RIVER GROVE – The Sycamore defense forced a Fenwick fumble down a score in the third quarter, giving the Spartans a chance to tie their Class 5A semifinal against Fenwick.
But for the first time in the game, the Spartans went three-and-out on offense, then the Friars mounted a drive that ate up more than 9 minutes and ended in a field goal, padding the lead in a 17-6 win, which sent Fenwick into the state championship game for the first time.
“We’re driving down the field and I’m like ‘man, it’s like I’ve been out here for two hours,’ ” Fenwick center and Purdue commit Jimmy Liston said. “I just kept pushing through and we wanted that end goal of that fifth week, and we kept pushing through and achieved that goal. Now we need to win that fifth week.”
The win puts the Friars into the state championship game for the first time. They will face Morton at 10 a.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, and coach Matt Battaglia said the long drive helped seal the deal.
“That made it a two-possession game and really, really difficult for anything bad to happen to us,” Battaglia said.
Sycamore trailed 14-6 with the Friars (11-2) driving. Quarterback Kaden Cobb found Bryan Hunt, his favorite receiver on Saturday, for a short pass over the middle. But he fumbled and Dawson Alexander scooped it up for the Spartans (9-4).
On a third-and-12 on the ensuing drive, quarterback Eli Meier hit Kayden Galto on a screen, but Galto couldn’t haul it in and the Spartans had to punt.
“We had a chance at a screen that just didn’t go our way,” Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said. “It looked like there was a seam. But you’ve got to make plays and they made a few.”
That’s when the long drive that sealed the game for the Friars began. During one stretch there were five penalties in a six-play span. A chop block pushed took a first down away from the Friars and set up a third-and-11, but on the next play a pass interference turned it into a third-and-1.
Iain Ramage came on to kick a 31-yard field goal, nailing it with 3:45 left in the game on a drive that started in the third quarter.
“Five penalties, kept stopping the clock, it sucked,” Cobb said. “But we’ve got the guys. When we do our jobs and do it right great things happen. And it showed on that drive.”
The Friars jumped out to an early 14-0 lead behind a pair of big plays in the second quarter. Cobb hit Max Reese on a 50-yard bomb to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Danny Kent, then Cobb found Hunt for a 38-yard score.
Sycamore had a golden opportunity to add a score before the halftime break, but a second-and-goal at the 5 turned into a fourth-and-goal at the 21 after Suleiman Abusqel had back-to-back sacks. He had four in the game and has 14 on the year.
“They love to run the ball but when they were in a passing situation they couldn’t get time to get back there and pass,” Battaglia said. “We knew we had them where we wanted them. Suleiman Abuaqel, all year he’s been coming along and he saved his best football for the last couple weeks.”
The Spartans got on the board in the third when Meier ran 4 yards for a score, set up by back-to-back 20-yard runs by Meier and Nathaniel Altepeter.
Sam Carlson led the Spartans with 46 rushing yards and Carlson added 43. Altepeter also had two catches for 55 yards.
Cobb threw for 254 yards, while Kent ran 22 times for 66 yards. Hunt had six catches for 83 yards and Reese had six for 82.
“We got everything out of our kids we could have,” Ryan said. “They gave us everything they could. There’s no one walking off this field going ‘I wish I could have played a little bit better or gave a little bit better effort.’ That wasn’t the case, great effort. We were a little outmanned up front and our kids kept battling. Probably a little outmanned with their receivers against our DBs and our kids just kept battling.”
Carlson agreed with Ryan, saying the Spartans left everything on the field. He also said it was a solid season in which the team peaked at the right time. Sycamore was coming off back-to-back shutouts in its last two games.
“We’re so proud of ourselves,” Carlson said. “Last week of the regular season, we lost to Morris. We knew we had to do some big things and build our team back together cause we know we lost a little bit there. But we pulled it all together and made the semifinals. There’s so much to be proud of.”
Although the sting of loss was fresh, Ryan said it will definitely be remembered as a special year once the dust settles.
“I’m not sure a lot of people thought this group was going to be in the semifinals,” Ryan said. “We got better as the postseason kept going, and that’s a tribute not just to our kids that got better but our show team kids and our second-team kids. They kept working hard to make us better.”