Titans Topple Rams In Playoffs, 35-22
Tinley Park struck early and late for big touchdowns and the Rams were unable to stop the Titans in their first round playoff loss.
The Rams deferred after winning the coin toss and kicked off to the Titans. The kick bounced short and went out of the bounds putting the ball on the Titan 40-yard line. Nine plays later, they scored on an 18-yard reception to 6’3" receiver Eldridge Anderson.
The Rams drove 72 yards in 11 plays on the ensuing kickoff but were forced to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Jon Gurchak. The first quarter ended 7-3 in favor of Tinley Park.
Tinley Park running back Gregory Wallace is listed as 5’7" and 160 pounds, but he played like a true Titan in running for 184 yards on 23 carries. He was slippery and elusive and the Rams had a hard time stopping him before he made significant gains. With 8:52 left in the second quarter, Wallace burst through the Rams defense for a 52-yard touchdown to make the score 14-3 for the home team.
Joey Valdivia (29 carries, 186 yards, 3 TDs) scored from 2 yards out on Grayslake Central’s next drive, but extra point went wide right. The Rams kickoff went out of bounds again and the Titans had the ball at midfield. Two big pass plays resulted in a touchdown for Tinley Park. On a throw into the end zone it appeared that Grayslake’s Davonte Jennings had made an interception, but Tinley’s Tracey Brandy wrestled the ball out of his grasp for a Titan touchdown with 2:08 left in the half and a 21-9 halftime lead.
Injuries to key players in the first half appeared to hurt the Rams.
"When Vince Smith got twisted up that hurt our passing game a little bit," said Head Coach Nick Goshe. "We could only use him for holding on extra points in the second half. Devon Osburn got his ankle rolled but was able to play on it. It’s gonna be pretty big tomorrow I’m sure."
The visiting Rams scored quickly to start the second half when Valdivia showed his elusive speed and scampered for a 59-yard touchdown. The extra point was wide right and the Rams now trailed 21-15.
With 5:40 left in the third quarter, Valdivia struck again from 5-yards out and ran virtually untouched over right tackle for another touchdown. The score after the extra point conversion was 22-21 Grayslake for their first and only lead of the game. Gurchak blasted the next two kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Tinley Park drove down the field aided by a great reception by Tracey Brady on a tipped ball by the defense. Brady somehow managed to grab the ball while still up in the air and falling backwards for a 29-yard gain. With 6 seconds gone in the third quarter, the Tinley quarterback Kyle Sheridan (4/11 for 108 yards 1 TD/1 INT) followed the surge of his huge line and scored his third touchdown of the game from 1-yard out. A two point conversion by the Titans made the score 29-22.
Jennings made a tremendous interception in the 4th quarter but the Rams were unable to capitalize on it. Driving 80 yards down the field, Tinley Park scored with 00:51 left in the 4th quarter on another quarterback keeper from 1-yard out to end the scoring at 35-22.
The Rams Ray Beckman (6/18 for 107 yards) was intercepted with 00:30 left and the Titans took a knee to end the game.
"The kids gave it everything they had and they lost to a team that had our number tonight," Goshe said. "They had a little bit more in the tank then we did. They had a couple more big plays. Each year we have improved. From 0 wins to 1 to 4 to 6 and now 7 wins. So we have to just keep the improvement going."
The Rams coaches were proud of the team's effort.
"Our second and third options were weakened because we had some guys (Devon Osburn and Vince Smith) hobbled up with knee and ankle injuries," said Goshe. "We had to get some other kids in to make plays and they did. But it wasn’t enough. We came up short. The kids played hard and that’s all we ask for. We just came up short. Attitude and effort was correct and the coaching staff walks out of here pretty happy with these kids right now. The community should be pretty happy too. These kids represented Grayslake in a very good way in a tough, tough environment to play. These kids did all of the tough things that we asked them to do. They can take a lot out of this as young men."
After the game, the seniors of Grayslake took a moment in the end zone for the traditional time to process their last varsity high school football experience. There were tears, hugs and words of encouragement from teammates and coaches. Then they walked off to be consoled and congratulated by their proud parents and siblings.
"This is an emotional time for kids at this point in their lives," said Goshe. "Near the end of the game, when they realize that it’s over after four years, that’s when you see it hit them and there are some watery eyes on the sidelines."
Grayslake senior running back Joey Valdivia said, "It has been a great experience. I did all I could today to win. Our whole team did. It’s tough but we’ll grow from it."
When asked about his future plans, Valdivia noted, "NIU has contacted me about wrestling and some D-III schools, too."
Grayslake senior linebacker Kristian Meehan, emotionally and physically spent, could only nod and agree, "It’s tough for it to end."
"The kids have bonded with each other and gone through so much together, that it’s really hard emotionally for them to deal with," Goshe said. "It’s an opportunity, though, for them to move on to the next challenge. That’s part of the process and they move on to the next bonding experience with a new group of people. It’s why we get into education and teaching – to help them get into and through this experience."
"The kids will come back to visit the team and catch some games next fall," said Goshe. "That’s the sign of a program that is being built the right way. That’s how you know that things are heading in the right direction."
Grayslake has much to be proud of in these young men who have given our community so much joy and excitement with their effort and successes. They have done with heart and soul and class while etching their names and records in the annals of Grayslake Central High School. Speaking for myself (and I’m sure for all of their parents, friends and many members of the community) – Thank you, Seniors and best of luck in the rest of your final year of high school and all your future endeavors.