GRAYSLAKE – Johnsburg junior receiver Haden Franzen hardly could believe the Skyhawks’ good fortune when they got the ball back for one more shot with 2:38 to play.
Defensive end Eric Wagner had just pounced on a fumble when Grayslake Central quarterback Alex Lennartz did not handle the center snap. And there were the Skyhawks, who had scored twice in the fourth quarter, 26 yards from the end zone with a chance to tie the score.
“I was so excited,” Franzen said. “It felt so good to be in that game. I’m awestruck. I just love playing football with my team. We were ready to win. It stinks to lose like that.”
Six plays later, Skyhawks quarterback Nick Brengman was intercepted on fourth-and-17 and the Rams had sealed their 28-21 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division football victory Thursday at William C. Eiserman Stadium.
Johnsburg (0-3 overall, 0-1 FVC Fox) had experienced its 24th consecutive defeat, but this one came with a different feeling. It was the first time in a long time they had been that close.
“They’re so invested in what we’re doing that it hurts,” Johnsburg coach Mike Maloney said. “We’ve got character. We just made too many mistakes as a collective group. I made too many mistakes too.”
The Skyhawks sensed another new feeling early in the game, when they grabbed a 7-0 lead on Brengman’s first touchdown pass of the night, an 8-yard score to receiver Bailey Stefka.
The third quarter was pivotal for the Rams, though, as running back Malcolm Reed (19 carries, 168 yards) raced 78 yards on the first play of the second half for a 14-7 lead. Grayslake Central scored again with 1:45 remaining in the quarter, then recovered a high pop-up kickoff that hit the turf and scored again with 39 seconds to go.
“Malcolm’s run really got our confidence going,” Rams coach Ben Ault said. “In the first two games, we’ve been slow in the first half then got going in the second half.”
Brengman found a rhythm with his receivers in the fourth quarter, hitting Alec Graef for a 46-yard touchdown with 10:48 remaining. The Skyhawks made things interesting with another scoring drive, capped by Brengman’s one-yard run with 3:20 to go.
Linebacker Ben Stillwell recovered Kevin Kordik’s onside kick and Johnsburg was in business on the Rams’ 44 yard-line.
“I thought this could be the game,” said Brengman, who was 22 for 42 for 205 yards. “I thought this one could end the streak. When it was 28-14, I saw in my teammates’ eyes we could do this.”
Even after a Brengman pass was tipped and intercepted, the Skyhawks got one last chance on the fumbled snap.
The Skyhawks appeared to have first-and-goal on Grayslake Central’s 4 when Brengman hit Brad Iverson on a fourth-down pass, but they were called for holding. On the repeated fourth down play, Brengman was intercepted inside the 5 by Kacey Adams.
“Being a Johnsburg football player is about being accountable and giving everything you got,” Maloney said. “All we have to do is learn how to win and compete at the high-stakes moments in the game.”