Bizarre play ended it, but didn’t decide Waukegan football loss
By P.J. Bonato For Sun-Times Media September 21, 2013 7:04PM
The clouds cleared up for a perfect night for the Waukegan vs. Highland Park football game Friday evening 9-20-13. Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media.
Updated: October 24, 2013 6:24AM
One of the universals about sports is that people focus on game-ending plays to the exclusion of all that happened up to that point.
In baseball, for example, a homer in the bottom of the ninth for a 2-1 win results in a team powwow at home plate, followed by the hitter getting a whipped-cream pie rubbed in his face.
But nobody celebrates the sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the sixth of that same game that puts a runner on third with one out and sets the stage for the game-tying sacrifice fly.
Such is the nature of sports.
And so, the focus of Highland Park’s 28-21 home win over Waukegan last Friday night will forever be all about Waukegan’s players walking off the field and going to the bench after missing a field goal in the final minute while Highland Park’s Grant Paley was picking up the ball after the missed kick and making the easiest 98-yard touchdown return he’s ever going to make.
That return turned a certain overtime game into a Giant victory ... a result that, five weeks from now, could turn out to be what vaulted the 3-1 Giants into the postseason playoffs and kept the 2-2 Bulldogs out of them.
Time will tell about that. But here’s what happened in real time Friday with less than a minute to go and Waukegan attempting a 38-yard field goal and the game tied at 21-21.
The boot was shanked and bounced/rolled toward the corner of the field where Highland Park’s sideline meets the goal line. Disappointed Waukegan players headed toward their bench, with players and coaches oblivious to the fact that the ball was still live and in play.
Paley was back by the ball, but the real hero on the play was his teammate who screamed at him to pick the ball up.
Paley did and the rest was pretty easy history.
“I heard my linebacker shouting ‘go, go, go,’ so I picked it up so I picked it up and started running,” Paley said. “I wasn’t expecting it to happen ... just a crazy finish.”
But that crazy finish erased a lot of good that Waukegan did to battle back from a 21-7 deficit, and also hid Waukegan’s two fourth-quarter Red Zone failures when a score either time likely would have won the game.
With just under eight minutes left in the game, Waukegan drove from its own 34 to a first down at the Giants’ 15, only to end up with a turnover on downs after a botched snap and Melvin Bobo was sacked. After a punt, Waukegan again drove 64 yards in nine plays to a first-and-goal at the 9 with 1.30 left. The Giants then forced three straight negative plays that pushed the ball back to the 20 and set up the game-deciding 38-yard field-goal attempt.
Of the field-goal mess, Waukegan coach Nick Browder said the following: “You don’t really work on it (covering a missed FG) during practice. It was an unfortunate way to end the game. The kids didn’t know the play wasn’t over yet, which is on us as a coaching staff.”
However, Browder did point out that his team battled back and was in position to win the game against a quality foe
He added, “I’m proud of the way the kids kept playing until the end of the game. This game is an emotional roller-coaster. I thought the kids kept their composure well during the comeback. We just didn’t make a play when we needed to tonight at the end of the game. We had some miscues and forgot what we were doing right to get down the field in the first place.”
One bright spot for the Bulldogs was Deniqtrious Curry. He carried the ball 24 times for 203 yards. Browder noted that “we were able to control the box up front and it was Curr’s night. That’s what we want from him. He ran hard and downfield.”
Junior QB Melvin Bobo IV was 11-of-24 passing and hooked up with Jaleel Darr-Duffie for one score. He battled cramping most of the night, “We can’t hold on to the loss; we played a great game and we made a couple mistakes which cost us the victory,” Bobo said.
As for the failed Red Zone trips, he added, “We were confident we were going to punch in a score, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen that way. We need to keep our heads up. I am really proud of this group of guys and we strongly believe we can win three more games to get us in (the playoffs).
“We have guys on offense who, in the open field, can really run. We need to use our strengths on offense to have success.”
Waukegan’s next game is Friday at New Trier.