LEMONT – Lemont’s football team headed into Saturday’s Class 6A second-round playoff game with Crete-Monee looking to add to two impressive runs.
Not only were the Indians looking to qualify for the quarterfinals for the ninth time in 11 years, but they also hoped to reach the 10-win plateau in the same manner.
But those plans quickly came undone against the Warriors, who jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and led throughout before claiming a 23-7 victory.
As a result, Crete-Monee (9-2) will host Sacred Heart-Griffin next Saturday while Lemont finishes its season with a 9-2 record.
“It’s never easy when a season is over and you feel bad for your seniors who’ve worked so hard,” Lemont coach Bret Kooi said. “You don’t quite know what to say and you sure wish that you had more time with them.
“We couldn’t catch a break. We had a big pass play and thought we had momentum going, and then it’s called back. Then we’re hanging in there and we get a fumble on a kickoff to give them the ball back. Then near the end we get a couple of shots at the end zone.
“I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from them since they’re a very good football team that plays physical and hard. You have to play a pretty clean football game if you’re going to beat them.”
Crete-Monee moved in front for good with 3:10 left in the opening quarter when Carlos Soto kicked a 29-yard field goal, his first of three field goals in the game.
It scored again when quarterback Clint Ratkovich looked like he might get tackled in the backfield, but then broke free for a 90-yard run down the right sideline to make it 10-0 with 1:11 left in the quarter.
Lemont quickly responded, however, needing just three plays to cover 49 yards. After Spencer Nagel (6 of 10 passing, 82 yards) found Jeremy Fejedelem (three catches, 86 yards) for a 34-yard strike, Jake Kirkman (19 carries, 74 yards) burst up the middle from 15 yards out to make it 10-7 with 40 seconds left in the opening period.
Crete-Monee went back up by 10 points when Eric Vallot ran 44 yards down the left sideline after taking a direct snap out of punt formation with 10:32 to go in the second quarter.
The Warriors took a 20-7 lead with 41 seconds left in the half when Soto kicked a 30-yard field goal. After Lemont fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Soto got another field goal chance and converted from 27 yards out with two seconds remaining before the break.
Despite losing Nagel to an injury early in the third quarter, Lemont still managed to threaten on three different occasions in the final quarter. Backup quarterback Chad Barnett did a nice job in a relief role, but was picked off in the end zone and at the Warriors’ 8 while another threat ended on downs at Crete-Monee’s 10.
Despite being the recipient of four turnovers, Crete-Monee didn’t help its cause by receiving nearly 170 penalty yards. Lemont created one turnover in the final quarter, an interception by Joshua Rogers.
Many of the seniors also were on last year’s squad that lost in the state finals, creating high expectations for this season. And their coach was proud of how much better his squad got.
“Obviously with the type of year we had last year, it’s hard to follow a group like that,” Kooi said. “I think there were some big expectations with these guys and to be honest with you, they kept getting better as the year went on. And now you think that maybe we can make a run. But we needed to play a little bit better if we wanted to keep playing.”