Lincoln-Way Central football coach Jeremy Cordell finished talking to his team in the aftermath of Saturday's 14-10 loss to Benet Academy in the Class 7A quarterfinals.
Outside linebacker Peyton Nigro had asked if he could say a few words when Cordell was finished. One of the best players on one of the best teams in the area felt it had to be said.
"I wanted to thank Coach C [Cordell], all the coaches and all the guys on the team for taking me in two years ago," explained Nigro, who was among the Knights who spent their first two high school years at Lincoln-Way East, before the closing of Lincoln-Way North caused shuffling of a significant number of students in the district from one campus to another.
"They really have a big heart, everyone here," Nigro added. "They showed that right away when I got here. I wanted to make sure they understand how much they have meant to me. They have made me into a better person."
Nigro was one of the mainstays in a Central defense that all season ranked among the best in the state in terms of scoring defense. After losing to No. 1-ranked Lincoln-Way East, 28-14, in Week 4, the Knights' first-team defense had limited to six consecutive opponents to a touchdown or less.
That changed Saturday on one play. Trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter, Benet struck on a 50-yard touchdown pass, a play on which the Knights suffered an uncharacteristic breakdown defensively. Nick Keyes took a short pass over the middle and found open space in front of him as he zipped to the end zone.
"We had some mishaps on that play," Nigro said. "But I am so proud of all my defensive brothers the last two years. They turned me into a good person. I am proud of every one of them."
Cordell said in the final analysis, if you give up 14 points, "you should be able to win. But they [Redwings] have a good defense. We wanted to play to our strengths, but It was tough to drive the field against them."
After trailing, 7-0, at halftime, Central led, 10-7, and had serious momentum on its side early in the fourth quarter. Matt Pollack, whose spectacular touchdown catch in the third quarter got the Knights even at 7-7, appeared that he might have made another such scoring grab on the second play of the fourth quarter.
He went high to pulled down Sam Pipiras' pass in the back of the end zone. However, the officials ruled he had come down beyond the end line.
Pictures taken by media photographers appeared to show Pollack got one foot down inside the end zone when he secured possession of the pass, but it was one of those plays that is difficult to argue either way. It was that close.
Had it been called a completion and the Knights gone ahead, 17-7, it would have been extremely difficult for Benet to overtake them. As it is, the Redwings will meet Batavia in the semifinals.
"Our defense played great, stopped them for the most part," said Pollack, who caught six passes for 81 yards. "As an offense, we weren't able to capitalize on our opportunities. We just didn't make a few plays there.
"But I'm really proud of everyone on this team. Everyone played great all year."
Cordell noted that the Knights' motto all season was Mission: NIU "and unfortunately, we fell 13 days short. At the end of the journey, you're going to be disappointed, but I'm proud of these guys and what they accomplished. They will go down as one of the best teams in school history."
The question was asked of me, how was it that running back Owen Kapple, Minooka's leading rusher all season, did not play in Saturday's game against Edwardsville, where the Indians suffered a 28-25 loss?
Minooka coach Terry McCombs said Monday that Kapple had a bruise on his thigh. All last week, the Indians were preparing for Edwardsville with hopes that Kapple would be able to play. However, during pregame warmups, he found it was bothering him, and he wasn't able to go.
Although it was a major blow for the Indians, sophomore Connor Etzkorn, who had seen considerable playing time all season, did an admirable job filling the void. He rushed 15 times for 66 yards and caught five passes for 75, scoring touchdowns on a 30-yard reception and a 1-yard run besides running for a two-point conversion.
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.