By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The whites on his jersey numbers were almost gone. Stillman Valley’s All-State running back Zac Hare had been stopped on the three previous plays at the goal line, but if the Cardinals were going to go down, they were going to do it swinging with their biggest weapon.
On fourth and goal from the 1, Hare snuck in for his third touchdown of the day, tying the IHSA Class 3A state championship game against St. Joseph-Ogden, sending the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, Hare put in his fourth touchdown and converted a 2-point try, leading Stillman Valley a 43-41 victory and their fifth championship in school history.
“The push our offensive line can get on a defensive line is great, and that comes down to us to pound it in there,” Hare said.
That is exactly what happened, as Hare ran for 174 yards to go with his four touchdowns. In all, the Cardinals ran for 308 yards, sticking with their bread and butter on the way to a championship.
The game didn’t end with Hare’s touchdown and conversion, however. The Cardinals had the ball first in overtime, meaning the Spartans had a chance to respond.
They did just that, recovering from a block-in-the-back penalty to get a 5-yard touchdown run from Connor Janes. But when they attempted a pass for a 2-point conversion, Eddie Torrance and Logan Alberts combined to sack quarterback Dalton Walsh, the only Stillman Valley sack of the game, sealing the victory.
“Their offensive line is very good and didn’t let us through much,” Alberts said. “On the last play, I just saw a gap and tried to shoot it as fast as I could.”
It was the end of an unbelievable football game, one worthy of a championship. Both teams only punted twice during the game, and there were no turnovers by either team.
While the defenses didn’t play its best, the offenses matched score for score. While the Cardinals grinded the game out, Walsh threw for 259 yards and three touchdowns.
Both teams blew leads before the teams traded touchdowns through the fourth quarter, ending with Hare’s touchdown with 1:19 left in regulation.
“What an incredible high school football game,” Cardinals Head Coach Mike Lalor said. “It was back and forth, and their kids never gave up. We made a few more plays at the end to get things done. But this is what a state championship game should be.”
It was the end of an incredible run for the Cardinals in earning their fifth championship. Stillman Valley finished third in the Big Northern West, losing the last two weeks of the regular season to Rockford Lutheran and Winnebago.
They were able to avenge their loss to Winnebago during the playoffs, and knocked off the defending champions on the way to the title. Lalor said he does not like to compare the five championships, as they are all special. But he did say the run this team went on was quite impressive.
“What stands out about this one is, when you lose week 8 and 9, and I don’t care how close the games were, it is highly unlikely that you will come back and make a title run like this,” he said. “It’s more than just the physical stuff. Mentally, to be able to pull things back together and to play some great teams in this run, that is what is going to be special about this one.”
From the Dec. 4-10, 2013, issue