By Jim Hagerty
MACHESNEY PARK – The Hononegah Indians capitalized on two fourth-quarter penalties and a costly Harlem mistake to squeak past the Huskies 33-30 in NIC-10 Conference football here Friday.
The Indians struck first on a 16-yard touchdown run by Christian Gomez early in the first quarter. Lucas Hale scored the two-point conversion to give Hononegah the 8-0 lead.
A 13-yard pass from James Cooper Jr. to Brandt Hixson was Harlem’s answer. The two-point conversion made it 8-8 until late in the third quarter. That’s when Gomez ripped off a 59-yard touchdown run and sophomore Bryce Goodwine’s PAT put the Indians up 15-8.
The Huskies fumbled the ball on their ensuing possession, and Hononegah took over at the Harlem 28-yard line. Two plays later, senior quarterback Payton Mather connected with Braden Sayles to give Hononegah a 22-8 lead and the crowd a hint of a second-half rout.
Harlem quelled the Hononegah momentum and took a 22-16 lead after Cooper found Hixson on a 17-yard touchdown pass and Omarion McFadden added the conversion. The Indians then fumbled the ball away, setting up a 50-yard pass from Cooper to Hixson. Cooper ran it in from the Hononegah 7-yard line on the next play to tie the game. Eric Serrano kicked the PAT to put Harlem up 23-22.
Things got even better for the Huskies in the last seconds of the third quarter when Cooper hit Hixson again, this time on a 35-yard scoring pass that pushed their lead to 30-22 after Serrano’s PAT.
The Indians and Huskies traded scoreless possessions for the most the fourth quarter, and No. 10 Harlem appeared to be in good shape to manage the clock and beat the defending NIC-10 champs.
Then came two Harlem penalties that could haunt the Huskies for the rest of the season.
During a Hononegah drive that started on its own 23, a Gomez run was capped by two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that moved the ball to the Harlem 36. The next series set up a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. A Mather-to-Dylan Collins touchdown and a Mather-to-Sayles conversion knotted the score at 30 with 2:29 left in regulation.
The Huskies still had time to set up a winning score. After converting a first down at midfield, however, they went three and out on the next series, sending Cooper back to punt with 16 seconds to go. The snap sailed over his head and Hononegah took over with six seconds remaining. Goodwine then hit his first career field goal, a 31-yarder, to win the game.
Mather finished the night 7-for-18 with 119 yards and two interceptions in his first varsity start. It was Hononegah’s 20th straight NIC-10 win.
Cooper threw for a school-record 376 yards for Harlem. Hixson’s 17 catches for 249 yards is a new NIC-10 record.
Hononegah hosts Guilford next week. Harlem travels to Jefferson.
Week 1 Scoreboard
Hononegah 33, Harlem 30
Belvidere North 50, East 14
Auburn 45, Guilford 6
Boylan 35, Jefferson 6
Freeport 47, Belvidere 7
Byron 50, Winnebago 3
Stillman Valley 37, Dixon 12
Lutheran 43, Oregon 15
Genoa-Kingston 40, Rock Falls 0
North Boone 19, Mendota 7
Forreston 30, Dakota 12
Durand/Pecatonica 58, Amboy-LaMoille 7
East Dubuque 26, A-FC 0
West Carroll 22, Galena 20
Lena-Winslow 50, E/PC 6
Stockton 26, Milledgeville 8
Rockford Christian 13, Ridgeview 36
Rochelle 35, Pekin 21
Sycamore 24, Washington 0
Polo 54, Schlarman 14