By Matt Nestor
For Elk Grove Village, the opening kickoff set the tone for the entire game. For Harlem, it was the beginning to another disappointing first-round playoff exit.
Junior quarterback Nick Meyer took a reverse handoff on the opening kickoff and emerged from a crowd to race to the end zone. It was an early lead for Elk Grove, and the start of a masterful performance by their all-around star Meyer.
After the opening kickoff return, Meyer followed up with 58 rushing yards, completed 22 of 30 passes for 292 yards and 3 touchdowns, and even found the time to intercept a pass on defense while leading his team to a 28-21 victory in the first round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs.
“He throws the ball with the wind, into the wind on a rope,” Harlem coach Jim Morrow said. “He runs it. They execute well, and that kid is a legit NCAA prospect.”
Harlem didn’t just give up after the opening kickoff, however. They quickly responded with a five-play, 68-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Keenan Kellett to Tyler Cox.
After tying the score at 7, both teams traded punts. But the Huskies were moving the ball better on offense and, after stuffing running back Mike Wary for no gain on a first-down play, momentum clearly seemed to be on Harlem’s side.
That is when Meyer dropped back and tried to hit receiver Joey Bishoff on a quick slant pattern. Harlem defensive back Sterling Hecox arrived at the same time the ball did, and made a massive hit on Bishoff to break up the pass.
Unfortunately for Hecox and the Huskies, that hit popped the ball right into the air, where it fell right into the arms of Matt McEnery in full stride, who took the ball to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.
“They got a lot of lucky plays,” Hecox said. “I tackled that one receiver, and the other receiver caught the ball. That really takes it out of you when you’re coming out here playing like that, and they still score.”
Turnovers on each side kept things even for most of the second quarter. Following an interception of Kellett, Elk Grove marched 92 yards, capped by a 45-yard touchdown to Eddie Stahl, to take a 21-7 lead with 3 minutes left in the half.
But Harlem responded again, first on a 10-yard touchdown by running back Demetris Fambro, and then by recovering an Elk Grove fumble on the ensuing kickoff. But another Kellett interception ended the threat, and left Harlem trailing by 7 at the half.
“We really had some untimely turnovers,” Morrow said. “Things you wish you could take back, but you can’t.”
Harlem briefly tied the game on another touchdown from Fambro, this time from 24 yards out. But Elk Grove again responded with a 14-play, 74-yard drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Meyer to Kyle Pfister.
Harlem had two more opportunities with the ball, but failed to convert on fourth-down plays on each drive and Elk Grove finished out the game at the Harlem goal line.
Elk Grove ended with two touchdowns of 80 yards or longer in the game, plus a 45-yard touchdown. They also survived several turnovers of their own. But Morrow said the Huskies had their chances and wasn’t going to use that as an excuse for his team.
“That’s the way football goes,” he said. “You have to find ways to overcome some things. When things like that happen, you have to make your own things happen. That’s a decent enough football team. Those breaks compounded, and it really made it tough for us.”
Fambro led Harlem with 62 rushing yards and the two touchdowns. Kellett threw for 123 yards and a touchdown, but did have two interceptions and lost a fumble in the game.
“We had to capitalize, and I guess we couldn’t do that,” Harlem running back Jerome Johnson, who ran for 50 yards, said. “They played a great game. We played a good game, but the better team came out on top.”
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From the November 4-10, 2009 issue