By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
When you look at the entirety of Rockford Boylan’s 75-game conference win streak, there are so many memorable moments. It was such an impressive streak, it is hard to pick out the best one.
There was the close call against Belvidere North. There was a conference championship week 9 showdown with Machesney Park Harlem, which turned into a rout. There was the back-to-back state championships, which saw them have a total win streak of more than 30 games to go along with their regular-season streak. And, there was the 35-34 comeback victory against Rockton Hononegah last season.
All of that came to an end this past Friday, Sept. 5, as Hononegah returned the favor, coming back from a 27-14 deficit to knock off Boylan 35-34 and end the Titans’ NIC-10 win streak.
“I can’t explain what just happened,” Hononegah star Sam Ballano said after scoring all of his team’s points in the win. “This is what we work for every year, to come and end the streak. It’s going to go down in the books, and I’m glad we were the team to do it.”
It was an amazing back-and-forth game, one that was just as good as last year’s thriller, and worthy of being a streak-ender.
It started with Boylan’s star quarterback, Demry Croft, throwing a 78-yard touchdown pass. Ballano scored his first two touchdowns next to put Hononegah up 14-6. Croft struck again, and two Hononegah turnovers to open the second half, including a 56-yard interception return by Sam McGuire, had Boylan up 27-13. Ballano scored two more touchdowns, which set the stage for the amazing end.
After Ballano’s fourth touchdown, Boylan blocked the extra-point attempt, keeping the game tied at 27. Croft then orchestrated a Boylan touchdown drive, running it in from 11 yards out to help give his team a 34-27 lead with just more than 3 minutes left.
This got dicey for Hononegah in spots. A roughing-the-passer penalty saved them from facing a fourth-and-nine. On a fourth-and-10 from the Boylan 28, quarterback Daytona Chandler found a receiver for a 21-yard gain.
Three plays later, Ballano scored his fifth touchdown. Hononegah called a timeout. After the timeout, they came out to go for two, which Ballano punched in, to give his team the 35-34 lead.
“We felt we’re either going to win or we’re going to lose, and we’re going to go for it,” Hononegah coach Tim Sughroue said.
Boylan was able to work the ball to the Hononegah 48-yard-line, where they were able to attempt a last-second hail mary. The pass attempt came up short, however, and the game was over.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t care if we won or lost,” Boylan Head Coach John Cacciatore said. “But we did go down fighting.”
This is a new feeling for Boylan. It is a new coaching staff, most of which was likely not around for the last NIC-10 loss by the Titans. And some of the players may have been 8 years old when Harlem knocked them off for their last loss. There are a lot of unknowns for the Titans, and they are eager to find out how they will react.
“In recent history, if we lost a game, it has been to end our season,” Cacciatore said, referencing losses in the playoffs. “To our kids, it has to be that this does not end the season. It could. We could throw this in the tank really fast. But the kids have to get ready. Boylan, how do they play coming off a loss? We haven’t had a chance to do that.”
For Hononegah, it was a monumental win. For much of the Titans’ decade of dominance, they have been the second-best team. They have had several close calls and blown leads with Boylan.
Sughroue was quick to point out the reason the win was big. That is because Boylan has been so good for so long.
“I think the fact that we won and it’s such a big deal is more of a credit to Boylan than anything else,” he said. “It’s a credit to the program they have had for the last 10 years. The reason why it means so much is it is such a quality opponent.”
From the Sept. 10-16, 2014, issue