The safe thing to do as the Hoffman Estates punt rolled deep into Prairie Ridge territory would have been to let it roll and get touched dead.
But Prairie Ridge’s Samson Evans saw no reason to play it safe when he could go for a knockout.
“The defenders didn’t think I was going to pick it up,” Evans said. “I saw a hole and had to break one tackle, and that’s what I did. It set us up in great field position.”
Indeed it did. On the next play, Prairie Ridge’s dynamic quarterback ran 12 yards for a score, the Wolves’ third touchdown in less than 8 minutes, and they went on for a 42-21 victory in their Class 6A football playoff semifinal game Saturday.
The Wolves (13-0) face Nazareth (12-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Class 6A state championship game.
Evans carried for a career-high 327 yards on 34 rushes, and with the punt return had three plays of more than 60 yards.
“The kid’s unbelievable,” said Wolves coach Chris Schremp, smiling. “Just when you think you saw the best play he could ever have, he always seems to try to outdo himself. That was another in a long list of unbelievable highlights for him.”
Evans (6-foot-1, 210 pounds) has run the Wolves’ triple-option masterfully for three years. They are 38-2 in those games. Schremp uses him on punt and kickoff returns because when you have a player of that caliber, you get the ball in his hands as often as possible.
“He’s a special player,” Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse said. “We saw two other real special quarterbacks this year in [Ray] Niro [of Barrington] and [Owen] Goldsberry from Hersey. We told them he’s big, and we have to rally to the ball. He’s a special player.”
Moving on up: Evans’ 327 rushing yards moved him past three players on the IHSA’s career rushing list, passing Newton’s Mitch Bierman (2013-16, 5,984), Johnsburg’s Alex Peete (2014-16, 6,071) and Casey Westfield’s Jason Yelton (1995-98, 6,200).
Evans, who will play receiver at Iowa, now has 6,231 yards rushing, 300 away from No. 6, Glenbard North’s Justin Jackson.
Also, Evans has 110 career rushing touchdowns, which is third on the IHSA list. Rockford Lutheran’s James Robinson (2012-15, 158) is first, and Westville’s Caleb Pratt (2004-07, 115) is second.
Tough guys: Prairie Ridge’s fans held their breaths at a couple moments in the second half Saturday when offensive linemen Jeff Jenkins and Justin Grapenthin laid on the ground with injuries. Both returned shortly thereafter and appeared to be OK.
Jenkins was grabbing his abdomen and went off for one play. Grapenthin hurt his right ankle, but returned by the next series.
“I got hit in the stomach and ribs a little bit,” Jenkins said. “We only have one week left, I’ll be fine.”
A new way: Prairie Ridge sophomore Kyle Koelblinger has been on target all season with his placekicking, hitting four field goals and 68 of 70 extra points before Saturday’s semifinal game.
Koelblinger missed a field goal when a stiff wind held it short from 31 yards, then had his first extra point blocked after a low snap. But he made four other extra points and carried for a 2-point conversion for the first time.
Holder Connor Lydon, the backup quarterback, took the snap and made the option pitch to Koelblinger, who ran untouched around the left end.
“We’ve been thinking about running [that play] all year,” Koelblinger said. “We finally ran it, and it worked out. It was a good moment.”
Koelblinger also plays defensive back and almost had another 2-point play on defense. He blitzed around left end in the fourth quarter and sacked Hawks quarterback Austin Coalson inside the 5. Coalson wound up in the end zone, but officials marked forward progress at the 3.