There’s a learning curve for every rebuilding football program, starting with getting into position to win a game, and ending with finishing off the opponent to secure the victory.
So, in retrospect, Grayslake Central High School took an important step Saturday in its 17-16 overtime loss to visiting Danville in a nonconference game.
After starting the season with five double-digit losses in which they never led for a single play, Grayslake put itself in position to win on a day that the team, the school and the community went all in to promote breast cancer awareness.
What the Rams have to do next — and they have three more chances this fall to do it — is to finish like the winners they looked to be for three-plus quarters against Danville.
Still, in the end, it was Danville (1-5) that went home victorious, courtesy of freshman Caleb Griffin’s PAT kick after an overtime TD run by Kaleb McLain, that was followed by Grayslake’s TD and PAT-kick miss (botched snap).
Danville led 3-0 at the half on a 27-yard field goal by Griffin.
But the Rams owned the second half. Led by sophomore fullback Michael Andrews, Grayslake took the second-half kickoff and drove the length of the field to take its first lead of the season, Andrews scored from he 2, and he gained 34 yards rushing and 34 yards receiving on the drive.
Up 7-3, the Rams did even more good things, recovering an onside kick. They drove into field-goal range, but two false-start penalties were drive-killers.
Grayslake then intercepted a pass and Kevin Dunk’s 35-yard field goal with 31 seconds left in the third quarter made it a 10-3 game.
It was almost enough, as the Rams stuffed the Vikings in the Red Zone on fourth down with 7:53 left.
But a short punt put Danville on Grayslake’s 39 and the visitors punched in the equalizer with 3:19 left.
Neither team did anything from there, setting up overtime, in which each team had four downs to score from the 10-yard line.
Danville went first and scored on its second running play. Griffin’s kick made it 17-10.
Grayslake’s Andrews (14 carries, 98 yards) answered that score with two runs, but then disaster struck the Rams.
On Grayslake’s extra-point attempt, players waved to the sideline yelling “One short!” until the Rams ran a blocker on late. The snap got away from the Rams’ holder and rolled off to the side where kicker Dunk was tackled moments after picking it up by Viking junior Andrew Stafford.
“The kids played great We gave ourselves an opportunity,” said Rams first-year coach Jason Schaal. “I thought the defense played phenomenal all game. Offensively, we made some adjustments at halftime. Mikey Andrews did a great job running the ball.
“Unfortunately it comes down to these little things,” he added. “We have to fix these mental mistakes. The physical mistakes happen. That’s part of the game. The mental mistakes are something we have to fix.”
Senior Anthony Fitzgerald QB’d for Grayslake for the second time. Starter Luke Shepherd has been out since Week 4 with a head injury.
“Overall I’m proud of the way they played. They came out with energy and enthusiasm and gave themselves a chance,” Schaal said. “We got to overtime, and had a chance there to send it to double-overtime.”
Danville’s bus ride was 3 hours 40 minutes. “It’s not terrible,” said coac B.J. Luke, “and now it won’t be bad getting on the bus and going home.”