Matt Kuczaj, Wheaton North stun Geneva with late 64-yard TD, give head coach 100th career win

Wheaton North’s Tyler O'connor (10) is greeted in the end zone by Jackson Angelo (56) after scoring a touchdown against Geneva during a football game at Geneva High School on Friday, Oct 14, 2022.

GENEVA – Shouts of “Hollywood Kuc” echoed in the background while Matt Kuczaj soaked in the postgame moment.

Kuczaj, Wheaton North’s junior wideout/defensive back, earned that label after his two-way performance helped stun Geneva 20-13 on Oct. 14.

Wheaton North, which led 12-6 with 10:14 remaining in the fourth quarter, suddenly needed a huge spark after Geneva senior linebacker Jackson Reyes jumped a route and intercepted Max Howser for a 36-yard return for a touchdown to give Geneva a 13-12 lead.

Howser and Kuczaj had an answer.

At the Falcons’ 36-yard line, Howser found Kuczaj for a 64-yard touchdown pass five plays into the next drive. Howser’s toss to Karsten Libby for the two-point conversion was successful for a 20-13 advantage with 5:06 remaining.

Wheaton North’s Matt Kuczaj (16) drops back in coverage during a football game against Geneva at Geneva High School on Friday, Oct 14, 2022.

“I saw the defensive back,” Kuczaj said. “He was outside leverage and he’s playing kind of off. … I was the single receiver on that side, so I knew it was one on one and I knew it was [going] to me. … It was an out and up. I showed [Howser] my eyes and went up the field and I got it.”

Kuczaj had one more impact play to make to ensure the Falcons (7-1, 5-1 DuKane Conference) gave coach Joe Wardynski his 100th career coaching victory.

Geneva (5-3, 3-3) marched down the field, highlighted by Talyn Taylor’s 35-yard gain to push into Falcons territory. After a Nate Stempowski rush and a flag for a late defensive hit, the Vikings set up shop at the 9 yard-line.

After a small Stempowski gain and two incompletions, the Vikings faced fourth-and-goal.

Stempowski was flushed from the pocket and ran right, directing traffic. Anthony Pantano was briefly open in the far corner, but Kuczaj cut underneath and artfully tipped the ball away with his left hand for a turnover on downs.

“Last week, we didn’t do a very good job of sticking to routes when the quarterback gets out of the pocket,” Kuczaj said. “There was a receiver coming down. He was right on the goal line. There was [another] over the top of me. I knew it was fourth down, so I didn’t want to risk getting a pick [because] maybe he could fight and get it. So I just slapped it out of bounds.”

Wheaton North’s Tyler O'connor (10) carries the ball against Geneva during a football game at Geneva High School on Friday, Oct 14, 2022.

“He’s very capable [of big plays],” Wardynski said of Kuczaj. “He’s playing a good corner for us as well. We put him on top of [Taylor] all night long, so he was working hard on the defensive side. Then when he had to come out and make a play offensively, he did, so credit to our offensive staff. They put us in a good situation [on Kuczaj’s touchdown] on a vertical route. And the QB [Howser] who just turned one over, went another direction, came out and threw a great ball. I really give them credit for that.”

The Geneva defense forced a three and out to give the offense one more chance, but Tyler O’Connor intercepted Stempowski to seal the win.

Wheaton North led 6-3 at the half. O’Connor had a 1-yard touchdown with 6:20 remaining in the second quarter, but the extra-point attempt was no good. Geneva got a field goal from JT Frieders before the end of the half.

Geneva’s Nate Stempowski (3) drops back in the pocket during a football game against Wheaton North at Geneva High School on Friday, Oct 14, 2022.

O’Connor (100 rushing yards, two touchdowns) again found the end zone with 1:13 remaining in the third quarter on an electric 48-yard touchdown to make it 12-3 Falcons. The extra-point attempt again was no good.

Geneva’s ensuing possession ended in another Frieders field goal to make it 12-6 before the exciting finish.

Stempowski finished 7 of 19 for 104 passing yards. He had 60 rushing yards.

Howser was 9 of 15 passing for 127 yards for the Falcons.

“[Reyes is] a senior making a play on a night that recognizes our seniors” Geneva coach Boone Thorgesen said. “That was huge. The momentum was there for us and I wish we just could’ve closed it out and we had our opportunities and credit to Wheaton North, they made plays when they had to.”