By Matt Nestor
CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill.—As Belvidere North quarterback Tony Tindle crossed the goal line at the end of his 38-yard touchdown run to bring the Blue Thunder within 1 point against the Crystal Lake Prairie Ridge Wolves, coach Curt Tobin knew he had a decision to make.
On the one hand, he could play it safe and kick the extra point, then hope his tired defense could hold on to make it to overtime. Or, he could roll the dice and go for two and see if his upstart program could continue to do the impossible.
“Our defense had given up two pretty quick touchdowns,” Tobin said about the choice. “We were up 14-7, and had a lot of momentum. Our defense was gassed. I felt our chances of winning the game from the 3-yard line with Austin Smaha was better than tying it and seeing what else was out there.”
The gamble didn’t work. Smaha was stopped a yard short, leaving North down 21-20, which led to an eventual 28-20 victory for the Wolves in the IHSA Class 6A quarterfinal game.
“My heart sank (when Tindle scored the touchdown),” Prairie Ridge running back Justin Henderson said. “I thought it might be over, but we never gave up. It’s the best team in our school’s history, and it was a crazy game.”
Crazy doesn’t even begin to describe a game that was filled with a myriad of turnovers for the Wolves and back-breaking penalties for the Blue Thunder. But both teams overcame those difficulties to swing momentum back and forth in the close game.
The Wolves overcame three first-half turnovers to take a 7-0 lead into the half when Henderson scored from 8 yards out. Quarterback Jon Williams also threw an interception on their first possession, and also fumbled in North territory.
But as the Blue Thunder were trying to capitalize on the mistakes, penalties thwarted their drives. No penalty was worse than on a block in the back that negated a 26-yard run by Dylan Roberts that would have put the ball at the Prairie Ridge 4-yard line.
North wasted little time responding in the third quarter. On the first possession of the half, they quickly marched down the field, capped off by a 16-yard scamper by Tindle for a tying touchdown.
After another Williams interception, the Blue Thunder again moved the ball to take the lead, this time on a 15-yard run by Smaha to go up 14-7.
“At halftime, we said we would come out in the second half and grab momentum, and we did, scoring a couple of touchdowns,” Tobin said. “We challenged our kids to come out in the second half, and they did and played very well.”
But as the third quarter ended and the game went into the fourth, you could feel the momentum switching to the home team. Fullback Tim Deering, who led the Wolves with 115 rushing yards, scored from 18 yards out to tie the game.
After stopping the Blue Thunder on their next drive, the Wolves started chewing up yards on the edge with Henderson, who scored the eventual game-winning touchdown from 9 yards out.
“We definitely (had a speed advantage) on the edge,” Henderson said of their late push. “The line and the backs did a great job getting to the corner and on the edge, and I think our speed definitely helped getting it around the edge and opening up holes inside for our big fullback.”
Williams returned an onside kick attempt after the Tindle touchdown 50 yards for a touchdown to close out the scoring. North did drive into Prairie Ridge territory down by 8, but penalties and two sacks ended the final threat.
Tindle played brilliantly in leading the Blue Thunder in the upset. The quarterback threw for 124 yards, and also ran for 158 and two touchdowns. Smaha added 54 yards and a touchdown, while Zackery Stinson ran for 44 yards.
“Tony is a special kid. He makes things happen,” Tobin said. “Like most of our games, it came down right to the end. It just didn’t turn out like we wanted it to.”
But despite the loss, it was a magical run for the Blue Thunder, who made it further than any other NIC-10 school after sneaking into the playoffs.
“We left everything on the field,” Smaha said. “It was a fun game and a fun season.”
From the November 18-24, 2009 issue