ROCKFORD – A season full of close calls and narrow escapes finally caught up with the previously undefeated Harvard football team Saturday in its Class 4A quarterfinal loss to Rockford Lutheran.
This was the fifth time this season that a Harvard game was decided by six or fewer points. Lutheran scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to come back and win, 28-24.
“This group had won 15 in a row; they have nothing to hang their heads about,” said Tim Haak, who is retiring after 29 seasons as Harvard's coach. "We won a lot of close games, but sports are never over 'til that last whistle.
“The only negative is that you hurt for them because they hurt so much. That’s the tough part.”
The game was tied or led by No. 2-seeded Harvard most of the way through the end of the third quarter, where the Hornets found themselves up 24-14.
No. 6 Lutheran (11-1) scored twice in a seven-minute span to take the 28-24 lead with just over a minute left.
The Hornets (11-1) drove to midfield with about 15 seconds left, but Peyton Schneider was intercepted to seal the Crusaders' victory. Lutheran will play Geneseo (11-1) next Saturday in a semifinal game.
“It’s a great season, and all of us worked hard to get here,” senior Jose Mejia said. "It’s just heartbreaking to see the season go after all the hard work we put in."
With less than four minutes to play, Harvard was clinging to a 24-21 lead and trying to run out the clock. Christian Kramer, who had another great day running the ball for the Hornets, ran for 5 yards on a first-down play.
Kramer, however, was not ruled down before the ball came loose, and Lutheran recovered at the Harvard 36-yard line. Six plays later, Kendall Lawson dived across the goal line from a yard out to give the Crusaders the eventual winning score.
Haak suggested that Kramer, who was banged up from earlier hits, probably shouldn't have been on the field at the time, but Kramer asked to continue playing.
“One play doesn’t make all the difference,” Haak said. "We don’t have any regrets. It was a great year, with the best kids, There’s nothing I would have changed."
Kramer ran the ball 32 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. He was the main contributor to Harvard’s almost 200 yards on the ground. Mejia ran 15 times for 43 yards and a score.
Schneider was 7 for 13 passing for 77 yards. He also connected on a 40-yard field goal late in the third quarter. Senior Justin Nolen was Schneider’s primary receiver with six catches for 72 yards.
“We did better than everybody’s expectations this year, better than mine for sure,” senior linebacker and tight end Tate Miller said. “I’m proud of this whole team and how the community backed us. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”