HUNTLEY – Long before it mattered most, Larkin Hanselmann knew the play was there.
The Cary-Grove junior receiver noticed how Huntley defensive backs had crowded him at the line of scrimmage during the first half of the Trojans' Fox Valley Conference Valley opener against the unbeaten Red Raiders.
He knew, on a backside post route, he could get behind the Huntley defense and make a play.
So with the Trojans trailing by four points and facing third-and-24, Hanselmann's coaches decided to put the receiver's hunch to the test. Hanselmann and quarterback Jason Gregoire did the rest, connecting on a 60-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 2:08 remaining as C-G stunned Huntley, 16-13, on Friday night.
The win helped the defending FVC Valley champions avoid a 0-3 start after two straight losses to state-ranked opponents. And although it was only one win, it was a big one.
"It feels great because [Huntley] said this was like a Fox Valley championship game, but we've got a lot of tough games left," Hanselmann said. "We've got to go to the next one."
C-G (1-2, 1-0 FVC Valley) appeared on the verge of losing its third straight game after Huntley (2-1, 0-1) took its first lead early in the fourth quarter on Blake Jacobs' 20-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Altergott.
The Trojans, who hadn't scored since taking a 9-0 lead in the first quarter, had relied on their defense throughout the night. But with Huntley inside the C-G 10-yard line in the closing minutes, C-G's defense came up with perhaps its biggest stand of the night, sacking Jacobs on fourth down with 3:42 left.
It proved to be just the chance the Trojans needed.
Without any timeouts, Gregoire – who had only completed two of his first eight passes – started chipping away. Two quick passes to Hanselmann started the drive moving before a pass interference call against the Red Raiders pushed the Trojans into Huntley territory. But when an incompletion, a sack and a penalty backed the Trojans to their own 40-yard line, C-G coaches turned to what Hanselmann had seen earlier in the game.
Gregoire leaned toward a hitch and go. Instead, the call was made from the sideline, instructing Hanselmann to go to the outside post.
"So I threw it and Larkin made a great play," Gregoire said. "The rest is history."
Suddenly trailing, Huntley went into its two-minute offense, moving the ball to the C-G 38-yard line as Jacobs connected with Josh Esikiel, who led the Red Raiders with nine catches for 93 yards.
But the Red Raiders couldn't finish out the comeback effort and lost for the first time, unable to clear a major hurdle on the road to a division championship.
"We just left way too many points out on the field to let the game be decided by one play," Huntley coach John Hart said. "But you learn most in life, and in football, from your failures and not your successes, and that's what we've got to do.
"If we want to become who we want to become, we've got to learn from our failures. But we left points everywhere."