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Joliet Catholic running back Tyler Reitz (21) rushes the ball against Lincoln Way West at Lincoln Way West High School in New Lenox, Illinois, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. | Michael DiNovo~For Sun-Times Media
The difference between advancing or packing up the equipment can be so miniscule.
Joliet Catholic junior linebacker Zach Rezin dove at Lincoln-Way West junior quarterback Justin Keuch as he approached the goal line on a keeper up the middle.
If Keuch gets into the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt, the Warriors knock off the Hilltoppers in Saturday’s Class 5A semifinal in New Lenox. But Rezin was able to latch on to Keuch just enough to pull him back from the goal line.
The overflow crowd of more than 3,000 anxiously awaited the signal from the officials. Finally, no good; he did not get in.
It was that close as Rezin’s heroics allowed Joliet Catholic to escape 21-20.
“I thought seven [West’s LaVonte Blackful] was going to get the ball and take it outside,” Rezin said. “Then I saw the quarterback keep it. I got him and tried to pull him out. I knew he was down when I grabbed him, but whether the refs saw him get in or not, it’s hard to say. I couldn’t tell.”
“He was definitely in, no doubt,” said West offensive tackle Colin McGovern, who had a good perspective.
Joliet Catholic (8-4) advances to next week’s home semifinal against the winner of Saturday night’s Marian Central vs. Montini game. West (8-4) concludes its best season knowing all too well about a game of inches.
The Hilltoppers led 14-0 at halftime on the strength of two Ty Isaac touchdown runs, the second a 92-yarder in the second quarter. The senior wingback rushed for 174 yards in 16 carries in the first half, but four times for 6 yards in the third quarter before exiting. He re-injured his groin late in the third quarter and did not return. His status for next week is yet to be determined.
Immediately after Isaac’s departure, West received a punt and got the ball on its 43-yard line. Junior Javier Montalvo went 47 yards to the Joliet Catholic 10 on the next play, and on third-and-goal from the 9, Keuch hit junior Jake Roberts in the right flat. He broke a jersey tackle by cornerback Grant Harrison, who earlier intercepted two passes, and dove into the end zone to make it 14-7.
Both defenses dominated most of the way, but the Warriors’ offense mounted the tying drive midway through the fourth quarter. Keuch was Mr. Clutch, hitting Adam Slattery (seven catches, 107 yards) for 10 yards on third-and-9, scrambling for 13 yards on fourth-and-eight and hitting Slattery on a 20-yard scoring strike in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-five. Joe Leo’s conversion kick tied it 14-14 with 4:22 remaining.
With Mike Ivlow and Tyler Reitz sharing the rushing load and Craig Slowik hitting Chris Tschida with a 10-yard bullet on third-and-9, Joliet Catholic drove down close enough for Brian Bravo to attempt a 55-yard field goal with a strong wind at his back. But it fell well short, forcing overtime.
Each team gets the ball at the 10 and has four downs to score in overtime. Joliet Catholic got the ball first and went to Ivlow over the left side three straight times. He scored from a foot away on third down.
“I told Coach (Dan) Sharp I wanted the ball,” said Ivlow, who rushed for 76 yards on 15 carries. “I’m surprised he let me have it three times.”
“Mike Ivlow thinks he should get the ball every play,” Sharp said with a laugh.
Bravo kicked what would become the decisive extra point for a 21-14 lead. But Lincoln-Way West still had a shot, and Montalvo scored off the left side on the first play to make it 21-20 and set up the Keuch-Rezin meeting at the goal line.