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Heading into Saturday’s Class 6A quarterfinal, Lemont had defeated Oak Forest seven consecutive meetings, including by a 17-14 count in Week 5.
Make that eight straight.
Lemont, behind a gritty performance by running back Chris Giatras and a bend-but-don’t-break effort by its defense, overcame Oak Forest 21-14.
The Indians (11-1) advance to play Crete-Monee (12-0) in a 6A semifinal. Oak Forest finished the campaign 10-2, with both losses coming at home to Lemont.
Giatras racked up 117 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries and was a favorite target of Oak Forest’s overflow student section.
The Lemont defense, led by Andrew Miller, Tim McAuliffe, Ethan Pocic, Connor O’Brien and Mike Devitt, held Oak Forest to 290 yards of total offense, 149 on the ground.
“They were very similar games,” Lemont coach Eric Michaelsen said. “Our kids dug deep and came out ahead.”
For the second straight week, Lemont found itself playing catch-up. It trailed Richards 13-0 before rallying for a 23-19 win in a second round tilt.
Oak Forest scored on its second series of the game on a 2-yard run by Ben Santiago to make it 6-0 at 3:36 of the first quarter. Blake Waller’s point-after kick was wide left.
Lemont countered on its ensuing possession, with Giatras capping a six-play, 62-yard drive with a 17-yard run for a 7-6 lead after the first of three Joe Hehir PAT kicks. A 26-yard flea-flicker from Zach Brosseau to Mitch Balek to Drew Slee set up the Giatras score.
The Indians special teams set up the next touchdown, as Jake Lemming blocked an Oak Forest punt at the Bengal 32-yard line.
Three plays later, Giatras burst in from 2 yards out for a 14-7 lead at 11:24 of the second quarter. The score came moments after Brosseau (5-of-12, 92 yards) hit Giatras with a 31-yard swing pass.
“We had a couple of nice drives after they scored,” Michaelsen said. “The blocked punt was a big play.”
And it occurred after the Bengals had looked to have kept their drive alive by executing a fake punt. But the Bengals were whistled for a penalty, negating the first down and forcing a fourth-and-long.
Oak Forest would tie the ball game at 14 with 4:42 left in the third quarter. Ben Santiago scored from 1-yard out and Kyle Hullinger executed the 2-point conversion run, sending the Bengals faithful into a frenzy.
It was short-lived, however.
On the ensuing possession, Lemont used a 15-play drive, capped by a 1-yard run by Giatras, to grab a 21-14 advantage with 10:13 remaining.
The Bengals were driving late, advancing to the Indian 41 with 2:34 to go. But a botched exchange caused the Bengals to fumble, with Lemont recovering with 2:03 to go.
“I just try to do the best I can,” Giatras said. “I’m glad we came here and got the win. It brings us one step closer to our goal of a state championship.”
Tom Zale paced the Bengals offense, recording a team-high 59 yards on 13 carries. He also completed 3-of-10 passes for 66 yards.