CRYSTAL LAKE - It was starting to turn from football to kickball when Crystal Lake Central linebacker Michael Zelasco finally got his hands on the fumble.
Tigers linebacker Shawn Kyska had stripped Hampshire quarterback Nick Mohlman on fourth-and-14 with just under eight minutes left in Central’s Fox Valley Conference Fox Division matchup against the Whip-Purs Friday at Owen Metcalf Field. A pack of Tigers defenders sprinted toward the football as it bounced back into Hampshire territory, getting caught between feet and springing just out of grasp. Zelasco, amused, finally scooped up the ball and cradled it to the Whips’ 1-yard line.
The play took away Hampshire’s last ditch efforts. Central junior running back Ryan Williams rushed in a 1-yard score to put the finishing touches on a 46-21 victory, fueled by a dominant second half.
“We had a bunch of people around it, but everyone was just kicking at it,” Zelasco said. “I ended up getting it and it really was just kind of funny. I thought I had (the touchdown), but I guess not. It was big, though.”
Nearly everything the Tigers did after halftime was big. Central led 20-14 at the start of the third quarter and promptly coughed up a first down possession at midfield. Hampshire took over, only to have Central linebacker Eric Jensen strip Mohlman to get the ball back.
Central started on Hampshire’s 23-yard line and used six plays to get Williams into the end zone on a 1-yard run and make it 26-14 with 9:36 left in the third.
Hampshire retaliated less than two minutes later with a 90-yard touchdown bomb from Mohlman to running back Tim Jansen (eight catches, 230 yards) to creep within five, 26-21.
“I definitely thought there we could turn things around,” Hampshire coach Dan Cavanaugh said.
The Tigers’ defense clamped down. Hampshire managed just two first downs on its final three possessions while Central (2-1, 1-0) shut the door. Running back Connor Hines scored a 1-yard touchdown with 5:05 left in the third to put the Tigers ahead 32-21, and quarterback Kyle Lavand connected with receiver Eric Hjerstedt for a 10-yard touchdown with 10 minutes left in the fourth.
Lavand finished with 362 yards - 138 on the ground and 250 on 13-for-23 passing - and held his offensive unit together when receiver Matt Tegtmeier left the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter. With Hampshire’s defense keying on Williams, Lavand found plenty of holes and his line made sure he had a productive night on foot.
“The whole game the offense was just clicking,” Lavand said. “I wouldn’t say there was really one thing. We were up the whole game.”