His Lake Zurich football team trailed by 6 points late, and a tie wasn’t sitting well with senior Jerry Bauer.
Specifically, a darn knot was not making a comeback easy.
As the big Bear tried hustling to his defensive position following a Lake Zurich timeout with 1:39 left in Saturday’s Class 7A state semifinal between Lake Zurich and host Glenbard West at Glenbard South, he was stymied by his left football shoe that had come off.
Bauer stood at the 40-yard line near his team’s sideline, knees bent, trying to see through the cage on his helmet and the sweat on his face, trying to get his cleat back on. A trainer tried to help. Frenzied fans in a packed stadium waited anxiously for the resumption of a game that had turned into an unexpected thriller after Glenbard West had built a 19-0 lead by halftime.
But Bauer’s shoelace wouldn’t cooperate. Everyone waited.
Poor Jerry Bauer. Threading a frayed rope through the eye of a needle would have been easier. The loose lace wouldn’t break.
Which was a bad break for the Bears.
“I had some like Boy Scout triple-knot something going on,” said Bauer, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound two-way lineman with big paws. “I couldn’t unknot it to put (the shoe) back on with my gloves.”
He finally stuffed his foot into his untied shoe and hustled to his defensive-line position. He put his hand on the turf just in time for ... Glenbard West to call timeout.
Bauer jogged back to the sideline, shaking his head, left shoe in his hand.
“I felt his pain,” Bears safety/wide receiver Grant Soucy said. “I’m thinking, ‘He’s got to be fretting holding that shoe.’ It’s rough.”
Oh, what a frustrating day for Lake Zurich.
It was all but made official two plays later when Glenbard West running back Joe Zito rushed for 7 yards on third-and-2 from the Lake Zurich 41. One knee later by QB Henry Haeffner and Glenbard West had a 19-13 win and state championship-game berth.
“We played hard,” Bauer said. “They’re a great team. I wish them the best of luck in the finals. Some things didn’t go our way. That’s going to happen. It’s going to happen in life, too. But I was really proud how we came out in the second half. We really fought hard and gave them a run.”
No one was surprised by Lake Zurich’s never-quit attitude. When you’re playing in the state semifinals for the sixth time in seven years, you don’t pout.
No team had dropped 19 points on Lake Zurich in a game — let alone one half — since Cary-Grove defeated the Bears 21-6 in Week 2.
“We went in (at halftime) and said, ‘It’s a new half, a new game. We got to come out like it’s 0-0,’” Lake Zurich senior linebacker Robert Rossdeutcher said. “We said, ‘We just got to start up that LZ drive that got us here. We got to fight for our brothers that came before us, the brothers that are going to be here next year and the brothers that are just little kids.’”
Brother, it was quite the comeback.
Glenbard West was on the verge of padding its 19-0 lead early in the third quarter when Soucy scooped up a fumble and took off 92 yards the other way. The defensive score had the Bears on the board with 7:05 left in the third.
Mind you, four plays earlier, Bears defensive lineman Dominic McNeil picked up a fumble and ran 80 yards for an apparent score. But the Hilltoppers’ running back had been ruled stopped at the line of scrimmage before the ball popped loose.
“The second half we came out with a sense of urgency,” Bauer said. “That was true on both sides of the ball. Defensively, we gave up a couple of big plays early. We wanted to give the offense the ball, so that we could make some plays. So both sides stepped up.”
On Glenbard West’s possession following Soucy’s score, Lake Zurich linebacker Tanner Kiser recovered a fumble at the Hilltoppers 49.
“One side of the ball has got to execute at all times,” Soucy said. “If the offense can’t get it done, the defense has to. We were all fighting. We were fighting on offense. We were fighting on defense. It’s just sometimes the opportunities happen to be on defense.”
Kiser’s fumble recovery led to another Bears score. A pass-interference penalty and several grind-it-out yards by Connor Schrader put the ball at the 5. When starting quarterback Noah Allgood — who was lined up at tight end with Jake Stauner under center — scooped up a fumble at the 1 and scored, Lake Zurich was within a TD with 30 seconds left in the third.
Lake Zurich’s offense had one final chance late in the fourth, but linebacker Tyler Dayton intercepted Allgood, who was under pressure, with two minutes left.
The Bears never got the ball back.
“We knew they were never going to be done,” Glenbard West junior defensive lineman Jordan Hassan said. “We could have been up by 40 and they would be playing the whole time. That’s one of the toughest teams to play in the playoffs. They know how to win. They find a way to win. We just had a little more heart today.”
Come this time of the year, it takes some breaks and a whole lot of heart to break Lake Zurich.
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