SKOKIE — Niles North senior quarterback Tony Granato knew the exact year the Vikings football team last finished the regular season with a winning record.
It was in 2008, and Granato’s brother, Michael Granato, was a junior on that Vikings team. But 5-4 wasn’t good enough to earn the team a trip to the playoffs that season.
The last time Niles North played a postseason game was in 1992. If playoff predictions are to be believed, this year’s 5-4 Vikings are heading for a 10th game after beating Deerfield 56-49 Friday in a must-win game for both Central Suburban North clubs.
As with the rest of the state’s 5-4 teams, Niles North (3-2 conference) will find out for sure when the IHSA releases the brackets Saturday night.
“It’s surreal,” Tony Granato said. “My brother came close that one year. This is unbelievable.”
Losers of two in a row coming into Friday, Niles North’s chances of extending its season looked grim midway through the third quarter. Deerfield had just scored a touchdown on its seventh consecutive offensive series and led the Vikings 49-35.
After Niles North got within seven with 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the third quarter, the Vikings forced Deerfield into a three-and-out and its first punt.
“All we needed was one,” Granato said.
Granato wasted little time by throwing a 47-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Craig Dawkins to tie it up at 49-all with 1:14 left in the third. Niles North’s defense held once again, taking the ball back with a turnover on downs.
“Our offense was scoring, but we had to give them the ball,” senior linebacker Daniel Monyongo said. “We had to come up big for them.”
This time, Niles North turned to junior running back Barrington Wade. He carried the ball seven times on the next possession and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 2:58 to go. It was Niles North’s first lead since a 7-0 advantage early in the first quarter.
Monyongo secured the win by recovering a fumble in Niles North’s territory on Deerfield’s next possession.
“We didn’t change too much,” Niles North coach Mark Egofske said of the team’s defensive schemes. “I know coaches say it all the time, but the kids played harder and smarter. They really just never gave up.”
Granato went 22-for-25 and passed for a career-high 365 yards. He threw two touchdowns and no interceptions. Senior receiver Yomade Adefeso caught 10 balls for 165 yards and a score. On the ground, Wade led the way, finishing with 151 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries.
Monyongo said he and Granato had talked about helping the varsity back to the playoffs ever since they arrived at Niles North in 2011. In middle school, both were teammates on the Junior Vikings, a program that Monyongo said ended a long playoff drought of its own in 2010.
“We’ve told ourselves we wanted to be the first group of seniors to get Niles North to the playoffs in 20 something years,” Monyongo said. “I can’t really tell you what it means to us. This is something we’ve always wanted.”
• The Warriors (4-5, 3-2) entered Friday’s game on a three-game winning streak, and they looked in control going into intermission up 42-28. But they saw their season end with the loss. The last time Deerfield qualified for the postseason was in 2011.
• Junior running back Johnny Fisher ran 39 times for 356 yards and scored four touchdowns. Deerfield junior quarterback Anthony Ranallo didn’t throw his first pass until the 1:15 mark of the second quarter.
• After averaging 17.8 points a game and starting 1-4, the Warriors averaged 46.7 points to close out the season 3-1.