Wauconda drops heartbreaker in final seconds at Belvidere North
Wauconda made the trek to Belvidere North Saturday afternoon seeking its first quarterfinal appearance since 1992.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, which had a pair of seniors in Zach Johnson and Brock Pfeiffer whose fathers were members of that team on their roster, they reached a tough end to their season to the host Blue Thunder 28-21 in Class 6A round two action at Milt Brown Stadium.
The fourth-seeded Blue Thunder (9-2) advances to next weekend's quarterfinal round where they will travel to north bracket top seed Lake Zurich (10-1), a 35-14 winner at Kaneland (7-4) late Saturday afternoon in Maple Park.
It marks the third time in Belvidere North's history (2009, 2017) that they have reached the round of eight.
"I couldn't be happier for our guys coming together and getting a win. It's (really) all that matters at this point of the season." North senior RB-DB Nico Bertolino said.
In fact it was because of the 5-foot-9, 165-pound Bertolino that North's season will continue as he had arguably the two biggest plays of the contest.
His first came after the Blue Thunder defense held the line at their 4-yard line after Wauconda (8-3) had marched 57 yards on its opening drive of half number two.
On their second offensive play from scrimmage, Bertolino (114 yards rushing, 28 yards receiving) took a handoff from QB Max Gyllenswan, broke free from the Bulldogs line shaking off a defender and then making a mad dash 98 yards to pay dirt that put them back on top 21-14 with 5:46 left in the third.
"Credit to all my teammates on that (play). I couldn't have done it without them. I put one move on a guy and (then) took off." Bertolino said.
The Bulldogs, for the third time, responded successfully to a Belvidere North touchdown as it proceeded to go on a 12-play, 76-yard march. Sophomore fullback Jackson Rudolph (74 yards rushing and receiving) completed the drive with a 6-yard TD run that evened things at 21 with just 77 seconds left in the third.
On Wauconda's first possession of the fourth, Bertolino made his mark with what became the game-deciding play. He picked off a Logan Olsen reverse screen pass at the Bulldogs 15-yard line and subsequently took it to the house to put the Blue Thunder ahead to stay 28-21 with 6:35 left in regulation.
"We were game planning for that play all week (in practice). I saw that play coming all the way through." Bertolino said.
Yet, the Bulldogs kept up the fight as they took the football from their 20 all the way to the North 23 in the next 6:33. They converted twice on fourth down before an Olsen pass attempt on 4th-and-8 was ruled incomplete with: 02 left ending their last scoring threat.
Wauconda outgained North 338-319 in total offense with 273 yards on the ground on 67 carries including senior Cole Porten's 82 yards on 18 attempts.
Fellow Wauconda senior RB Connor Vanselow (28 carries, 111 yards) was one of 14 seniors playing in their final game. He credited his team's hard-work ethic and sense of community that brought them to the playoffs for a third consecutive fall.
"It's heartbreaking to end (our season) that way, but we gave it our all," Vanselow said. "It's like when you wear this jersey, you represent a town, you represent a family, you represent what we do here."