CRYSTAL LAKE – When Crystal Lake South's first 36 minutes of football on Friday night bore almost an identical resemblance to the Gators' first 48 minutes last weekend, Austin Rogers decided he had seen enough.
For seven straight quarters, Rogers had driven South's offense up and down the field only to watch the Gators run out of gas. Without explanation or notice, South would start to sputter after roaring full-speed ahead before eventually conking out just as the end zone came into plain view.
So with South trailing rival Crystal Lake Central entering the fourth quarter Friday night, Rogers – the Gators' senior quarterback – grabbed the steering wheel, floored it and told his teammates to hold on for dear life.
"He was fired up," junior receiver Tyler Baker said.
Failing to produce any points for the better part of two weeks wasn't setting well with Rogers. Even though South had faced two stingy defenses – first against Marian Central in a 28-2 loss last Saturday and then against Central Friday night – Rogers wasn't about to allow the Gators to drop to 0-2 on the season.
Not without a fight, at least.
The first of Rogers' fourth-quarter touchdown passes erased a seven-point deficit. His second – a 54-yard strike that could have been caught by two different receivers – put the final touches on South's 14-7 victory that made the Gators forget about the previous seven quarters of offensive sputtering.
"I think we played harder this week," Rogers said. "It was Friday night, it was our crosstown rival. We showed up hard. We played hard. We won the game."
Maybe the fact Rogers and his fellow seniors had never lost to Central fueled the fourth-quarter comeback. But Rogers took the offensive struggles personally, believing that if he didn't play well, his teammates would likely follow his lead. So with 12 minutes to get the Gators to the finish line Friday night, Rogers took over.
He commanded the offense like his teammates know he's capable of and made the throws needed to get South into the end zone for the first time this season. Finally, Rogers could exhale.
"Last week, I didn't play that well," Rogers said. "I tried to redeem myself this week and get a win."
The fact Rogers accomplished both put South back on even footing. Even though it required patience, the Austin Rogers that South coach Chuck Ahsmann has built his offense around for a second straight year emerged almost on cue, delivering another win over Central and living up to the leadership role his teammates have grown accustomed to.
"We expect him to make plays and he will make plays," Ahsmann said. "We're confident in him and so we're going to stick with him. He's a competitor – he's got two older brothers who beat the crap out of him when he was younger – and so he's going to stick with it."
And with the first win of the season out of the way, Rogers isn't about to ease off the gas now.
• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.