West Aurora served notice on the game’s opening play that it was ready to earn a long-awaited victory.
But the Blackhawks weren’t able to exhale until the game’s final play, when they celebrated a 34-28 triumph over Bartlett. The win was the first for West Aurora since rejoining the Upstate Eight Valley this season, and a 12-game losing streak came to an end.
“We got healthy this week, getting Drake (Spears) back,” West Aurora coach Nate Eimer said. “And we had the best two practices of the year this week.”
The game came down to the final possession, with the Hawks (2-3, 1-2) getting the ball back with a minute left and no timeouts remaining. Brenner Wallace completed five passes, but Brandon Gates was tackled at the Blackhawk 18 after the horn.
Spears, a 6-2, 202-pound junior, was huge with two big plays for West Aurora (1-4, 1-2). His 74-yard run featured a stiff-arm on the Bartlett safety and put the Blackhawks up 14-0 only 3:51 into the game. On the last play of the third quarter, Spears streaked 44 yards to give West Aurora the lead for good at 28-21.
“The line got a great push and T.J. (Tarshma Jackson) got a lead block, and I saw a guy and had to get away from him,” said Spears of his first scoring run and stiff-arm. “The second run was the same play. I give all the credit to my O-line and T.J.”
The Blackhawks scored on the opening kickoff, a 93-yard return by DaQuan Cross. But after Spears put West up two scores, the Hawks awakened quickly.
Wallace scored on a 4-yard sneak as Bartlett got its running game going. Then Nolan Bernat (82 yards, 16 carries) tied the game on a 17-yard run early in the second quarter. Bartlett was driving for another score before halftime, but Davion Cross intercepted Jordan Flint at the West 1 to prevent a score.
“We knew they were going to come out fighting,” Bartlett coach Tom Meaney said. “We just have to come out ready to play in the future.”
Bernat scored again from the Blackhawk 1 on the opening possession of the third quarter to put the Hawks up 21-14. But West Aurora countered on a 1-yard run by Johnathan Doyle before Spears’ run gave West the lead.
Jackson handed the Blackhawks a 34-21 lead with a 2-yard scoring run, set up by an Anthony Phu recovery of a muffed punt. Wallace hit Bryce Petty (four receptions, 74 yards) with a 52-yard scoring strike to bring the Hawks close.
“We came out strong, and the captains told the team not to let up, to keep fighting,” Jackson said.
Blackhawk quarterback Doyle was perfect, completing all 10 of his passes for 112 yards. Philip Mallory caught nine passes for 85 yards.