Late Touchdown Advances Warriors to Elite Eight
By Jim Baranski
In a gathering of players and coaches, Crete-Monee Coach John Konecki pointed to the scoreboard that read Crete-Monee 40, Visitors (Chatham Glenwood) 39.
“That is what 48 minutes of football looks like,” Konecki said. “We never stopped battling.”
The Warriors’ second round 6A playoff game provided each team the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat on November 3. In the final 74 seconds, the lead changed hands three times.
Fortunately for Crete-Monee, it was a 45-yard completion from Trayvon Rudolph to Ricky Johnson with 12 seconds left that finally put the Warriors in the winners’ circle. Now, Crete-Monee will host unbeaten Washington at 2 p.m. on November 10 in an Elite Eight matchup.
Trailing 33-28, the Warriors forced the Titans to punt. After the kick, Crete-Monee had the ball on their own 12-yardline with 1:58 remaining and only one timeout.
After an incompletion, Vontrell Banks hit Johnson over the middle for 34 yards. Banks was injured on the next play running out-of-bounds. Rudolph then fired twice to Jamal Safo, with the results being a pass interference call and a 36-yard diving catch.
“I ran the same pattern twice,” Safo said. “The defender grabbed me, and I got the flag. Next play, I broke free from him and made the catch. I thought I was in the end zone.”
Well, Safo was at the Titan 1-yardline. From there, Amari Venerable pounded into paydirt behind the blocking of center Matthew Simpson. After an incompletion on the try for two, the Warriors had a 34-33 lead with 1:14 on the clock.
That proved to be too much time, as Titan quarterback Luke Lehmen had completions of 17 and 16 yards, plus a 10-yard penalty for a first down at the C-M 27. After two incompletions, Lehmen hit Adam Holm on a skinny post for the touchdown with 22.4 left. Titans also failed a try for two.
“I kept telling the players that it was not over,” Konecki said. “We kept our composure and ran a typical deep route.”
Down 39-34, the Warriors took over on the Titan 45. Rudolph then maneuvered in the pocket as Safo and Johnson went deep. Johnson sped past the defenders, and Rudolph lofted a strike to the senior receiver with 12.6 remaining.
“I had some great blocking, and I was able to move up,” Rudolph said. “Then I saw Ricky and fired it up to him.”
Johnson did the rest.
“We had our back against the wall,” Johnson said. “I was able to use my speed to run past the defenders. I knew that I would catch the ball.”
Still 12 seconds remained. After a short kick return, the Titans completed a short sideline pass. With seven-tenths left, Lehmen scrambled against a prevent defense. Ray Arebalo and Terry Elias cornered him and tackled him to end matters.
For most of the second half, the Warriors were not able to move the ball. The first five possessions of the final 24 minutes ended in four punts and a stop on fourth down. Safo had a 77-yard TD nullified by penalty early in the fourth quarter.
Up 33-21, the Titans were marching midway in the fourth quarter and faced with a third-and-2 at the C-M 47. Trying for the dagger, the Titans were burned. Jamal Seymore intercepted a Lehmen aerial for the second time.
“We were looking for another run,” Seymore said. “When I saw the tight end going out, I stayed with him and grabbed the ball.
After the interception, the Warriors were 80 yards from the goal line. They had just six minutes left, and they were struggling on offense.
“We had to make some adjustments,” two-way lineman Dakota Fugate said. “We had to get our groove back.”
On third down, Banks connected with Johnson for a 49-yard gain. Johnson had eight catches for 237 yards, which is a record of receiving yardage in a 6A playoff game. Banks was 10-of-18 for 214 yards.
Venerable (79 yards, 13 carries) combined for 13 yards on two carries for a first down at the 12. Rudolph (137 yards, 10 totes) then plowed up the middle for a 7-yard score. Grace Miller (4 of 4) drilled the extra point, as the Warriors trailed 33-28 with 4:32 remaining.
While things were bleak in the second half, the end of the first quarter could have pushed the Warriors (8-3) out of the game.
Midway, through the first period, Willie Evans forced a fumble, and Fugate recovered at the C-M 10. Two plays later, Rudolph evaded two tacklers and then, along the sideline, Safo and Banks sealed off the Titans’ downfall. Rudolph then had a free lane for an 86-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
The Titans scored three times in just over three minutes. Lehmen hit Jason Hansbrough with a 43-yard scoring hit. Recovering an onside kick and a lost fumble, the Titans added two more six-pointers for a 21-7 advantage, with 20.7 left in the opening period.
“When we saw the films on their two wins, they were running the ball, but they were passing today,” said defensive lineman Dalen Brown, who had a screen pass interception in the second half. “We had to make some changes. We looked more for the pass.”
The Warriors again used the quick score. Banks hit Johnson on a screen play, and he followed his blocking before breaking free. In all, Johnson scooted 79 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-14 two seconds prior to the end of the first quarter.
Crete-Monee had the lone tally of the second period on a long 84-yard drive. After catching a pass for 8 yards, Venerable exploded up the middle for 35. Banks added 21 on a run. Venerable then went up the gut for a 10-yard score. It was 21-21 at intermission.
With all the offensive fireworks, it should not be lost that the Warriors stopped all three conversions in the second half. Jeremy Sellers and Deion Harry each blocked a kick, and Crete-Monee halted the Titan try for two.
“They had a two-score lead on us in the second half, so those two blocked extra points at the end of the day were huge,” Konecki said. “It was a one-point game.”
Washington (11-0) also needed late heroics to advance. With time expired, Washington quarterback Caleb Fishers overthrew his target, but instead hit Sam Walter for a 20-yard TD pass to edge Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, 23-21.
For the Warriors, it is their fifth trip to the quarterfinals since 2009.