By Mark Gregory
BARRINGTON – If someone would have offered a bet that No. 13 seeded Minooka would drive 90 minutes north, beat unbeaten and No. 5 seed Barrington in overtime and the game-winning touchdown would be scored by 6-foot, 4-inch, 280-pound offensive lineman Derek Wentworth, there isn’t a fan in the stands that would not have bet against that.
Well, that’s why you don’t bet against a gambler.
“I have always been a gambler,” said Minooka coach Terry McCombs. “That is my philosophy – I take chances. We have had it in there just in case we needed it and tonight we needed it. That is a pretty good football team that we beat. They were undefeated and we found a way to win.”
After tying the score on a touchdown and 2-point conversion with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left in regulation and holding to force overtime – the Indians found themselves at a crossroads with a fourth-and-goal from the four-yard line.
“I heard some of the coaches saying to kick the field goal,” said senior wide receiver/defensive back Colin Schuster, who caught five passes for 107 yards, including three-straight for 74 yards to open the second half. “But coach McCombs said ‘go for it.’ “
McCombs and offensive coordinator John Belskis, the Hall of Fame former head coach at Downers Grove South, dug deep into the playbook and called a play which saw Wentworth, the left tackle, slip into the backfield after the snap, take a lateral from quarterback Zach Gessner at the seven-yard line and, after a brief bobble, charge his way into the end zone, plowing over an over matched defensive back at the goal line.
“I used what God gave me,” Wentworth said of the size advantage he had over the defensive backs. “Catching it was the hard part. It kind of got in the lights and I bobbled it – but once I caught it, I was getting the end zone, no matter if it was from three yards or 99 yards.”
Wentworth said the play has been there all season and he even thought about it recently when he saw University of Wisconsin lineman Michael Dieter score on the same play against Illinois.
“I just saw it on social media and thought, we could be running that play,” Wentworth said. “The game was on the line and we had to use everything that was in the arsenal. Everything was working really well for us tonight. We have had it in the playbook – coach Belskis is always throwing in crazy things, that guy is awesome. When I caught it, I just had to get in for the team. Everyone was doing their part, I just had to do mine. I was prepared to do whatever they needed.”
The game was one big play after another for the Indians, who, after falling behind 7-0 with 6:44 to play in the first quarter, had Max Christiano line up at quarterback in a wildcat formation, keep the ball and go up the middle for 53 yards to set up a 5-yard score from Connor Etzkorn.
“Coming out, we talked about scoring on the first drive and coach gave me a great opportunity, the line made great blocks and I was able to make a play,” Christiano said.
After trading punches all game, it was Christiano who got the call again when the team needed it.
After building a 26-14 lead with 8:00 to play in the third quarter, Minooka watched Barrington and quarterback Ray Niro take back the momentum and the lead, going ahead 34-26 with 5:00 left in the game.
Minooka drove the ball down the field and when the Indians reached the 13-yard line, it was a slant from Gessner (10-for-15, 297 yards, 2 TD) to Christiano (2 catches, 31 yards, TD; 3 carries 58 yards) for the score.
“Whatever this team needs or these coaches ask me to do, I will. I don’t care about my numbers, I just want to win games and I am having fun doing it,” said Christiano, who is one of the Indians who play both sides of the ball. “We condition hard and just get ready to play both ways. We really don’t think about it because it’s what we do.”
The touchdown cut the Barrington lead to 34-32 and Minooka pulled out another play for the game-tying 2-point conversion – a pass from Gessner to defensive lineman Adrian Paige, who motions out of a power look in the backfield and slips into the end zone.
It was the same play the Indians used to beat Plainfield North – but Barrington didn’t know that.
“They didn’t have that on film,” McCombs said. “That was not one of the tapes they asked for (in the customary playoff film exchange). That is why we used it.”
Minooka was led on the ground by Owen Kapple, who tallied 138 yards on 14 carries.
The Indians will now face the winner of Saturday’s match-up between No. 26 Edwardsville and No. 23 Palatine.
Win or lose, the Players know they have begun to build a new culture surrounding Minooka football.
“Football is a great game and everyone talks about how great football coaches are coaching football, but these guys teach us life lessons. At the end of the day, the scoreboard doesn’t really mean anything. I don’t care if we win 60-0 and my guys are acting like fools, I am going to be upset because that is what the coaches instilled in us,” Wentworth said. “It is a whole different culture here now than it was three or four years ago. We are an hour and a half away and we had three fan busses plus everyone that drove. They can do whatever they want on a Friday night, but they are here supporting us and from the bottom of my heart, I have to thank them.”