Huntley takes down Crystal Lake Central on Bowers' late TD
Junior quarterback Braylon Bower still had plenty of power left in his cramping legs just when he and his Huntley teammates needed them most in Friday night's Fox Valley Conference season opener at Red Raider Stadium.
Bower capped a 209-yard rushing night as he scored from 6 yards with 1:18 to play to give the Red Raiders a dramatic 26-21 victory over the league's preseason favorite before a full house. Bower rushed for 167 of his yards in the second half and teammate Zach Rysavy preserved the win with a diving interception of Jason Penza's pass at the Crystal Lake Central 41 with 47.7 seconds to play.
"Tonight was the night I had to let it all out," Bower said. "I knew my offensive line would be able to block for me and my running backs (Haiden Janke and Reichen Dvorak) would be able to block for me."
The third touchdown run by Janke (17 carries, 88 yards), who had his own battles with leg cramps, got Huntley within 21-20 with 3:10 left but it missed the extra point. The defense forced a three-and-out on Penza (307 yards passing, 2 TDs) and Huntley got the ball back at the Central 32.
Bower went 15 yards on the first play but also went down on the sideline with leg cramps.
"I was concerned but I have a lot of confidence in my team," Bower said.
One play and a false start penalty and Bower was back in the game. He gained 12 yards to the 6 and then raced to the left corner of the end zone on first-and-goal behind Adam Tramuta, Jack Crudele, Vincent Tiberi, Cameron Mueller and Kelley Gassner.
"We've known Braylon since fourth and fifth grade and he's been in our youth programs forever," said Huntley coach Mike Naymola. "We restricted his running a little bit in the summer to keep the hits off him, but once he hits the hole he can do more with his legs than I thought he would be able to."
But Huntley still faced the prospect of stopping the dangerous Penza and George Dimopoulos, who caught two touchdown passes. But after a 20-yard completion, Rysavy put an end to that threat and a start to his team's big celebration.
"Out of the huddle I knew they would be looking at me," Rysavy said. "I was dealing with cramps and they ran the same play the first time. I got a good break on it and the ball fell into my hands. It was absurd and a huge feeling of relief."
Crystal Lake Central had taken a 21-14 lead with 43 seconds left in the third quarter when Griffin Buehler scored on a 6-yard run to cap a 96-yard drive.
"I'm super proud of the guys for showing a lot of resolve and they were able to overcome a good team," Naymola said.