WHS-WNHS football game a classic
With a game time temperature below 50 degrees, the fever pitch of the crowd that had Larry Dale Field at Woodstock High School bursting at the seams warmed the night. A steady rain that lasted throughout the day ended strategically just prior to kickoff, leaving the field manicured to perfection, adding challenges for players on both teams and contributing drama to a game in need of none.
Fans of all kinds of football were thrilled with the action on the field in the fourth installment of the Crosstown Classic matchup Sept. 21, between the Thunder of Woodstock North High School and the Blue Streaks of Woodstock High School. North outlasted the Streaks in a tantalizing back and forth battle, 28-23, taking a 3-1 lead in the young series.
Five years after the schools split, high school football is alive and well in Woodstock, and the cars lining Putnam Street, Forest Avenue and Blakely Street around the perimeter of WHS provided the exclamation point.
The action was hot and heavy on a cool autumn evening, keeping fans on both sides of the field on their feet throughout. The Streaks (2-3 overall, 1-2 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division) struck first, with Brad Bertram capping a drive that lasted nearly nine minutes with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
The Thunder (3-2, 2-1) responded quickly, taking just over two minutes on a drive of their own, finished off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Ryan Wade.
The Thunder got the ball back when cornerback Shane Zeiman intercepted a deep throw on the North 28-yard line. Another quick drive was punctuated by a 27-yard sprint by Adam Haimbaugh, putting North up 14-7.
The game began to appear out of hand when North took advantage of another WHS miscue. A Streaks fumble was recovered by the Thunder at their own 38-yard line. Haimbaugh cashed in again, this time from 7 yards out, giving Woodstock North a 21-7 advantage.
Once-rabid Streaks fans stood eerily silent. That silence would last only 14 seconds – just long enough for WHS senior Keeondae Benjamin to field the ensuing kickoff and sprint 90 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. After the extra point failed, the Streaks were within eight, 21-13.
Not only was the crowd back in the game. The Streaks were back as well.
Thunder head coach Jeff Schroeder made his team aware of Benjamin’s explosiveness during the week of practice leading up to the game.
“We thought we had diagnosed their kickoff return,” said Schroeder. “Nobody was fooled, (but) unfortunately we flowed so hard to it he cut back and scored on us.”
While some might have been content to take a late score to halftime, Blue Streaks head coach Steve Beard had other ideas. Beard called an onside kick, which was recovered by WHS senior Alec Sahs at the North 34-yard line with 2:11 remaining in the half.
After the Streaks drove the ball to a first and goal inside the Thunder 5-yard line, North mounted a goal-line stand, leaving WHS with a short field goal attempt to end the half.
Pat McGrath converted the chip shot, sending the Streaks into halftime trailing only 21-16.
The second half was a tale of mistakes, with both teams able to move the ball offensively but unable to convert. The third quarter, while scoreless, was not short on action.
North fumbled twice on offense, the second of which left the Streaks with first and goal on North’s 4-yard line, setting up a golden opportunity for WHS.
The Blue Streaks gave the ball back, coughing it up with a fumble on the very next play. North senior Brian Loftin recovered the ball on the 6-yard line. A 94-yard drive, that took less than four minutes, was capped off with a 14-yard touchdown run by Alex Mitchell, putting the Thunder up 28-16 with 9:31 left in the game.
The touchdown proved to be valuable insurance, as Woodstock was able to respond yet again with a touchdown run by Mike Santucci, drawing the score to 28-23 with 4:25 left. The ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful, and North wouldn’t give the Streaks another opportunity on offense.
Although the outcome was disappointing, Beard was pleased with his team’s effort.
“I’m very proud of how they played,” said Beard. “I thought there was some good football out there in regards to just executing blocks and tackles and running.”
Thunder senior offensive and defensive lineman Rich Lucke was on the field for most of the night, fighting in the trenches where the game was heavily contested.
“Both O-lines and D-lines, they were firing out as hard as they could,” said Lucke. “Both teams, we made some mistakes. The conditions were wet. It just comes down to fundamentals at practice.”
Schroeder was thrilled to escape with a win and impressed with the talent on the other side of the field.
“They’re a good program,” Schroeder said of the Blue Streaks (2-3, 1-2). “They’re really coming on. I hope they get into the playoffs.
“I’m very humbled every time we win because I know how this game turns.”
WNHS will face Dundee-Crown at 7:15 p.m., Friday, Sept. 28, at home. WHS will play Grayslake North at 7:15 p.m., Friday, Sept. 28, at Grayslake North.