A rivalry game that lived up to the hype.
Intradistrict rivals Highland Park (1-1) and Deerfield (2-0) seemed poised for game-ending dramatics, but what looked like an onside kick recovery was nullified by a rare penalty, ending the Giants’ miracle bid.
The Warriors kneeled out the final 90 seconds to claim a 21-16 win Friday night, Sept. 1, in Highland Park.
“(The referee) said that we have to give the other team an opportunity to catch the ball,” Giants coach Anthony Kopp said of the recovery that wasn’t. “… I figured if the ball’s kicked and it goes 10 yards — I don’t know what to say.”
After his team pulled to within five, Highland Park kicker Sebastian Vybral chipped the kickoff about 15 yards toward the far sideline, right into the arms of a sliding Nick Blumer, his teammate who secured the ball on a fly between two Warriors.
Officials took a few minutes to discuss the play before affirming an illegal touching penalty on Highland Park. According to numerous American football rule books, a kickoff can only be covered by the kicking team after the ball “touches any player, the ground, an official or anything” beyond 10 yards.
The call ended a valiant comeback effort for the Giants who, down 21-10, had just scored a touchdown with a one-minute possession to make it a one-score game.
The rivalry loss is a tough one to swallow for Highland Park and its seniors.
“This was my Super Bowl. I wanted this so bad,” senior lineman Josh Pasternak said. “By far this was the game I wanted the most. Compared to conference, this is way above there. It sucks.”
Highland Park opened the scoring with an impressive drive on its first possession, traveling 99 yards in 15 plays, the last of which was a 5-yard scoring run by senior Nikko Rosenbloom (12 touches, 86 yards).
Deerfield answered, but the score remained tied at 7-7 until halftime. The Warriors had a chance to take a lead into the half, but the Giants Sebastian Vybral got a piece of a field-goal try to keep the score knotted.
Out of the break, an inspired Highland Park marched to Deerfield’s goal line, but on third down, the Giants fumbled a snap and turned the ball over.
Two possessions later, Deerfield tailback Quinn Schimanski — a menace all night with 25 carries for 215 yards — rumbled through numerous Giants defenders on his way to a 59-yard score.
The goal-line fumble and Schimanski’s long TD were ones Kopp and the Giants wish they had back.
“Those two plays hurt,” he said. “But you play in a tight game, two good opponents, it can come down to two plays. And it’s how do you react to those plays. Those are things we have to learn and get better from, because we’re going to be in a lot of tight games.”
The Giants responded with a drive to get inside the Warriors 10-yard line, aided greatly by a sesational sideline reception through traffic by Johnny Walker (6 catches, 86 yards).
But they settled for a field goal with 9 minutes, 19 seconds to play.
On the ensuing drive, Highland Park put Deerfield in several third-and-long situations, only for the Warriors to make play after play to keep the drive alive. Deerfield converted a third-and-13, fourth-and-8 and fourth-and-9 before making the score 21-10 with under four minutes to play.
“We had them in third and long multiple times. We weren’t getting home. They were getting open. There’s not much more to it,” Pasternak said. “We gave them too much time.”
The Giants fumbled the ensuing kickoff to nearly quash any hopes of a comeback, but the defense stood large to give them a chance.
Senior quarterback David Finfer (16-of-32, 269 yards; 57 rushing yards) completed three big passes — to Walker for 15 yards, Nick Blumer (3 catches 85 yards) for 26 and Rosenbloom for 24 — before his 1-yard TD rush with 1:42 to go.
Unfortunately, the onside kick attempt failed because of the illegal touching, and the Giants will have to regroup before a Friday, Sept. 8 home matchup with Rolling Meadows.
“The most important thing is we can’t let a Wee 2 game define our season — if it’s a win or a loss,” Kopp said. “We still have a bunch of tough games in front of us. We still have our goal of winning conference very much there … very much in front of us. It stings.
“This is a game that hurts to lose that we really felt good about coming into it, so that part stings, but you have to turn the page because you don’t really have time to sulk.”
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