Antioch has no regrets, despite tough loss to Cary-Grove
Tre Watson didn't even bother removing his football helmet as he sat on a stationary bike on Cary-Grove's track during halftime of Antioch's second-round playoff game in sunny but chilly Cary.
He pedaled, trying to loosen up the right knee that he injured in Week 3 against Grayslake North and caused him to miss the Sequoits' next six games. A guy going nowhere had, in truth, come far.
"It's been a journey, man," Watson said after fifth-seeded Antioch fell to No. 4 Cary-Grove 14-7 in Class 6A action on Saturday. "It's unfortunate that the injury kept me out for that long. I'm just glad I got to play this last game."
Watson returned to game action in Antioch's playoff opener against Mather but played only 6 snaps as the Sequoits won 57-0.
"Knee was still super sore (last week)," Watson said. "I could bend only about 120 degrees, 110, because it was so cold."
Against defending state champion Cary-Grove (9-2), which advanced to the quarterfinals to play top-seeded Prairie Ridge (10-1) in Crystal Lake next weekend, Watson reminded everyone of what he's capable of doing on a football field. The 6-foot-5, 185-pound wide receiver caught 8 passes for 89 yards and even completed a 43-yard pass to Dino Kaliakmanis on an option toss.
"The kid's been busting his fanny trying to get back," Antioch coach Brian Glashagel said of Watson, a two-way star who played only offense against C-G.
Antioch's trainers had brought the stationary bike to the game so Watson could try to keep his knee from stiffening up when he wasn't on the field.
"Our trainers," Watson said, "they treat us right at Antioch."
While Watson's return provided Antioch (8-3) a much-needed boost, the Sequoits were still missing three other skilled players. Not only was Minnesota-commit Athan Kaliakmanis (broken collarbone) out for the fifth game in a row, so were starting wing backs Brandon Reynolds and Andrew Bowles.
"If we had me and Athan all year, let me tell you, we would have won state," Watson said. "I got no doubt in my mind. We were one heck of a team, and we got underclassmen who step up. But there's always adversity. The best teams are the ones that know how to overcome it."
In Athan Kaliakmanis' absence, junior A.J. Kutcher made his fourth start in a row at quarterback. He completed 15 of 31 passes for 119 yards and scored the Sequoits' lone touchdown, breaking the end-zone plane with a 1-yard leap with 3:02 left in the third quarter to bring the visitors within 14-7.
Glashagel had a simple offensive game plan -- get the ball in the hands of his veteran playmakers, Watson and Dino Kaliakmanis. The latter had 6 receptions for 63 yards.
"We thought that was the area where we could attack them," Glashagel said. "We wanted to get yards on first down. We thought if we could get to second-and-5, second-and-6, we would be OK. So what's best chance of getting 4, 5 yards? Throw some quick passes, get the ball out. I liked the game plan. We slowed the game down, too."
Kutcher also threw 3 interceptions. On the first, Kutcher hit Watson in stride over the middle. But Watson bobbled the ball as he got hit, and C-G defensive back Nathan Splitt secured it.
"A.J. did one heck of a job," Watson said. "He threw it up, and I had three guys on me. I tried to grab it. It was a good ball. It landed in my hands. I got hit from behind. It was just contact after catch."
What happened next was something Watson said he didn't expect. Kutcher came to the sideline and told Watson it was the QB's fault.
"As a young kid, he steps up," Watson said. "He's just one good baller."
"I felt it was my bad," said Kutcher, whose first start at QB was at Lakes in Week 8. "I forced it into triple-coverage, and he took a really hard hit. I probably shouldn't have thrown it."
In the end, Antioch and its coaches had no regrets about anything. A banged-up team playing without its future Division-I QB came one possession away of advancing to the state quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
"It just shows how resilient our team is," said Kutcher, who before taking over at quarterback was a starting cornerback. "We've had an incredible amount of injuries, it was 15 degrees outside during practice this week, and we kept pushing through it."