BUFFALO GROVE — When Buffalo Grove’s football team fell behind Conant by four touchdowns in the first half of its Week 3 home opener, the Bison could have folded and called it a night.
What ensued, however, was more like something out of one of Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” movies, with Buffalo Grove coming back to lead before losing 35-31. Trailing 28-0 at intermission, the Bison began a furious rally.
“In all my years of coaching, I’ve only seen something like that maybe one other time,” Buffalo Grove coach Mike DiMatteo said. “There was a game once when I was coaching at Hinsdale Central, and we were down 42-21 to Lyons Township — then came back.”
Second-half touchdown runs of 36 and 46 yards by Bison senior running back Dan Levato, along with a 2-yard touchdown by Marlo Johnson, turned the game upside-down. Suddenly, Buffalo Grove trailed Conant by just six, 28-22.
“When we came out of the locker room after falling behind by that much, we were determined as a team to give a better effort,” Levato said. “You could tell no one on our entire sideline had given up. Last year [when the Bison finished 2-7], a comeback like that doesn’t happen. Period.”
With just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Conant was pinned deep in its own territory and decided to take a safety to gain field position, cutting its lead to 28-24.
Buffalo Grove scored again with a speedy six-play, 57-yard drive engineered by quarterback Trey Cervantes. Senior wide receiver Mike Kleczynski caught two of those passes for 32 yards. The Bison fans erupted, as their team led 31-28 with about a minute remaining.
“I can’t even explain how we came back, other than to say we just flipped a switch,” Kleczynski said. “All of us. Before we knew it, it was mayhem. You could actually feel the noise from our fans.”
The fairy-tale ending came to a screeching halt, though. Conant quarterback Kevin Smith scored the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line with just 1.1 seconds left.
Rather than being devastated, the Bison took a positive approach the following morning when asked about the see-saw MSL crossover loss.
“This is the kind of experience our kids can use to draw from later in the season when we face adversity,” DiMatteo said. “No one likes to lose, or take moral victories, but there’s no doubt this gives us confidence. Our kids feel like they can play with any team right now because of this game, and how we’ve responded these first three weeks.
“Our coaching staff and I have talked about how there are no star players on our roster. We have a ton of ‘7s’ but not one ‘10.’ When you have that, where kids are buying into what we’re doing, we feel we can be a dangerous football team.”
DiMatteo first saw signs of his club’s resilience during the offseason.
“We were playing Huntley this summer during 7-on-7s,” DiMatteo said. “They’d beaten the crap out of us two previous games before that. The third time, we lost to them with one play to go, and could’ve won. When we fell behind against Conant, we discussed that Huntley experience on the sideline.
“Our players are all heart. They’re kids who want to learn and grow as players and individuals. Hopefully some of that rubs off when we face Fremd this week. They’re a big school, but one thing I’m confident in at this point is our guys won’t back down from anyone.”
An earlier version of this story included an incorrect final score for Conant’s 35-31 win over Buffalo Grove.