for a 32-yard gain to the Gators' 25. A penalty on the Gators gave the ball to Jacobs on the 5-yard line where Janchev took it in to close the score to 28-21 with just over 10 minutes to play.
The Gators appeared ready to put the game away after McCarthy's 44-yard run gave the Gators a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. But the Golden Eagles' defense stiffened and forced them to turn the ball over on downs.
The Golden Eagles took over on their own 4-yard line with just over 7 minutes to play. Jacobs moved the ball up to its 37-yard line, and facing second-and-five, their pass play was derailed by Shane Moran blitzing up the middle for a sack that cost Jacobs 10 yards. The Golden Eagles would turn the ball over on downs two plays later, which allowed the Gators to run out the clock.
"When I was going through, I dodged the blocker and just knew I had to get to him before he got the ball out," Moran said. "I was bull rushing most of the time, so he was expecting me to bull rush and I just went around him."
"When I took over three years ago, these guys didn't really know what to expect," Fontana said. "The amount of hard work and extra time they've put into the program … these guys have done everything I've asked for them now. And now they finally get a playoff game out of it, so I'm just really excited for those guys."