Led by Lawson, Hoffman Estates clinches playoff berth
For Hoffman Estates' Matt Lawson, it was almost like Christmas Day.
Lawson, who played at Elgin for the past three years, had never been on a winning team or been to the state playoffs. The senior, whose family moved to Hoffman Estates this past summer, had that all change Friday night.
Lawson rushed for 4 touchdowns, including a 10-yard scoring run out of the Wildcat formation in overtime as Hoffman upended Fremd 33-27.
"It feels great to be here," Lawson said. "I am surrounded by a bunch on brothers and great coaches. It is an amazing environment. I love it."
Lawson, who was a running back at Elgin and has committed to Illinois State, moved to wide receiver this year. He caught 7 passes for 103 yards Friday.
But Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse has been bringing in Lawson (12 carries, 79 yards) to run the ball in certain situations.
"He has been awesome for us at wideout," Heyse said. "We holstered that. He is one of the best kids I ever met. He is so unselfish. He is a team guy. It is a blessing to have him."
That strategy paid huge dividends when Lawson took a direct snap in overtime and sped his way around the left end just inside the pylon for the touchdown.
"It is exciting," Lawson said, "I give all the credit to my lineman and my quarterback for getting me the ball."
It was ask and answer for Fremd and Hoffman in the first half.
Fremd (3-5, 2-3), which could have possibly still qualified for the playoffs with a win Friday, and opened the scoring thanks to an interception by Davy's Kuhn that he returned to the Hoffman 12. Two plays later, Luke McIlhin scored on a 3-yard run.
That lead lasted just six seconds. Stephon Sellers returned the ensuing kick 75 yard to tie the game at 7-7.
McIlhon scored again on Fremd's next possession. He capped an 8-play, 59 yard drive with a 1-yard run to make it 13-7 because the conversion kick was blocked.
It was then Hoffman's turn. The Hawks flew down the field and scored on a 4-yard run by Lawson to tie the game at 13-13 after the conversion kick was wide.
Fremd regained the lead 20-13 with 4:51 left in the first half. Johnny O'Brien threw a sweet screen pass to Sam Tyska that covered 16 yards.
Hoffman (6-3, 3-2) came back again. Lawson scored from the 3-yard lime with 48.4 seconds left in the half to tie the game at 20-20.
The Hawks took their first lead of the game on the opening series of the second half. They marched 80 yards in 14 plays using up over 6½ minutes of the clock. Lawson tallied on a 2-yard run to make it 27-20.
Hoffman allowed Fremd just three offensive plays in the third quarter. The Viking offense did drive to Hoffman 37 early on the fourth quarter, but gave the ball away on downs.
Hoffman then looked like they could control ball and the clock.
But the Vikings stripped the ball away at midfield and Tyska returned it to the Hoffman 29. Two plays later O'Brien (19-of-26, 188 yards) threw a laser beam to McIlhon for a 26-yard touchdown with 5:26 to play.
Hoffman had an opportunity to win the game in regulation. But the Hawks missed a 38-yard field goal.
Fremd also missed a field goal on their possession in overtime. The Hawks then helped themselves to a better seed in the state playoffs with Lawson's run.
"It's about time that one game went our way this year," said Heyse, whose team lost in overtime and in the final 10 seconds in another game.
"So this is good for us to go into the playoffs on a high note."
Fremd coach Lou Sponsel said he was proud of how his team improved from the start of the season.
"Our kids from the moment they stepped on the field in week one, they got better," Sponsel said. "Every single practice in every single week. That's all you can ask. I am proud of theses kids and they left the program better than when they were handed it."