Lincoln Way Central takes down Jacobs for 1st playoff win since 2017
In the end, neither the persistent rain of the first three quarters nor the size of Jacobs' offensive and defensive lines mattered.
What mattered was the heart of Lincoln-Way Central on Friday night. That pluck, combined with quality plays at propitious times, vaulted the hosts to a 23-14 victory over Jacobs in their Class 7A first-round game.
The Knights hadn't visited postseason since 2018 nor won a playoff game since 2017.
The returnees from last year's 2-7 squad, even with a new coach in David Woodburn, weren't supposed to set the world on fire.
How does 9-1 going into beefy Batavia (9-1), which pummeled Brother Rice 46-0, sound?
"I've been a part of some teams that were supposed to play in the state championship and win. They got bounced in the second round," Woodburn told his exhilarated players. "I don't care who you play or where you're going. You've got a shot because of what you've done since December."
Heroes abounded, among them Braden Meyer, who ran for a 7-yard touchdown in the first half that tied the game and passed for a 5-yard score with 1:58 remaining to put the game away. His flea-flicker pass to fellow senior Justin Bafia in the back right of the end zone, coming after a bad snap that quarterback Michael Kuehl was fortunate to corral quickly, returned Jacobs to two-score territory with the clock counting down.
"We knew we had to keep our head in there and chip away," Meyer said of the start, when Jacobs owned the line of scrimmage. "Trusting each other and our coaches to make the right call was the difference. No one really thought we could achieve this."
The turnaround in the line play was critical.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," lineman Owen Perez said. "I'd get a different guy to block. It started from there and we started running the ball. We just kept moving down the field as a team."
The payoff came first on Meyer's 7-yard touchdown run, then in the form of field goals by Andrew Schiller as time expired in the first half and on the first drive of the second half, giving Central a 13-7 lead. His third field goal of the night, a 25-yard boot for three more points after the Knights squelched a Jacobs drive deep in Central territory, advanced the margin to nine points, and two scores.
That was critical, for Jacobs' Caden Dumelle (23 carries, 112 yards) capped a 10-play drive - one aided by a 15-yard chop block penalty against the Knights - with a 4-yard touchdown run with 6:38 remaining. The lead was 16-14, and the rain-soaked crowd was nervous.
Central's successful 10-play drive, with Anthony Noto (20 carries, 99 yards) running for 32 of the 49 yards on six carries, put the Knights' gallery at ease, though a few hearts fluttered before Kuehl could shovel the ball to Meyer for his pass to the open Bafia in the end zone.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," Dumelle said, noting two turnovers, one by him.
Jacobs (6-4), with a bigger line on each side of the ball, dominated the early going, when the rain was falling the hardest, and their bulk paid off with Tyvon Boddie's 35-yard touchdown run with 3:03 left in the first quarter. Behind good blocking, Boddie crashed through a pair of tacklers at the 30 and had free rein the rest of the way, capping a four-play, 42-yard drive that took 2:13.
The Golden Eagles were moving the ball nearly as well on their next drive until quarterback Daniel Curran fumbled at the Knights 40, with Lincoln-Way middle linebacker Nick Mitcheff falling on the ball. While the Knights didn't go anywhere on that series, Jacobs was seen to be fallible, and after a punt, the Knights took over on their 35.
From there, junior Tyler Tulk reeled off a 35-yard gain off right end, and five plays later, Meyer crashed around left end from the 7 to tie the game with 1:52 left in the half.
Durrell fumbled on the first play of the subsequent drive, and the Knights managed to take the lead as time expired in the half on Schiller's first field goal.
The phrase of the moment for the Knights now is simple. Said Woodburn, voice hoarse, to his eager team: "We're playin' in November."
That hasn't been said on Lashmet Field for a while.