Highland Park notches fitting comeback
It was a return to normalcy Friday in Highland Park.
With a large crowd of students, parents and the community watching along with a cool lake breeze, football took center stage. Just like it has for many years in Highland Park.
After a short dedication to those affected by the shooting on July Fourth and a moment of silence and remembrance, it was time for kickoff.
From that moment on, it was just another Friday night high school football game. And when the final whistle sounded, Highland Park had come way back twice, rallying for a thrilling 28-25 win over Leyden.
"We just got off to a slow start," said new Highland Park coach Anthony Koop, who picked up his first victory.
"We knew and we kept saying on the sideline that we needed just one play."
It didn't come easy as Leyden (0-1) dominated the game for most of the first half. The Eagles had taken a 10-0 lead on a safety, a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Ethan Corral and a conversion run by Corral.
With just over 50 seconds left in the half, the game took a complete turn.
Leyden fumbled a punt and Highland Park's John Walker recovered at the Eagles' 40. On the very next play, David Finfer tossed a perfect 40-yard strike to Emmet Pulte and suddenly the Giants were on fire.
"The turnover at the end of the half and the one to start the second half killed us," Leyden coach Tom Cerasani said. "But I thought we played our hearts out."
Highland Park's Nicholas Blumer recovered a Leyden fumble on the Eagles' first play from scrimmage in the second half. Finfer would then connect with Blumer on a 29-yard touchdown pass and the Giants led 14-10.
And they weren't done.
Blumer, who finished 10-of-20 for 158 yards, threw his third touchdown pass of the night. It was a 43-yard screen pass to Ezra Kromberg to make it 21-10 late in the third quarter.
"It was wonderful to be out here tonight," Blumer said. "It was great to be with the boys screaming and yelling. I don't have much of a voice left."
The Giants defense, which forced four fumbles and blocked a punt, added to the comeback. Blumer jumped a bubble screen and took the ball untouched for a 43-yard touchdown with 9:45 to play.
Highland Park then had to hold off Leyden.
Corral, who was 16-of-31 for 244 yards, rallied the Eagles. He threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jake Sarnecke and a conversion pass after a 3-yard touchdown run by Diego Mendoza to cut the lead to 28-25 with 3:28 left.
But a resilient Highland Park held on for the victory.