Wauconda stops Grant's 2-point try, advances for third straight year

There's something to be said for knowing how to win. Wauconda's done it, Grant is trying to get there.

Host Wauconda advanced to the second round of the 6A playoffs with a narrow 21-20 victory over its Northern Lake County Conference rival on Saturday. For the first time in school history, Wauconda has won a playoff game three years in a row.

The outcome came down to a 2-point conversion attempt. With Grant trailing 21-14, quarterback Matthew Gipson ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 10.1 seconds on the clock.

Grant coach Tim Norwood decided to go for two and the win. The plan was to roll out with a run-pass option, but Wauconda defensive lineman Caleb Apodaca jumped into the backfield and Gipson's pass had no chance.

"No (indecision) at all," Norwood said of going for two. "I told the team I'm going to do that every time."

Wauconda (9-2) won the regular-season meeting between these teams 27-24, but Grant was in control of this Battle of the Bulldogs for most of the night.

"In Week 4 it was the other way. We were in control and they were able to come back and then we pulled it out," Wauconda coach Chris Prostka said "Today, we were the one fighting. (Knowing how to win) has been something we've talked about the last two years. Our record in one score games has shown."

Grant led 14-7 at halftime and had two great opportunities to extend the lead in the third quarter with good field position. A holding penalty ruined the first drive. Then on fourth-and-one at the 12-yard line, Grant tried to make it a two-score game with a field goal, but the kick sailed wide.

Wauconda took over and drove 80 yards for the tying touchdown, converting four third downs along the way. Connor Vanselow (19 carries, 77 yards) scored from 3 yards out with 10:20 left in the fourth quarter.

The biggest play of the game came after the kickoff when Wauconda LB Conlan Rath intercepted a pass in the flat and ran it down to the 14-yard line, setting up a 2-yard run by QB Logan Olsen two plays later to make it 21-14.

"It was crazy. Honestly, I didn't even think I was going to get that interception, but when I got it, my heart, I just didn't know what to do," Rath said. "My only thoughts were run.

"It certainly wasn't easy. I'm proud of everybody that came out and played tonight. Like our coach said, we easily could have folded and given up on the second half, but we came back and we beat them. I'm so proud of everybody out here tonight."

Grant (6-4) responded with a 17-play, 81-yard drive, which included 55 rushing yards by RB Tyler Zdon, to set up the final sequence. Wauconda scored on its opening possession with a 51-yard run by Cole Porten. Gipson threw TD passes to Junior Munoz and Jake George to take the 14-7 lead.

Norwood took over at Grant last year after spending 22 years as an assistant at Barrington. His new school has made huge strides in two seasons and was trying to get its first playoff win since 2012. Grant started 10 sophomores, including Gipson (17-for-22, 137 yards) and Zdon (21 carries, 96 yards).

"The first thing I told Chris when we shook hands was, 'We're getting closer every time,'" Norwood said. "We've taken huge steps. I told the seniors thank you. They've been awesome. They started it in the weight room. There's a lot coming back and even with 10 sophomores up, our frosh-soph team went 7-2."

Wauconda will play on the road next week at Belvidere North.

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