LIBERTYVILLE – Quarterback Riley Lees threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as Libertyville defeated Lincoln-Way East, 27-17, Saturday in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs.
The Griffins (8-3) trailed the Wildcats (11-0), 21-17, with 4:10 to play before defensive lineman Zach Tencza recovered a Wildcats' fumble at the Griffins’ 42. East quarterback Brandon Bauer led the Griffins to the Wildcats’ 28-yard line by completing a pass to Brody Bolsoni and carrying the ball four other times.
Then things fell apart.
After running back Nigel Muhammad gained 1 yard to the 27, East was called for a personal foul, which brought the ball back to the Wildcats’ 42. Bauer then was sacked for a 3-yard loss to the 45 on a play in which many East coaches and fans believed he was grabbed by the face mask.
The officials did not call a penalty on the play, so the Griffins faced fourth-and-25. Bauer’s pass was incomplete, turning the ball over on downs. The officials then flagged East for unsportsmanlike conduct, which moved the ball to the Griffins’ 40. Lees scored on a 40-yard run on the next play to seal the win.
It was a fitting end for the Northwestern-bound Lees, who opened the game with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Tim Calamari to put the Wildcats ahead, 7-0, just 13 seconds into the game.
The 6-foot-1 senior put Libertyville ahead 14-0 with 7:25 to play in the first quarter when he found Calamari on a 63-yard scoring strike.
The Griffins answered with a 16-play, 67-yard scoring drive that took 6:21 off the clock. Senior running back Liam Morrissey scored on a 3-yard run to cut the lead to 14-7.
Lees responded by driving the Wildcats 80 yards on their next possession, capping the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to receiver Henry Schmidt.
Lincoln-Way East cut the lead to 21-14 at halftime when Bauer led an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended with Bauer finding receiver Logan Winkler over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
The Griffins' Nick Jenig booted a 25-yard field goal with 8:43 to play in the fourth quarter to pull East to within 21-17.
“After just an absolutely atrocious start defensively, our offense brought us back and kept us in the game early," East coach Rob Zvonar said. "It was a one-score game at halftime, and we were blessed to be in that situation.
“We got the field goal to put us in a position where a touchdown could win it, but it just wasn’t in the cards today. Obviously, there is a tremendous football team over there. Our hats are off to Libertyville and number 6 (Lees) is the real deal."
Lees completed 14 of 22 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns. He was intercepted twice by Griffins defensive back Kyle Werniak. Lees also rushed for 119 yards.
Bauer did his part to match Lees’ production. He rushed for 77 yards on 21 carries and completed 20 of 32 passes for 201 yards. He threw no interceptions.
“I’m proud of all my guys," Bauer said. "We fought. We picked the defense up. We executed very well, I thought, but it just didn’t go our way. The linemen did a great job of opening up the holes for me and the running backs. The receivers did what they were supposed to do.
“It’s the most incredible year I’ve been a part of. It’s heartbreaking now but looking back on it, we had a great season.”
Zvonar echoed his quarterback’s sentiments.
“They’ve left a legacy," he said. "They are one of the most tremendous groups on and off the field that we’ve ever had. I feel for our seniors right now. They put so much into this. It’s always tough, especially when you come up here and have an opportunity to win."