CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake Central football coach Matt Fralick only said a few words to his team as they knelt around him after a season-ending Class 6A first-round playoff loss to De La Salle.
"This is not all on one guy or one play," he said, pausing to look at the teary-eyed players, most of whom were still wearing their helmets. "Everyone could have done a better job today."
The Tigers (8-2) couldn't capitalize on three separate chances to put away the Meteors as time ticked off in regulation and in overtime where De La Salle would eventually win.
The two teams combined for three missed field goals before Meteors kicker David Dominguez connected on a game-winning 25-yard try in the second overtime as 14th-seeded De La Salle upset the third-seeded Tigers, 38-35.
De La Salle (6-4) had injury troubles and played without starting running back Mikale Wilbon, a Vanderbilt recruit, and without starting quarterback Shelby Spence. Even with injuries to key position players, the Meteors were still able to move the ball behind its large and imposing offensive line.
The five starters on the line combine to weigh 1,425 pounds, including two who are committed to NCAA Division I schools, and the Meteors looked to run behind the big bodies. Jamarco Jones, 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, is committed to Ohio State, and linemate Aaron Roberts, at 6-6 and 295 pounds, will play at Syracuse.
The Crystal Lake Central defensive linemen had their hands full trying to shed blocks in order to generate pressure and collapse the line and relied on technique in order to do so.
"We knew they would be big, and we just had to be ready," said Tigers linebacker Connor Hines, who moved to the defensive line to help. "We just had to get off the ball fast and try to beat them with our speed."
The Tigers held De La Salle to 65 rushing yards in the first half and were able to limit big plays on the ground. The Meteors' offensive line was stout in pass blocking situations and gave sophomore backup quarterback Tom Duddleston lots of time to scan the field and find open receivers. He connected with four different receivers for 197 yards and four touchdowns.
After several defensive stops by both teams, the Tigers got the ball at the start of the fourth quarter after Dominguez missed a 26-yard try for the Meteors, who were looking to break a 21-21 tie. Central dominated the time of possession in the fourth quarter, holding the ball for more than eight minutes, and scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 4-yard run by running back Ryan Williams.
But the Meteors drove 66 yards for a chance to tie and had four chances inside the 10 with less than 90 seconds remaining. Duddleston looked for go-to receiver Bryce Sutherland on third down, but Tigers cornerback Kevin Peisker stretched out and broke up the pass in the end zone, though the Meteors would score on the next play when an apparent interception slipped through Robert Aunan's hands and into a De La Salle receiver's hands to push the game to overtime.
Both teams scored touchdowns during the first overtime, but a missed field goal by the Tigers set up Dominguez's game-winning kick.
"You just have to always play like it's the biggest moment of your life," Peisker said. "It's pretty hard losing, but I really believe we gave it all we had."