Lake Forest stuns Prairie Ridge in final seconds
The scenario Prairie Ridge faced early in the fourth quarter was perfect.
The Wolves had the ball on their 11-yard line with a six-point lead on Lake Forest. The offense had a chance to pound out another long drive, as it had all day, score and secure a semifinal date next week against Fox Valley Conference rival Cary-Grove.
Everything was working as the Wolves drove to Lake Forest's 18. Running back Zach Bentsen, who ripped off 16 yards on the previous play, picked up another 10 and was inside the 10 when he was spun around and Lake Forest's Andrew Lyon happened to put his helmet right on the ball.
The ball popped into the air and was grabbed by the Scouts' Mick Graham at the 8.
"I knew our defense came through and if we had one shot, we were going to go down and win," Scouts quarterback Leo Scheidler said. "We knew we were in control, we had plenty of time (4:04) to get the job done."
Lake Forest proceeded to drive 92 yards in 11 plays and scored with 14 seconds remaining as Scheidler fired a pass to Jake Milliman, who tapped his toes inside the back line of the end zone. Kicker Kai Popov added the extra point and the No. 6-seeded Scouts had a stunning 22-21 victory over the No. 7 Wolves Saturday in their Class 6A quarterfinal playoff game.
The Scouts (10-2) will play at No. 1 C-G (12-0) in the semifinal. Prairie Ridge finished its season at 9-3.
"We knew we had them where we wanted on that last drive," Wolves quarterback Mason Loucks said. "All we had to do was punch it in and score."
Bentsen stood, holding the quarterfinal plaque, with tears in his eyes after the game.
"We were just grinding it out, hitting on every play," Bentsen said. "It was working, but unfortunately things happen. It was a great drive. We would have scored."
Even a field goal from Yahshua Tapia would have made it a two-score lead at that point.
Lake Forest's defense did not give up huge plays to the Wolves, who averaged 4.9 yards on their 65 rushing attempts. But that led to Prairie Ridge mounting long drives and possessing the ball for 33:51 to the Scouts' 14:09.
"You don't want them to get comfortable," Scouts coach Chuck Spagnoli said. "If you let them get comfortable and get a couple scores, it's a problem. We were as close we could possibly be to letting that happen.
"In the second half, they're waiting until 5 seconds to snap the ball and burning clock and burning clock. Then, it's just people doing their job and doing the best they can and not giving them big plays."
Wolves coach Chris Schremp looked back to late in the first half as a key point in the game. Prairie Ridge led, 14-0, having scored on its first two drives. But a chop block penalty pushed the Wolves back and they were forced to punt.
Lake Forest hit on Scheidler's 33-yard pass to Shep Graf and Scheidler ran it in from the 7 to make it 14-7 at halftime.
"I thought that was the turning point in the game," Schremp said. "We had those penalties and lost focus and gave them some confidence going into halftime. We gave them too much confidence. That one hurt."
Lake Forest then started the second half with the ball and Scheidler found Graf for a 56-yard touchdown. The extra point became a pivotal play in the game, as Scheidler, holding for Popov, fielded a low snap, scooped up the ball and ran, just sneaking inside the pylon for two points.
The Scouts lost leading rusher Jahari Scott with a knee injury in the second quarter. Spanoli was uncertain of Scott's availability for next week.
"We all played for Jahari today," Scheidler said. "To be able to get this for him was a big motivation for all of us. Everyone worked their tails off and stayed together. Good things happen when you stay together."
Loucks finished with 24 carries for 99 yards, Bentsen had 11 rushes for 86 and Tyler Vasey carried 12 times for 72 yards. Loucks' 23-yard run on the final drive was the only play of more than 20 yards for the Wolves.
"Their defense was set up to not give up that big run," Schremp said. "They were conceding giving up 2 or 3 yards and hoping their D-line could stop us. Their secondary and safety weren't biting. They were sitting back and not giving us the big breakaways we've been getting."
Lake Forest last made it to the semifinals in 2012 when it lost to Cary-Grove, 42-21.
"Our kids rallied at the end," Spagnoli said. "We needed a turnover and what'd we drive, 90 yards? They got it done and you have to give them credit. They earned it."