This time, the Huskies got one back.
Jamal Baggett ran in the go-ahead touchdown from 10 yards out with 36 seconds left, Ryan Nelson caught a critical two-point conversion pass and Tom Odell made a game-sealing interception as Oak Park-River Forest (4-2) avenged 2011’s last-second defeat with a one-point, 35-34 win over Lyons Township (2-4).
The Huskies trailed by 12 points with just over nine minutes left in the game when they launched a nine-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a 47-yard completion from quarterback Lloyd Yates to Odell and capped with a 2-yard touchdown sneak from Yates.
Then the OPRF defense came up huge with a vicious Sedrick McDonald sack of Lyons Township quarterback Zachary Mahoney, forcing the Lions’ first punt of the night and putting the ball back in Yates’ hands to engineer a 10-play, 67-yard game-winning drive.
“I saw something in our team that we’ve been looking for,” Huskies head coach Tom Hoerster said in a voice hoarse from joyful yelling. “They had no quit in them. They got down to a really good football team and they could have easily felt sorry for themselves but instead they warriored through. They always believed that they could pull it out.”
The junior Baggett and senior Jakari Cammon ran for two touchdowns apiece, Baggett for 140 yards on 12 attempts and Cammon for 139 yards on 19 attempts. Quarterback Lloyd Yates was 14-of-20 with two interceptions, and ran for 93 yards on 16 rushes (not counting a negative-20-yard intentional safety at the end of the game.)
Meanwhile, for the Lions, senior Jemari Burks netted 120 yards and three touchdowns on 12 receptions. But more critically, Burks had a jaw-dropping career day as a return man, with kickoff returns of 56, 51 and 65 yards and a 36 yard punt return.
Burks’ returns—plus a Patrick Kelley blocked punt and Dylante Pleasant fumble recovery—ensured that the Lions enjoyed luxurious starting field position the whole game, only once starting inside their own 35. But their first three drives—starting from the OPRF 28, 18 and 20, respectively—netted zero points after two missed field goals and a failed fourth-and-1 attempt.
The teams traded second-quarter touchdowns with matching botched extra point snaps, and Lyons Township added a Jake Elliot field goal to enter the half up 9-6.
Then the scoring broke wide open in the third quarter. The Lions got in the end zone on their very first play from scrimmage as Mahoney hit Burks on a 22-yard seam route to make it 16-6. They then tried a surprise onside kick, but the Huskies pounced on it and went 51 yards on nine plays to answer with a Cammon 6-yard TD run.
LT then took advantage of Burks’ returns to net a 46-yard Elliot field goal and a 12-yard touchdown pass from Mahoney to Burks. Again, the Huskies came right back as Baggett took a handoff up the middle 72 yards and into the end zone.
Elliot, the hero of last year’s game, would hit two more field goals to finish 4-of-6 for the day and make the score 32-20 in favor of LT.
The Lions still had a good chance after dropping that 12-point lead, with 36 seconds left, all three timeouts and starting position on their own 47-yard-line (the Huskies having become loath to kick to Burks.) But on the first play from scrimmage, Mahoney slightly underthrew Burks and Odell made a leaping pick, setting off a wild Huskies celebration.
Oak Park-River Forest took an intentional safety as the clock ran down to seal the win by a single point.
In addition to the game’s only sack, OPRF’s McDonald had nine tackles; Odell added eight tackles to his interception, and also caught six passes for 89 yards on offense.
Lyons senior QB Mahoney, returning from an injury that sidelined him last week, was 21-of-28 for 224 yards, three TDs and one interception. Senior linebacker Billy Cramsie had three solo tackles and nine assists.