If the Highland Park Giants were cursed, it took a cursed day to free them.
For four straight full seasons, Highland Park football collected the same number of wins: four, a number that left the Giants a game shy of postseason eligibility each year.
But on Friday the 13th, the Giants left no doubt in claiming a fifth win by defeating host Maine East 47-0 and qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2017.
“It’s been a long time since we had five wins, so going out and getting that it means a lot to our program and all of our players,” Highland Park coach Anthony Kopp said. “They knew that coming into it and they were excited for the opportunity to be here and get it.”
The Giants field a number of seniors who started on varsity as sophomores and endured back-to-back 4-5 campaigns, just missing opportunities to achieve their playoff goals.
To get No. 5 is a big deal to all the Giants, but especially to three-year starters like senior quarterback David Finfer.
“It means everything,” he said. “We’ve worked our tails off for this one. There were a lot of 4-5 seasons. Getting this fifth win, it’s crazy. … We all helped each other grow to get to this point. It means everything to us.”
Traveling to Des Plaines to tackle the 1-6 Maine East Blue Demons, Kopp said he wanted his team to start fast and set the tone. Mission accomplished for the Giants, who scored on their first possession en route to a 41-0 halftime lead.
Finfer had three rushing scores in the first half, scampering to pay dirt on runs of 41, 17 and 8 yards. He added a passing touchdown on a 2-yard strike to senior Johnny Walker. Senior Nikko Rosenbloom added a 4-yard rushing TD, and junior Eli Moore returned an interception 25 yards to pay dirt.
Walker also added an interception in the half and made a 35-yard, over-the-shoulder grab to set up a score.
The scoring margin tripped a running clock for the second half, and Kopp entered his reserves to finish off the victory. To finish the scoring, HP’s backup quarterback Michael Bryant, a junior, added a 2-yard rushing score that was prefaced by his impressive 37-yard scamper.
The victory is the Giants’ third straight, a streak that include a gutty 21-17 win over new conference foe Niles West on Oct. 6. Finfer and Kopp agreed that win showed that it was all happening for the Giants, who previously lost close games against Deerfield (21-16) and Maine West (20-19).
“It was a great team win last week. Offense picked up defense, defense picked up offense, big plays on special teams,” Kopp said. “We really saw a lot of things come together last week and had a sharp week this week.”
When Friday’s game ended, Highland Park still had a shot at a share of the Central Suburban League North title; however, Maine West (8-0) came back on Niles West (5-3) essentially clinch the league crown.
But the Giants still have plenty to play for in the regular-season finale, which takes them to Vernon Hills (3-5) on Friday, Oct. 20. Highland Park has a chance to win a sixth game, something it has not accomplished since 2016 and would improve its playoff seeding in IHSA Class 6A.
While the position is new for this group of Giants, Kopp said they are ready for whatever the season throws at them.
“It’s a very tight group. They are all friends. They all have fun. They also challenge each other,” he said. “That’s a big difference with this group. They don’t let each other take days off. They don’t let each other take plays off. They really do a good job of pushing each other to make each other better.”
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