HUNTLEY – For nearly four quarters Friday night, Eric Hjerstedt had been Crystal Lake Central's second aerial option, willing to take what ever Tigers quarterback Kyle Lavand threw his way.
But throughout the night, Hjerstedt kept telling Lavand that Huntley's defensive backs were pressing him and that he knew he had enough speed to get by them. The safeties weren't coming across and so, if he got into a 1-on-1 situation, he was confident, he could make a play.
So with Central needing the kind of late dramatics it used last season to stun the Red Raiders on the final play of the fourth quarter, Lavand took Hjerstedt at his word. Hjerstedt reeled in a 15-yard game-winning touchdown catch with 13.7 seconds remaining as Central slipped past the Red Raiders, 34-27, in a Fox Valley Conference crossover game.
Hjerstedt's late score came only 93 seconds after Huntley (2-2, 0-1 FVC Valley) took a 27-21 lead on Blake Jacobs' 27-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Altergott. In the back of his mind, Hjerstedt thought back to last season, fearing the Red Raiders had found a way to pull off a come-from-behind win.
"We knew we couldn't have that and we just knew what we had to do to get the job done," Hjerstedt said.
Central (3-1, 1-0 Fox) went into its two-minute offense, blending Lavand quarterback keepers with completions to Jack Ortner, who finished with 19 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown. But after an incomplete pass and after Huntley's Brandon Dranka sacked Lavand, the Tigers faced third and 13 from the Red Raiders' 30-yard line.
Huntley defensive backs knocked away Lavand's next pass attempt, but officials said that the Red Raiders grabbed Lavand's facemask after his pass was off. The penalty moved Central to the 15-yard line, setting up Hjerstedt's game-winning catch.
Again, last year's rally over Huntley came to the minds of Tigers' players.
"We knew we had to do it again," said Lavand, who threw for 268 yards, completing 25-of-40 passes in the win. "We just knew we had to go down and score – nothing changes.
"But (Hjerstedt) said he had his man, so we just trusted him, we went with it. We have a lot of weapons.We can go to anyone really."
Huntley, which lost on a late touchdown pass last week to Cary-Grove, was again stunned after giving up another scoring play – this time in the final seconds. The Red Raiders, whose defense caused two fumbles and gave the offense ample chances to score, were again left nearly speechless following another last-second loss.
Huntley returns to Division play next week against 3-1 Dundee-Crown, facing a big challenge while trying to recover from two heart-breaking losses.
"Our kids did everything you should to win a high school football game," Huntley coach John Hart said."I think we responded great defensively...we'll have to respond (against D-C) because our goal is to play in the playoffs."