JOLIET - Micah McNair left the field Friday night knowing that, without a doubt, he had just played the best game of his life.
Three interceptions in one night? That was certainly a first for the Joliet West junior linebacker.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had that many in a season before,” McNair said. “Our starting quarterback (Juan Rico) got hurt so our defense had to find a way to score. We had to fight through the adversity.”
McNair’s biggest play on a night when he made many was his 80-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter that gave host Joliet West the lead for good on its way to a 17-10 win over Plainfield North in a Southwest Prairie Conference crossover.
Cade Horvath had another huge interception for Joliet West (3-1), his coming in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Taivaughn Johnson ran for 71 yards on eight carries.
Omar Coleman accounted for all 10 points for Plainfield North (1-3), producing an 85-yard touchdown catch from Lukas Alvarez and booting a 33-yard field goal and an extra point. Robert Tota ran for 61 yards on 19 carries.
The game turned into a battle of attrition, with both teams losing their starting quarterback.
Rico ran for a 20-yard touchdown for Joliet West on the opening drive of the game, but was injured on the second drive and never returned. He was on crutches on the sideline later in the game.
“Juan’s our captain and our leader,” Joliet West coach Dan Tito said. “But what I love is that our entire team, when Juan went down, we still strapped it up and we didn’t let it affect us. We were down at half, down a quarterback and we came back and won. We had backups stepping up. We have kids who just believe.”
McNair gave his Tigers a reason to believe.
He came up with his first interception in the opening quarter. Then, with Plainfield North leading 10-7 and driving near the red zone late in the third quarter, McNair jumped in front of Alvarez’s pass, picked it off and dashed 80 yards the other way for the game-winning touchdown.
“I was running as fast as I could,” McNair said. “I just wanted to score. I wanted to help the team win.
“This feels pretty great. I feel like Tito is building something great. He trusts us and we trust him. He has bonding a lot, in the weight room and anywhere. We have a great bond.”
Tito was blown away by McNair’s performance.
“He’s at another level,” Tito said. “He has that special, extra gear that is just unnatural. He makes plays all over the field. He’s only a junior. Anybody looking for a linebacker in a couple years needs to start looking at him, because he balls out.
“He stepped up in a huge way. We’re lucky to have such a great athlete and a kid with a good head on his shoulders.”
Junior Adrian Ramirez, who stepped in at quarterback after Rico’s injury, hit a 24-yard field goal to stretch the Joliet West lead to 17-10 with 1 minute, 59 seconds to go.
Plainfield North, with backup quarterback Nicholas Darwish in the game for the first time after Alvarez was injured late, drove to the Joliet West 49-yard-line but could get no closer.
Tito said he did not know what Rico’s status will be moving forward.
“We’re not sure right now, but obviously we hope for the best for Juan,” Tito said. “I know that if there’s any way Juan can get on the field, he’s going to do it because he’s that kind of kid.”
Joliet West found a way to get it done without him Friday night.
“I just don’t think you can practice for something like that,” Ramirez said. “It was just a team effort, honestly. It’s a good feeling to be 3-1.”