WOODSTOCK – An almost completely retooled defense took another big step forward Friday night. And it couldn’t have come in a more clutch situation.
Woodstock juniors Kaden Perkins and Jack Raymond teamed up to create a fumble and recovery in the end zone against Harvard with less than a minute to go, allowing the Blue Streaks to secure a 28-21 victory over the Hornets.
Facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Hornets tried to go into the heart of the offensive line, which had been fairly stout throughout a back-and-forth game. However, Raymond saw the play coming and created a huge fumble just inches from the goal line, a fumble that was secured by Perkins with only 43.1 seconds left.
“I knew exactly that they were going to run over the middle,” Raymond said. “I saw it the play before and had a chance but didn’t take it because I was already going on the blitz. I knew if I lined up in the middle and jumped over the line at that pile and smacked him as he was coming, that it was going to do something.”
The fumble finished what was Harvard’s best drive of the second half, starting at the Hornets’ 27 but ending just shy of a score despite eight plays on a long drive of six yards or more. It was a difficult pill to swallow for coach Sean Saylor, who felt his team rose to the occasion and might have even had a touchdown on the key play.
“Obviously, I have a bad angle from how far away I am supposed to be, but we thought forward progress was stopped and he was over the goal line,” Saylor said. “It would have been a real big win for us, and we believe it should have been.”
That turnover was the last of three second-half fumble recoveries by Woodstock, a huge factor in lifting the Blue Streaks to 2-1 and providing the latest sign of improvement from a defense that returned very few playmakers and starters from last spring.
The Blue Streaks needed a big second half lift from the defense, with what Harvard and fullback Bailey Livdahl were able to do in the first two-and-a-half quarters. Livdahl, who finished with 193 yards on 28 carries, scored two first-half touchdowns as the Hornets took a 21-13 lead.
But after Harvard controlled the clock for almost 16 minutes of the first half and totaled 182 yards of offense with 10 first downs, Woodstock clamped down outside that final long drive.
“Whoever came out the first in the fourth quarter was going to win the game,” Perkins said of halftime. “And that’s what it came down to, because we were toe-to-toe with them the entire game. And that was it.”
The effort from the defense allowed senior quarterback Liam Mickle to find his rhythm and make things happen offensively. After some struggles early and seeing a few of his top targets go down with injuries, Mickle made a huge impact with help from his array of receiving weapons.
Mickle made a cornerback bite hard on a pump fake that became an easy 36-yard touchdown pass to Jonah Habel with 39.5 seconds left in the third quarter. After a two-point run from Adriane Perry, the Blue Streaks tied the game at 21-21.
On the next drive, he found Kaden Hunter for two big plays before finding Kaden Monti for the eventual game-winning 9-yard touchdown pass with 6:03 left.
Mickle, who also rushed for a score in the first half, was 20-of-33 passing for 271 yards and an interception. Monti had five receptions for 72 yards while Hunter had three catches for 63 yards. Jared Kniola had four receptions for 48 yards.
“We have a great receiver group right now,” Woodstock coach Mike Brasile said. “We are about two to three deep at each receiver position that all can go in and play. And Liam does a great job with the offense and makes great decisions. We weren’t able to get the offensive line going and the run game going, so we had to do some things in the pass game. Liam really handled that, and so did the receivers.”