ALGONQUIN – Casey Oliver wasn’t sure how to calm his nerves in the waning seconds of Crystal Lake South’s football game against Jacobs on Friday, so the Gators junior kicker tried to let himself off the hook.
If he missed the biggest field goal of his varsity career, Oliver figured, the Gators would take the tied Fox Valley Conference Valley Division game against the Golden Eagles into overtime, and Oliver was certain South would get things done in the extra session.
Still, his teammates had battled to be in a position where a 42-yard field goal would win the game and help their chances for a 12th consecutive postseason appearance. Oliver didn’t want the Gators to have to keep pushing.
Oliver lined the longest field goal of his life through the uprights with 0.8 seconds remaining to give South a come-from-behind 32-29 victory against Jacobs to likely preserve the Gators’ long playoff streak.
Picking up its fifth win of the season made South eligible for the playoffs, while a sixth win next week will guarantee a spot. The Gators will have plenty of playoff points with losses to powers such as Marian Central and Cary-Grove on their resumé should the Gators be upset next week by Grayslake Central.
“It doesn’t even feel real,” Oliver said after South broke its post-game huddle and his teammates stopped chanting his name. “I went out there thinking [I’d] just try to kick it, worst thing that could happen is I miss and we go into overtime, play some more, but I don’t know. It was the best feeling.”
As thrilling as the finish was, the way the Gators (5-3 overall, 4-2 FVC Valley) got there was just as inspired.
Trailing 21-8 at halftime, South capitalized on a Jacobs fumble on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half and used three plays to get tailback Zevin Clark in the end zone on a 51-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 21-15.
Jacobs (4-4, 2-3) answered with quarterback Bret Mooney’s fourth passing touchdown of his dominant evening, this one a 3-yard strike to tight end Jake Dziewulski. A two-point conversion gave the Eagles their final mark with 6:16 left in the third, but South was far from finished.
Clark (18 carries, 122 yards) scored again on a 41-yard run to make it 29-22, and the momentum swung permanently in South’s favor on Jacobs’ next possession. Senior linebacker Brendan Chrystal picked off Mooney and ran 35 yards to score and tie the game at 29 with 3:19 left in the third quarter.
“That’s the story of our season,” Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said. “We’re driving and fumble, give up long runs, which will kill you, and that pick really hurt us.”
South started its final possession with about 2 minutes left on its own 40 and used three plays to move the ball to Jacobs’ 25. Coach Chuck Ahsmann had watched Oliver nail 40-plus yarders during warmups and was confident his kicker could deliver.
Now, perhaps he’ll have a chance to do it again in the postseason – a feat in itself for a team that started the season 1-3.
“I think we’ve just built as the season went along,” Ahsmann said. “I don’t know if there’s been a turning point, really, but we’ve build and gotten better.
“This is big. We’re excited.”