It’s hard to blame Wheaton Warrenville South quarterback Josh Prueter for having his doubts about a comeback Friday night.
With Lincoln-Way North holding a 10–7 lead and the ball with 1:32 remaining, a first-round playoff exit appeared a foregone conclusion for the Tigers.
That wasn’t the case.
WW South’s Eric Lipinsky recovered a fumble and the Tigers marched 63 yards before Ben Flores sent the game into overtime with a 28-yard field goal as time expired. Prueter then hit Keishawn Watson for a 9-yard touchdown in overtime as the Tigers defeated Lincoln-Way North 17–10 in the first round of the Class 7A playoffs.
“Anytime you can get Keishawn 1-on-1 with a corner, it’s a good matchup,” Prueter said of the Western Michigan recruit. “He’s a beast.”
North (8–2) had a chance to send the game into double overtime, but a fourth-down pass from Ryan Arthur fell incomplete in the end zone.
For North, it all went back to its fumble on first down when it could have ran out the clock in the victory formation.
“The plan was to kneel it,” North coach George Czart said. “Then there was chaos and miscommunication. We should have been kneeling it. Half the team was yelling to kneel it and the call just didn’t get in.”
With 86 seconds and no timeouts, WW South (6–4) recorded four of its 13 first downs on the game-tying drive to reach overtime. Prueter clocked the ball with 1 second left to set up the field goal.
“Give them credit; they got the drive done when they needed to,” Czart said. “They got out of bounds when they needed to.”
“Our quarterback did a great job,” WW South coach Ron Muhitch said. “We’ve struggled in the passing game all year. Just a great job of getting us down here to get the tie.”
WW South trailed 10–0 late in the third quarter after North’s Joe Metzger hauled in a 3-yard TD from Arthur. The Tigers responded on their next possession with a 10-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 2-yard TD run from Prueter.
Prueter finished 9-for-13 for 105 yards. Watson snagged seven of those completions for 73 yards.
Inclement weather and rugged defense held both teams to two combined first downs during the first half. North’s Denis Moore was an animal, getting in on six tackles for loss.
The Wheaton South defense held North’s standout running back Jaylin Branch in check for the majority of the game. Branch broke a 51-yard run the play before the fumble in what looked to be the clincher. He finished with 99 yards on 18 carries.
“I worried all week,” Muhitch said. “I thought this was a great matchup — a tough game — and it turned out to be that.”