Sycamore could have tied the game against Kaneland on Friday in the final minute. Instead, the Spartans went for two, made it and won by a point.
NIU could have pulled to within eight points of Toledo on Saturday in the final 10 minutes. Instead the Huskies went for the two-point conversion they’d need eventually anyway, missed it to fall behind by nine and lost by two.
Even with drastically different results, each play shows why the bold call is the right call.
It’s easy to defend a call that works, so let’s start with that one. Sycamore led Kaneland 14-7 at halftime, but the offense stalled, and the Spartans trailed 21-14 in the final seven minutes of the game. They had only two drives in the second half, both three-and-outs, but marched down the field for a touchdown with 59 seconds left.
After the extra-point unit initially came onto the field, coach Joe Ryan called timeout. He decided he wanted to go for two. The Spartans and their normally efficient run game headed out onto the field. Quarterback Burke Gautcher faked a handoff and threw it to a wide-open Joey Culotta.
It may have cost a cancer charity a couple of dollars (kicker Thatcher Friedrichs is doing a fundraiser in which donors give money for every made kick this year), but it gave his team a win as the defense held on in the final Kaneland drive.
It’s not hard to defend this, especially because the conversion worked. Gautcher was hurt earlier in the game and missed a couple of series – although he led the winning drive and sealed the win with an interception. Sycamore has a brutally efficient running attack, so getting 2 yards isn’t exactly something it doesn’t do with regularity. And most importantly, the Kaneland offense is explosive and scary. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to face them in an overtime.
But what about the NIU conversion attempt? It failed in a game the Huskies ended up losing by two points. It’s still not hard to defend this‚ even if the conversion didn’t work.
Toledo scored in the fourth quarter to take a 35-20 lead. When you’re a math genius like me, you realize the Huskies need two touchdowns, with one 2-point conversion, to tie the game.
So 2 minutes after Toledo scored, NIU and its suddenly resurgent offense scored. Coach Thomas Hammock decided to go for the two-point conversion right then instead of waiting until later in the game.
You’d think he decided to shoot a puppy given the response from certain corners of social media, and more distressingly, the ESPNU broadcast booth. The broadcast team decided to blame the analytics boogeyman for Hammock’s decision.
In reality, one of the reasons for going for it is the same reason why in overtime teams opt to go second. They want to know what they need to do to win the game. After the conversion failed, the Huskies trialed 35-26. They knew they needed two more scores. You don’t blame analytics for teams deferring in the overtime, it would just sound stupid. And yet here we are.
Apparently, people who disliked the call assume NIU would have made the conversion after they scored with 2:24 left. But why would you assume that? They missed it. Not to mention, isn’t it just as plausible to think the defense was extra fired up on the confidence Hammock showed in them, trusting them to make the stops the Huskies needed to win.
Guess what? The defense made those stops. Three of them, to be exact. They gave the offense the chance to win. And NIU got to within about 15 yards of attempting the winning field goal.
The other advantage of going for two there is it creates the option to win the game with another two-point conversion. If the Huskies converted, they are now down seven. If they drive down the field and score as they did in the real game, in the hypothetical game they could go for two and the 36-35 win. Not that Hammock would have, even though he’s done it before, most notably in the 2021 win at Georgia Tech that pretty much set the tone for the MAC title run that year.
In that hypothetical situation, going for two and the win would have been the right call. Trusting your team to make plays to win games is always the right call.
• Eddie Carifio is the Daily Chronicle sports editor. Write to him at email@example.com.