By Matthew Kamp
For the Bugle
EDWARDSVILLE – The Minooka Indians were ready to swing the momentum in their favor midway through the third quarter, but then Norman Harris and the Edwardsville Tigers seized it for good.
Harris picked off Minooka quarterback Zach Gessner in the end zone, and EHS scored on the ensuing possession en route to a 28-25 victory in the IHSA Class 8A quarterfinals inside the District 7 Sports
“Everybody is good, and it’s a possession-by-possession game. If you can steal a possession, it’s huge,” EHS coach Matt Martin said.
Minooka, seeded 15th, ends its season at 9-3.
The Indians came up a victory short of trying the program’s single-season record of 10 victories, last done in 2010.
“It was a great year. We didn’t know who our coach was going to be (at the beginning of the season) and the morale was off. We got our coach, and give our guys props for turning it around. I’m proud of this
season and will never forget it,” Gessner said.
Gessner, along with the rest of his teammates, lined up to shake hands and hug 48-year coach Terry McCombs, who completed his first season at the school, at the end of the game.
“We don’t have the best talent, but we made something out of it. They teach something bigger than football. They teach life lessons out there. We are going to carry that on to the real world. That’s a big
reason for their success,” Gessner said. “We haven’t been this far since 2010, and we changed it around for sure.”
The Indians, who have never advanced further than the quarterfinal round, looked poised to take control of the game at the start of the second half.
Trailing 21-17, Minooka took six minutes off the clock and drove the ball inside the Edwardsville 15-yard line.
Gessner, though, would be picked off by Harris when he tried to find Adrian Paige in the corner of the end zone.
Harris made an acrobatic catch and returned it to the EHS 35-yard line.
Martin called the play a “backbreaker.”
Gessner said he didn’t put enough on the pass.
“I could have put more on that ball. When I let it go, I knew I didn’t have enough on it. I gotta be smarter on that play. I could have thrown it out of bounds. I have to take care of the ball,” Gessner
said. “That was our game to have right there. We took the ball down the field and that would have been a game-changer.”
The Tigers made the turnover hurt more when junior quarterback Kendall Abdur-Rahman scored from 14 yards out with 56.1 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Devin Parker’s extra point made it 28-17.
Minooka would get the touchdown back when Connor Etzkorn rushed in from a yard out. He also scored on a 2-point conversion to make it 28-25 with 6:04 left.
After a 3-and-out by the Tigers, Minooka took over at its own 27-yard line with 3:46 left in the game. On third down and long, Rodney Smith picked off Gessner for Edwardsville’s fourth takeaway of the game.
“I knew they had to pass the ball. It was third down with little time left. The quarterback threw it up and there was only one receiver that went deep. As soon I saw the ball in the air, I just followed the
ball. I knew it was mine. It was the best feeling,” Smith said.
It was an uphill battle from the start for Minooka, which fell into a
14-point hole midway through the first quarter.
Smith scored on a 47-yard punt return to put EHS ahead 7-0 with 7:36
to go in the first. On the ensuing kickoff, Eric Epenesa recovered a fumble at the 25-yard
line of Minooka. The Tigers would get a 6-yard touchdown run by Abdur-Rahman to go
ahead 14-0 with 5:56 remaining in the first.
Minooka fought back, tying it 14-14 on a 30-yard touchdown reception by Etzkorn and 3-yard touchdown run by Jack Kropke before the end of the first quarter.
EHS took the lead for good on a 20-yard touchdown reception by Donovan Booker on 3rd-and-14 with 8:08 left in the second.
The Indians cut the lead to 21-17 on a 30-yard field goal by Trent Hudak late in the first half..
Gessner finished 13-of-23 passing for 187 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
Etzkorn rushed for 68 yards and caught five passes of 73 yards. He had two touchdowns.
“That team is well-coached, plays hard. It’s one of the most physical games we’ve been in,” Martin said. “To be able to do what the coaches did there in the first year is terrific.”