Grayslake North denies Grayslake Central's upset bid
Razzed by Grayslake Central's student fans, who had fun with his last name, Grayslake North quarterback/defensive back Nick Fish refused to stink up the place.
And in the end, it smelled like victory.
Fish manufactured a pair touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter, and the visiting Knights avoided an upset loss to their crosstown rivalry in the Northern Lake County Conference game by pulling out a wild, 28-24 decision in front of a loud and frenzied crowd Friday night.
"I've never had so much trust in my teammates," Fish said. "I threw an interception and I missed some passes, and I had nothing but support from my teammates. I think that's the biggest reason why we were able to come back and win that game."
Grayslake North needed to win the regular-season finale to become playoff-eligible. The Knights (5-4, 4-3), whose win was their fourth in a row, are guaranteed 36 playoff points. Last year, they also went 5-4, winning their last five, but missed the postseason with 37 points. That snapped a run of six straight years of postseason football.
Grayslake Central (1-8, 1-6) looked as if it would play spoiler after extending its lead to 24-14 early in the fourth quarter. The Rams rode sophomore running back Maurice Edwards, who rushed 38 times for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"The Edwards kid is tough," said Grayslake North coach Sam Baker, whose own electric running back, C.J. Johnson (3 carries, 27 yards), went out with a lower-leg injury after scoring from 3 yards out on the game's opening drive.
It was Grayslake North's eighth straight win over Grayslake Central, hiking its all-time series lead to 9-5. The Rams ended the season by losing their last four.
"I'm not one for moral victories, but I think for the program it was a win," Grayslake Central first-year coach Mike Maloney said. "I think we're in a position mentally and emotionally where we feel we can compete with anybody on our schedule now. I'm not sure that was the status of the program in 12 months time. There's been a lot of growth here, and it is 100 percent due to the seniors and the amount of buy-in and accountability that they embraced this year. And I am tremendously proud and honored to be their football coach."
Down 14-10 at halftime, Grayslake Central started the second half with a 16-play, 82-yard drive that Edwards capped by going in from the 1. The Rams increased their lead to 24-14 when junior quarterback Anthony Butvilas threw a 58-yard TD pass to 6-foot-5 wide receiver Grant Spicer, who used his long frame to catch the ball before racing down the sideline and scoring with 10:04 left in the fourth.
Butvilas made his first start at quarterback after sophomore Darryl Overstreet, who was the Rams' season-long starter, cracked his elbow against North Chicago last week.
"I've never been more proud of a guy to step in and show poise and moxie and lead his troops up and down the field, and communicate," Maloney said of Butvilas. "Hats off to him for being ready in that moment."
Fish was ready for his moment when his Knights needed him late. He completed 4 passes on a drive that started at the Grayslake North 29 and ended when Myles Sims scored from 1 yard out with 3:43 left in the game.
Then after Grayslake North's defense forced a three-and-out, Fish went to work again. He went 3-for-3 passing and scrambled 16 yards to the Grayslake Central 5. Sims' 4-yard TD run with 37 seconds left put the Knights in front.
"This is their Super Bowl," Fish, who was 18-of-21 passing for 188 yards, said of the Rams. "We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game. It wasn't going to be a pushover, and they came out strong. They got some kids on that team who can play. We just came out a little better at the end."
"Heck, this game had a lot," Baker said. "It's a good rivalry, it was a good (game), and both student sections were great. When our backs were against the wall, our kids did a great job."
The Rams weren't hanging their heads at game's end.
"We've come a long way," said Spicer, who caught 2 passes for 89 yards. "I think it's a huge confidence boost for everyone. The last few years playing North, we'd always get shutout. To have a dogfight like this, I think this has really got to get the guys fired up for this off-season."