Huntley quarterback Sam Deligio scored on a 20-yard run with 1:59 remaining Friday night and headed toward the sideline, where Red Raiders coach Mike Naymola met him and pulled him in tight.
For a moment, it looked like neither was going to let go.
Deligio had experienced the worst day of his life earlier in the week when his mother, Terri, died after a long battle against brain cancer.
That night, Deligio enjoyed the highest of highs as he ran for a career-best 204 yards and two second-half touchdowns, and the Red Raiders defeated Crystal Lake South 27-19 to take a share of the Fox Valley Conference title with Jacobs and Prairie Ridge.
“He was super emotional,” Naymola said. “He’s feeling the wave of the crowd. I was like, ‘Your mom saw that. She’s with you.’ I think he felt that. Just unbelievable grit and resolve.”
The night was charged with emotion as Huntley faculty, students and fans honored late PE teacher and department head Jennifer Hueck, who died a year ago from breast cancer. Pink shirts with Hueck’s name on them were worn by students, faculty and fans. Huntley players had them on under their pads, the pink shirttails hanging out beneath their jerseys.
The community also lost Pete Considine, a parent who was instrumental in the Huntley youth football program, last week.
Deligio appreciated every correspondence he received from teammates last week and was determined not to let them down in their big moment.
“It means the world,” Deligio said. “It proves that she’s watching. They were all like brothers to me, picking me up when I was down. Sending me texts, letting me know they were thinking of me every single day. They were with me through it all.”
Deligio popped off one long run after another Friday.
Naymola said Deligio, who transferred from Jacobs before his junior season, was one of the leaders who helped the Raiders turn around from 3-6 last season to an FVC tri-champion.
“A lot of people doubted him last year,” Naymola said. “He might be the most improved player in the conference from what he was able to accomplish this year from where he was at the end of last year. We’re just super proud of him. He just showed tremendous leadership all offseason.”
FVC foursome: The FVC often sends half of its 10 teams to the playoffs but has only four qualifieers this season with Huntley, Jacobs, Prairie Ridge and Crystal Lake South.
McHenry spoiled Burlington Central’s bid to become the fifth team Friday with a 28-13 victory. The Rockets were 4-4 heading into that game.
In the previous five seasons, there was one year (2018) when only four FVC teams went to the playoffs. And the FVC was at nine members in 2016-18 before Burlington Central joined.
Record setter: Prairie Ridge quarterback Tyler Vasey surpassed Samson Evans’ school rushing record for a season (2,211) on Friday night with his 389-yard performance in Friday’s 56-49 win over Crystal Lake Central.
Vasey now has 2,443 yards for the season and could pass Johnburg’s Alex Peete (2,529 in 2016) for the area season record when the Wolves face Crystal Lake South at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s a good feeling. I’ve seen Samson around, and he’s always excited about other people’s success, just a great person,” Vasey said. “Yes, I’m happy I broke the record, but he was my motivation, he was the best Prairie Ridge football player to come through this program, and it’s easy to recognize that he’s a person you want to be like.”
Evans now plays running back at Eastern Michigan.
Vasey, who is averaging 271.4 yards a game, also could move into the IHSA’s top 20 list for a season on Saturday (Dunbar’s Rocky Harvey is 20th at 2,663). If the Wolves have a long playoff run, Vasey has a shot at 3,000 yards, which could put him in the top six.
2023 preview: Crystal Lake Central finished 2-7 this season, but the Tigers gave Prairie Ridge, the No. 4 team in The Associated Press Class 6A poll, all it wanted Friday when junior Jason Penza returned at quarterback.
Penza suffered a broken bone in the right elbow area in the season opener against Huntley when he and another player slid and he took a helmet to his arm. Penza returned in Week 8 and played wide receiver. On Friday, he was back at quarterback, which was a surprise given his initial prognosis.
If that game was any indication, FVC coaches are going to have problems with Central’s offense next season. The Tigers put up 496 yards of offense, Penza threw for 303 and four touchdowns and ran for two other scores.
George Dimopoulos, Central’s wide receiver who moved to quarterback when Penza went down, caught seven passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns.
“It felt amazing to be back and getting to play with all the seniors one more time,” Penza said. “It was a little nerve-racking because after surgery I wasn’t supposed to be able to play for 12 weeks. But once we got out there all the nerves went away, and it was just about having fun and playing football.
“As an offense I feel we played really well. We were close to fully healthy as a squad with George getting back to playing receiver and Griffin [Buehler] coming back after being out for a couple of weeks. Everything just kind of clicked. It felt like a well-oiled machine, and felt like every time we had the ball, we were going to score.”
Central scored almost one-fourth of its points for the season Friday.
“It was huge for him and George,” Tigers coach Dirk Stanger said. “I was really expecting him to be a little rusty, but he showed no rust at all. We’re excited for next year.”
Strong finish for Warriors: Eli Nothdorf experienced his share of ups and downs in his four varsity seasons at McHenry.
The 6-foot-1, 260-pound center entered the starting lineup in the last game of his freshman season and then had a shortened spring 2021 COVID-19 season.
The Warriors won only one game his junior year, dealt with the uncertainty of an offseason coaching change and then started this season 0-4.
But the ending was upbeat for Nothdorf and the senior class as they capped a 4-1 finish with a 28-13 home victory over Burlington Central. McHenry’s 4-5 finish was the best for the program since 2017.
“It was really cool to see us turn it around this year,” Nothdorf said. “It was cool to see how the seniors really stepped it up this year and the coaches stepped up to keep everyone together. It was a big step up here.”
Joel Beard was hired in January to replace the retiring Barry Burmeister as athletic director and then took over the football program on an interim basis in April.
“He really showed how much he cared from the beginning,” Nothdorf said. “He’d come here at 6:30 a.m. every day from [Loves Park near Rockford]. Last spring he was doing Zoom calls with all the seniors and got to know us.”
McHenry lost its first three games to Fox Valley Conference tri-champs Prairie Ridge, Huntley and Jacobs by a combined 22 points and trailed defending Class 6A state champion Cary-Grove by just six points at halftime in Week 4. Its only other loss was to playoff-bound Crystal Lake South.
“This group was so resilient and they’ve been through a lot,” Beard said. “To play as well as they played this season and do what they’ve done, what I’m going to take away is it was a gutsy effort by every single senior who played [Friday].”
That included standout efforts offensively from quarterback Dom Caruso, receivers Zack Maness and Jacob Zarek, running back Dylan Drumheller and Nothdorf, Caleb Rezmer, Max Smits and John Gacek up front. Linebacker Evan Griffiths also got a chance to run for a touchdown and came up with big plays along with Patrick Ostapowicz, Aiden Derer, Frank Smiesko and Joey Crowley.
“Hopefully this shows the younger kids they can do it and make the playoffs,” Drumheller said.
“I think it shows the younger generation of our team how to win games and how McHenry football really is,” Caruso said. “We changed the culture, and [Beard] changed the culture. He wanted better for all of us. We wanted to win more games, and we ended up on the highest note of all.”
Great run for BC: Burlington Central saw its hopes of its first playoff appearance in eight years end in Friday night’s loss at McHenry, but they view their late-season run to have a postseason shot as only a beginning.
“We’re going to be back,” first-year Central coach Brian Iossi said. “I promise.”
Especially since Central has a core of skill players returning in sophomore quarterback Jackson Alcorn and his top four receivers – juniors Michael Person and Joseph Kowall and sophomores LJ Kerr and Caden West. Person and Kowall caught touchdown passes, and Kerr and West combined for seven catches for 105 yards at McHenry. Juniors Samuel Wirstrom and Trey Pearson started up front Friday.
“People picked us to go 1-8 this year, and we defied all the odds to go 4-5,” Iossi said. “I don’t think anyone saw us having a playoff chance this year. This group took us to a different place, and I’m incredibly proud.”
• Marty Maciaszek and Thom Gippert contributed to this report.