LAKE VILLA – The Prairie Ridge defense was scrambling, still in shock that with less than a minute remaining, the lead it had managed to protect all night was seemingly slipping away.
With one 70-yard pass, Lakes was 9 yards from erasing what had, only minutes before, been a two-touchdown deficit. But the Wolves, who needed a three-game winning streak just to advance into Friday night’s Class 6A playoff opener, had overcome too much this season to watch it to go down the drain.
Matt Perhats knew what happened next could rest on his shoulders.
“I knew our linebackers could stop the run and I just had to stop the pass,” Perhats said.
The senior defensive back batted down Ethan Sage’s pass in the end zone, preserving Prairie Ridge’s 21-14 win. With the victory, the 13th-seeded Wolves (6-4) will face Marmion Academy (likely on Saturday), which shut out Fenton, 39-0, in another 6A playoff first-round game.
“We’re really high right now. Our whole team has been that way,” Perhats said. “We knew we had this in us and we’re getting it done now.”
But like much of the season, it wasn’t easy.
Prairie Ridge lost starting quarterback Brett Covalt in the second quarter to what coach Chris Schremp believes could be a concussion. Covalt will see a doctor Saturday to evaluate the injury. Sophomore Luke Annen stepped in and engineered what turned out to be the game-winning drive, capped by Zack Greenberg’s 4-yard touchdown run with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Annen, who had stepped in earlier this season against Crystal Lake South, mishandled the first two snaps he took. After that, he settled down, running the Wolves offense the rest of the way. Having so many reliable offensive weapons around him made life much easier.
“With Steven (Ladd) and (Greenberg) and Brent (Anderson), I can give them the ball and just trust them,” Annen said.
Covalt gave Prairie Ridge an early lead, finishing off a 13-play, 74-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown on the Wolves’ first possession. After fourth-seeded Lakes (8-2) tied the game with a 66-yard Mike Brey run, the Wolves defense closed the door, forcing two fumbles – the second which led to Greenberg’s touchdown.
But Lakes didn’t disappear, cutting the deficit to 21-14 on Sage’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Jake Balliu with 3:54 remaining. Prairie Ridge did its best to run as much clock down, but was forced to punt, giving the Eagles one last shot.
With no timeouts and needing to cover 80 yards, Sage erased most of it with a 70-yard strike to Devyn Cedzidlo. But with a comeback clearly in play, Lakes couldn’t finish after Perhats’ late deflection, allowing the Wolves to move on.
“You want to talk about mental toughness,” Schremp said. “That was amazing. You can easily get down on yourself and say, ‘We gave up a big play,’ but to regain your focus and make a couple big plays after that was huge.”