By Rick Lytle, Online Editor-in-Chief and Aidan Murray, Staff Writer
108 points. 1,001 total yards of offense. Interceptions. Blocked extra points. A 12-point comeback. Kickoffs magically dying inside the five yard line. A 52-yard punt from the QUARTERBACK pinning a team on their own five. A late game drive to potentially tie it up, including a miracle fourth down conversion. It seemed like the seven year drought of playoff football at George Gattas Memorial Stadium was trying to be made up for in one night.
And after all that, the fate of the game rested on one play. Dekalb’s offense had just found their footing for the first time in the fourth quarter, marching 81 yards down the field to bring their team within a 2-point conversion of tying the game with just seven seconds remaining. All the Barbs needed to do was convert and the game would likely be forced into overtime.
Delakb junior Trenton Kyler takes the snap, is forced to his right because of pressure, finds pressure on his right side and is forced to scramble straight backwards. After a pump fake and more scrambling, Kyler is nearly 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage where he finds himself still surrounded by Prospect players. All he has time for is a blind desperation throw to the endzone where Adam Mekky spikes the ball to the ground for the Knights and seals the victory. Absolute chaos ensues both on the field and in the bleachers as Prospect celebrates their 55-53 playoff victory.
Running Back Luke Zardzin, who had 230 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown, had just one word to describe the game.
“Sensational,” Zardzin said.
Stopping the two point conversion was just one of the many hurdles Prospect had to overcome throughout the night. The Knights found themselves down 47-35 with 5:49 remaining in the third quarter, a deficit that felt much steeper than 12 points due to the fact that nearly every possession for the Barbs up until that point had resulted in a touchdown. At the same time, the Prospect offense that had been able to match Dekalb score for score in the first half suddenly found themselves unable to produce. After the Prospect offense came up empty handed again, Dekalb had the opportunity to blow the game open and give themselves a three possession lead in the third quarter. If there was ever a moment for the defense to step up so far in the game, this was it.
On 3rd and 14, the Dekalb ball carrier was chased out of bounds by Miki Mihov and Jacob Grzesiak, forcing a punt. The Knights offense found their stride and drove down the field, with Gary Moeller finding Noax Marx for an 8-yard touchdown pass that broughts the Knights within six points at the end of the third quarter.
“That’s just the special thing about our team. Sometimes [the offense] will play well like in the first half … but in the second half [the defense] really held them,” Luke Zardzin said.
After another defensive stop deep in Dekalb’s territory, Prospect had the ball just 46 yards from the endzone with the opportunity to take the lead. A 17-yard run from quarterback Gary Moeller started the drive and a two-yard touchdown run from Zardzin ended it, giving Prospect a 48-47 lead with 8:35 left in the fourth quarter. Prospect had swung the momentum entirely in their favor and moved past their previous struggles just as Head Coach Dan Deboeuf wanted them to.
“The biggest thing tonight was the belief. With all those negative things happening, there was never a sense of ‘oh no here we go again.’ It was just like ‘alright, next play, next series, next drive’ and our guys did a good job with that tonight,” Deboeuf said.
A few possessions later, Dekalb found themselves stuck deep inside their own territory again, where Prospect Knight Ryan Traviola picked off a Kyler pass and gave Prospect the ball just 10 yards from the endzone.
“I was biting on the short route as I usually do and the ball just happened to be there,” Traviola said. “Best moment of high school football for me, that was pretty electric.”
Set up by the interception, a touchdown run from Zardzin gave Prospect a 55-47 lead with 2:45 remaining in the game.
At halftime, the two teams seemed well on their way to setting the Illinois Class 7A postseason total points record of 119. The score was 40-35 Dekalb, for a total of 75 points. The first possession for either team that didn’t result in a touchdown came with under four minutes to play in the second quarter.
Both teams had a number of offensive players with impressive stat lines. Zardzin’s 230 rushing yards and five touchdowns, along with Moeller’s 181 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 75% completion percentage stood out for the Knights. Noah Marx and Tyson Splinter both caught touchdowns for Prospect.
Dekalb had multiple offensive weapons, but were led by quarterback Kyler who rushed for 80 yards and threw for another 259. In total, he finished with three touchdowns.
Prospect will face Rolling Meadows in the next round in a rematch from the regular season in which the Mustangs won. Rolling Meadows is 10-0, and the third seeded team in Class 7A.
“We already played Meadows this year so we know how they look,” Zardzin said. “We know that we didn’t play our best game against them and we’re going to have to bring it next week.”