Taft did a good job of limiting Palatine running back Dominik Ball in the first half. But with the game on the line, the talented sophomore rose to the occasion.
Ball’s 68-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter was the game-changing moment in the Pirates’ 35-17 victory at Taft in the first round of the Class 8A state playoffs Saturday.
Ball had 170 yards on 18 carries but only 41 at halftime.
“We started off really good, and then we got a little sloppy,” Ball said. “[In the second half], we got it all together, and the line started blocking. If the line is blocking, I can run.”
Ball’s long touchdown run put Palatine (7-3) ahead 28-17. Senior Kam Lewis grabbed an interception and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown with 6:57 to play. That sealed the win for the Pirates.
“I knew I had to break on the ball when the quarterback threw it,” Lewis said. “I just made a play on it and took it back.”
Palatine dominated early, leading 14-0 after a short touchdown run by Bobby Widlowski and a 66-yard touchdown pass from Grant Dersnah to Thomas Coroneos.
Taft battled back in the second quarter. Jacob DeJesus scored on a one-yard run, and junior quarterback Barah Abad connected with Steven Tantchev on a four-yard touchdown pass to tie the score.
The Eagles (7-3) took the lead midway through the third quarter on a 37-yard field goal by Nick Moleda. But that was as good as it would get for Taft. Ball took over.
“I just wanted to win,” Ball said. “I want to have another game. I want . . . the seniors to have more games.”
Unlike Palatine, Taft had several key players playing on both sides of the ball.
“That definitely played a role,” Taft coach Zach Elder said. “It’s one of those things where they make an adjustment, and it’s hard for us to adjust to it. I can’t tell my defensive tackle what to do because he’s on the field playing guard.”
Dersnah was 6-for-9 for 96 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. Tyron Lucket, who picked up some key first downs in the fourth quarter, had eight carries for 55 yards for the Pirates.
Palatine takes advantage of some good field position and scores on its first drive. Bobby Widlowski with a 6-yard TD run. Pirates lead Taft 7-0 pic.twitter.com/hsYFGPx6VJ— Michael O'Brien (@michaelsobrien) October 30, 2021
Linebacker/running back Ryan Porebski had 53 yards on nine carries for Taft, and Abad was 20-for-36 with one touchdown pass and two interceptions. Abad also had 12 carries for 50 yards.
“The second quarter, [Taft] really brought it to us with the running game,” Lewis said. “[Porebski] was running through us. Then we stepped up in the second half and stopped them in every aspect of their offense.”
Palatine will host Neuqua Valley in the second round next week. Taft will continue in the Public League playoffs.
“We were down 14-0, and the guys fought back and got the lead,” Elder said. “There’s a lot of good that came out of that game, and I’m proud of the guys.”