Sworst, Glenbard North end season in style
Tyler Sworst ended his high school football career perhaps the best way one possibly can.
Sworst, a Glenbard North senior wideout, caught his first touchdown pass of the season -- a 15-yard strike from quarterback Justin Bland on 4th-and-15 with 1:37 remaining -- to help preserve the Panthers' 28-13 victory over DuKane Conference opponent Geneva on Friday to end the spring football season.
"What a way to end it," Sworst said. "Coach [Ryan Wilkens] called a Y corner. I saw the safety move a little bit, saw a bunch of green in front of me. I thought: 'This is my chance. If I'm going to come down with a touchdown in the year, this is it right here.'"
Sworst will not play in college, but tears began to swell in his eyes as he discussed the impact of playing football and being with his team during an unprecedented football season.
"This season, [there was a ] lot of perseverance," Sworst said. "We had to keep struggling through the COVID. Practices not the same, season is not the same [and] a lot of [team] injuries. I think it was a good job by this team [to] keep pushing forward and never giving up."
"Despite the 3-3 [record], we put a lot of effort on the field and left it all out there," Sworst continued.
Sworst will miss the team bonding aspect the most. The team parties, practices and everything in between.
Playing football, above all, meant a lot to him.
"Football, for awhile -- even now -- means a lot. It means a lot to me. "Probably the main thing in my life. I love it. I can't go a day without it," Sworst said.
Geneva (2-4) took a 7-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter as quarterback Jackson Reyes hit Ethan Mayer for a 29-yard touchdown. But the Panthers needed just one play -- a 65-yard touchdown pass from Bland to Tyler Szabo -- with 10 seconds left in the quarter to pull even.
The Vikings rotated quarterbacks, and Alex Porter was intercepted by junior linebacker Dylan Ramirez two plays into the ensuing series. Panthers running back Denhim Betney eventually ran in a 2-yard score with 7:16 left in the half to go up 14-7, where it remained at the half.
On Geneva's second possession of the second half, Reyes was intercepted and Betney took it into the end zone eight plays later for a 4-yard rushing touchdown to make it 21-7. The Vikings responded with a 10-play drive that resulted in Konnor Mickelsen's 2-yard rushing score, but the extra point was blocked and Glenbard North still led 21-13 with 6:22 remaining in the fourth quarter.
On the Panthers' ensuing possession, Betney fumbled at the Geneva 2, which was recovered by Vikings senior defensive lineman Caden Naselli, but Reyes threw his second interception to Dylan Dettloff and that eventually led to Sworst's touchdown catch.
"It just gets down [to] we didn't run the ball [effectively enough]," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. "We didn't run the ball [well enough] ... We're inside the 5 [yard line] twice [and were unable to convert], that's really what it was about. They're stout. They're a good team up front and we just weren't able to move bodies."
Panthers senior corner Brandon Smiley then intercepted Reyes to clinch the 28-13 final.
Bland finished 7-of-17 with 189 passing yards two touchdowns and one interception. Betney had 144 rushing yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns.
"Their perseverance [means a lot]," Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens said. "After last week's loss [to Batavia], it could've been easy for some kids to say 'Hey, who cares about the last game. There's no postseason. What's the difference?' Instead, we came with a much better mindset this week. [I'm] very proud of the kids."
The Panthers celebrated senior night before the game, and included senior tight end Jake Cicero, who was unable to attend after suffering a season-ending knee injury last week and getting surgery completed on Friday.
"We talked before the game about the importance of making sure that we send Jake out right," Wilkens said.
Reyes was 8-for-18 with 137 passing yards and two interceptions. Mayer led Geneva with 31 rushing yards.
The Vikings graduate 24 seniors from this year's team.
"I'm extremely proud of them," Wicinsky said. This was just a season that you can't even put words to. I'm really proud of my seniors."