By Tim Cronin
CRETE – Not for nothing are the 2018 Crete-Monee Warriors known as the Comeback Kids.
They trailed Chatham by two touchdowns in the final minutes of the second round and won. They trailed highly-regarded Washington in the quarterfinals and won.
Saturday, they were 12 points in arrears of unbeaten Richards with 2:01 to play. Two touchdowns in a span of 83 seconds in the gloaming turned the Warriors into 38-35 winners and sent the Bulldogs into paroxysms of anger and grief.
Trevon Jones couldn’t stop crying, and he had company on the Richards sideline. Several other players couldn’t stop yelling. No one could believe what had transpired.
“This is a special group and they truly do love each other,” coach Tony Sheehan said. “The dynamics of it, how much they cared for each other. Words can’t say how bad I feel for them right now.”
Eighty yards to the south, surrounded by the fans who stayed through a cold drizzle, the Warriors whooped it up following their third comeback in as many weeks. They had trailed Richards 35-23 after Marquel Porter hit Walter Riley on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 2:01 remaining, on a play concocted by Bulldogs standout Sebastian Castro.
“The coaches told us to keep our composure,” Crete-Monee quarterback Trayvon Rudolph said. “We were like, ‘We’re not done. The season isn’t over. The game isn’t over.’ ”
Stunningly, he was right. And the Bulldogs were on the wrong end of one of the more improbable comebacks one is likely to witness.
On the Warriors’ ensuing possession, Rudolph hit Ricky Johnson twice in succession, first for 18 yards and then for a 51-yard touchdown, cutting the gap to 35-30 on Grace Miller’s point-after kick.
Everyone in the stadium knew the onside kick was coming, and Ron Carroll Jr. recovered it for the Warriors.
And a Richards defense that had been stout was now porous. The most critical play came on fourth-and-10 with 44.6 seconds remaining, when Rudolph scrambled for 13 yards to keep hope alive for Crete-Monee. Two snaps later, he hit Vestrell Banks at the Richards 8. On the next play, Rudolph dashed off left tackle for the lead score, then found the end zone again on a two-point conversion for a 38-35 lead with 17.3 seconds to play.
Two plays after Rudolph’s heroics, it was official: The Warriors (10-3) were ticketed for Saturday’s 6A championship against Cary-Grove (13-0) in Champaign. The Bulldogs (12-1) left to wonder what hit them.
“They made more plays than us today,” Sheehan said. “I thought for most of the game we did a very good job. Tip your hat to them.
“It hurts, though. This is going to hurt for a long time.”
Castro’s brilliant day – two touchdown passes on three pass attempts, a rushing touchdown and an interception – ended up in the mud, but he was eloquent in defeat, both in a postgame talk to his teammates and after that.
“We knew they were a big-play team, so the game was never over with them,” said the senior. “But they ended up scoring. Stuff happens.
“This season started when the previous year ended. We went straight to work. We knew what we wanted to work for. In the summer, we worked every single day. We worked our tails off. For it to end right now is just devastating.”
Amazingly, Rudolph’s day surpassed Castro’s. He had an 84-yard kickoff-return touchdown, 81 yards rushing including two touchdowns, 237 yards passing, two of his 14 completions for touchdowns – both caught by Johnson among his seven receptions – and the poise of a pro when all seemed lost.
The teams combined for 752 yards in a game speckled with big plays on both sides of the ball. Castro hitting Porter from the 19 for a 7-3 lead, then scoring from the 19 himself for an 14-10 lead to answer Rudolph’s kickoff return score. Riley grabbing a Rudolph fumble and scoring from the 14 to push Richards ahead 21-10. Castro hitting Leshon Williams on an 84-yard score down the left sideline. Williams running for 147 yards on 26 carries.
Somehow, Crete-Monee overcame four turnovers and a stretch of four possessions without a first down to win. The Warriors will play in a state title game for the third time in seven years – and will face Cary-Grove in a final for the second-time in that span. They went undefeated in 2012, when they beat the Trojans for the crown, and lost to Montini in 2015.
“A junior that’s going to state feels awesome,” Rudolph said above the roar.
The shocking comeback came 50 years to the day after the “Heidi Game,” the Oakland Raiders’ comeback to beat the New York Jets after NBC left the American Football League game for the filmed fairy tale. For Crete-Monee, this was a fairy tale come true.
For Richards, it will be a recurring nightmare until next season.
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