Read on ChicagoTribune.com. This story also was printed in the Sunday, November 21, 2016, edition of the Chicago Tribune.
Fenwick senior quarterback Jacob Keller dropped back on fourth-and-15, watched the game clock expire and heaved the ball down the field, his team up 10-7 and on the verge of its first-ever state title appearance. The Friars sideline and fan section erupted in celebration, havingly seemingly won their Class 7A semifinal Saturday. But the game was not over; intentional grounding was called.
The officials — incorrectly, as it would turn out — gave Plainfield North the ball back for one final untimed play. After minutes of sorting out where to place the ball, Plainfield North took over possession at the Fenwick 5-yard line and kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime.
Fenwick got the ball first, and senior running back Conner Lillig punched it in from 1 yard out to give the fourth-seeded Friars a 17-10 lead. Plainfield North junior Dillon McCarthy scored a third-down touchdown run to cut the score to 17-16, and instead of kicking the extra point, the visitors went for two. McCarthy took the handoff, bounced outside and found the end zone, giving the 16th-seeded Tigers the 18-17 win.
The IHSA issued a statement Saturday night indicating the game officials had made a mistake at the end of regulation but said the result would stand: “Per Rule 3-3-4 in the 2016 NFHS Football Rules Book, the game should have concluded on the final play of regulation and the untimed down should not have been awarded. IHSA by-law 6.033 clearly states that ‘the decisions of game officials shall be final.'”
The IHSA also apologized to the Fenwick team and community.
After the game, Fenwick coach Gene Nudo questioned the ruling after the intentional grounding.
“I won a lot of games in the Arena League throwing the ball into the stands on the last play of the game,” Nudo said. “Our kids did not deserve to lose the game today, that’s the bottom line. As shallow as it sounds, it’s all on me. They deserved better.”
For Fenwick (11-2) it was a heartbreaking loss, and many players were in tears leaving the locker room. For Plainfield North (11-2), the celebration on the Triton College field in front of the stunned home Fenwick crowd was electric, and some players and fans were crying with joy.
“All the seniors, once they scored and we got the ball, they said, ‘We’re going for two,'” Plainfield North head coach Tim Kane said. “It was like our guys just knew we were going to score there. … I’ve been around football a long time. I haven’t seen anything crazier.”
Fenwick got the ball back for its final drive when Tigers junior quarterback Brady Miller was intercepted at the Fenwick 5-yard line by Lorente Blakeney with 1:34 remaining. Earlier in the drive, a Tigers touchdown pass was called back because the receiver had stepped out of bounds before the catch. After Fenwick’s first-down play, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kane moved the Friars to the 20, but Plainfield had two timeouts to keep hope alive.
Keller, who was named first-team all-state, finished the game 16-for-28 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Senior Jack Henige caught a touchdown for the Friars, and junior wide receiver Mike O’Laughlin finished with eight receptions for 102 yards. Plainfield North senior running back Tyler Hoosman had 78 yards rushing.
Plainfield North advances to play second-seeded East St. Louis in the 7A state championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.