Pooch punt leaves Naperville Central in a bad spot against Lyons Twp.
It's a rare occasion that a pooch punt saves the day for any football team.
But that proved to be crucial play in Lyons Township's 26-17 defeat Friday of Naperville Central in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs.
Taking possession of the ball up 24-17 with 2:24 to go in the game, the Lions could only advance to the Redhawks' 35-yard line.
Facing fourth-and-5, junior quarterback Ryan Jackson executed a perfect pooch punt that landed on the 3-yard line and was downed by sophomore defensive back Travis Stamm.
"We occasionally practice it so I'm always prepared and ready," Jackson said of the pooch punt. "I've never done it in a game."
A solid play, to be sure. But the Lions weren't out of the woods until the defensive line flushed Naperville Central senior quarterback Chris McCormack on the ensuing play and forced him to throw a pass that landed incomplete. The officials determined that the play was intentional grounding, which awarded the Lions a safety and set the final score.
"He rolled out away from me, Danny (Pasko) comes in, lays him out, and then he (McCormack) threw the ball away," said junior defensive lineman Eddie Tuerk. "It was a flag and a safety. It literally won the game for us."
The Lions (8-2) staked themselves to a 24-7 lead at halftime thanks to a pair of Jackson touchdown passes, to Stamm and then to senior tight end Graham Smith with 13.7 seconds left before half. Pasko, who rushed for 83 yards on 21 carries, scored Lyons' first touchdown on an 11-yard run with 10:20 to in the second quarter.
After halftime the momentum swung in Naperville Central's direction. On its first drive McCormack found junior receiver Logan Devick for a 38-yard touchdown pass. All told, McCormack found Devick 8 times for 128 yards, the majority of which came in the second half.
The Redhawks added a 25-yard field goal from Logan Ellison early in the fourth quarter, a drive that started after an interception by sophomore Daniel Nussbaum.
Suddenly, the score was 24-17. After the teams traded three-and-outs, the pooch-punt heroics, and the safety, closed the game and gave Lyons its first playoff win since 2016.
It was a tough end for Naperville Central (6-4), but coach Mike Ulreich was pleased with the efforts of McCormack and Devick.
"The awesome thing about Logan is he's always great with feedback on the sidelines," he said. "He's always letting us know how the cornerback is playing him and what we can do to get him open. And Chris made some really tough throws."
Added McCormack: "Coach Ulreich challenged us when we got in the locker room, we have to win the third quarter. We were going as fast as possible to wear them out."
Lyons advanced to play Plainfield North, which beat Rich Township 48-12.
"The second half really didn't go our way, but at the end, with our backs against the wall, we made it happen," Pasko said.