ROCKFORD — John Dvorak thought he clinched the game with a late interception, yet four plays later he sat disconsolate on the turf with his head in his hands. An assistant coach had to help him to his feet.
“I was shell-shocked,” Dvorak said.
All of the Friars were after Rockford Boylan returned a punt 90 yards with no time left on the clock and then converted a two-point conversion run to edge Oak Park Fenwick 22-21 in the second round of the Class 7A football playoffs Saturday.
“I’ve been coaching since 1979, and I have never been involved in anything like that. I’ve never lost a game like that before,” Fenwick coach Gene Nudo said.
Nudo said the plan was to punt the ball into the end zone, but the kick didn’t go far enough and Peter Cimino returned it 90 yards. The clock expired as he made his final cut at the 35-yard-line.
“Our intention was never to punt the ball to any of those guys,” Nudo said.
Boylan (11-0) went for two because Boylan coach John Cacciatore said he didn’t want to get into a short-yardage fight with Fenwick’s Robert Spillane, who ran for 118 yards on 23 carries.
“I didn’t like the way big, old No. 7 was running.” Cacciatore said. “I didn’t want to get in a fight with those guys and those meat hooks in a 10-yard game.”
So he put the game in the hands of linebacker Zack Mathews, Boylan’s 6-foot-1, 241-pound short-yardage specialist. Mathews disappeared into a scrum at the 1-yard line, but pushed the pile back until he spilled into the end zone with a half-yard to spare on his only carry of the game.
“You put 1-on-11 on Zack Mathews, I’ll take Zack 10 times out of 10,” Cimino said.
Fenwick (8-3) fell behind Boylan 14-0 in the opening minutes. The Friars were held to minus-7 yards on their first three drives while Boylan scored on its first two. But the two-time defending state champion Titans then gained only five first downs the rest of the game.
“We knew we could make a stand,” Dvorak said. “Our defense has played well all year.”
Fenwick scored three touchdowns in less than five minutes to take the lead in the third quarter. One play after Spillane ran 3 yards on fourth-and-1, Gino Cavalieri threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Donahue. Cimino fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Cavalieri threw a 20-yard TD pass to tight end Ryan Smith on the next play to tie the game. And after partially blocking a Boylan punt, Pat Hart’s 1-yard run capped a 27-yard drive to put the Friars in front 21-14.
And that’s where the Friars stayed until the clock ran out — but Cimino (and Mathews) kept running.
“We played hard to the end; we just came up short,” Dvorak said. “There was nothing else we could do.”