Fighting finish not enough for Highland Park
What’s the plan when winning isn’t a realistic option?
At least that is the option the Highland Park Giants chose when faced with a five-score, 36-point deficit in the second half Friday night at Wolters Field.
“Giant pride is a saying for us,” Highland Park coach Anthony Kopp said. “At the end of a game, when we’re getting beat bad like that, it’s all about pride. That’s what we were preaching at the end, finish with pride, finish with pride, and we definitely fought to the end.”
The Giants (4-4) scored four second-half touchdowns, including the game’s final three, in the 50-34 loss to visiting Vernon Hills (2-6) on Oct. 14.
The spirited effort began in Highland Park’s halftime locker room, said junior quarterback Dave Finfer.
The Giants coaching staff left the players alone at intermission, challenging them to respond.
“They said, ‘It’s your guys team. You figure it out,'” Finfer said. “They left the locker room and our three captains — me, Emmet Pulte and Jacques (Munkhjargal) — went in and broke it down, saying this is our game. We have to fight in the second half, and we fought.”
Highland Park scored on all four of its second-half drives, amassing 260 offensive yards. Johnny Walker (37 yards) and Pulte (13 yards) had touchdown receptions from Finfer, while Ezra Kornberg (11 yards) and Finfer (1 yard) scored on touchdown runs.
The frantic finish, however, was too little too late to match the Cougars, who found the end zone on six of its first seven possessions to gain a 43-7 advantage in the third quarter.
A cold and dreary evening provided the backdrop for Vernon Hills fast start. The visitors gashed Highland Park’s defense early and often, totaling 289 first-half yards that included by eight plays of 14 yards or more.
A Giants’ second-quarter touchdowns — Finfer to Kornberg for 15 yards — trimmed the Cougars’ lead to two scores at 22-7, but Vernon Hills immediately answered with a one-minute scoring drive covering 77 yards to go into halftime up 22.
After the game, neither Finfer nor Kopp had an answer for Highland Park’s first half in the crucial matchup.
“I don’t know. We started slow,” Kopp said. “It’s definitely something we have to fix because Deerfield (a 20-0 loss) was the same way. We have to look at ourselves and find out what we can do to fix that.”
Cougars senior tight end Erik Boehmer highlighted the half with 134 receiving yards and a 19-yard touchdown throw. He added a 15-yard touchdown catch in the second half.
The Cougars began the second half with two scores — one off a Highland Park fumble — before the Giants touched the football, essentially putting the game away.
For Highland Park, Finfer finished with 272 yards passing, three passing TDs and one rushing score. Kornberg had six touches for 64 yards and the two scores. Giants freshman Lucas Gordon caught four balls for 106 yards — all in the second half — while Walker and Nick Blumer both had 50-plus yards receiving.
At 4-4, the Giants need one more victory to qualify for the postseason, something they have not done since 2017. It will not be easy, as they will travel to Des Plaines on Friday, Oct. 21, for a clash with Maine West (4-4). The Warriors are coming off a 13-7 loss to Deerfield, but topped Vernon Hills 36-13 on Oct. 7.
“We need another good week of practice, to stay focused all week,” Finfer said. “We can’t just prepare in practice. … We have to be ready for the first snap against them and everything we’re going to see. We have to be prepared mentally and physically.”
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Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319