The Chicago Hope Eagles were unable to advance to the second round of the playoffs, barely losing a close game against Aguin High School. The game came down to the final play, with Aguin catching a deflected hail mary pass to pull off the win.
By Joey Baskerville
In Zach Gogel’s mind, it felt as though it took an eternity for the ball to fall into his hands.
It may not have taken that long, but the result of the play ended a four-year streak of first-round losses in the postseason.
Aquin quarterback Nolan Brannick’s tipped pass, deflected off of a Chicago Hope defender’s helmet landed into Gogel’s gloves for the game-winning touchdown as the Bulldogs won in a shootout, 42-38.
“It felt like such a long time,” Gogel said. “And right before the play I told the coach ‘don’t switch me, don’t switch me’ because he was going to switch me to the other side (of the field) and we just got a lucky break.
“It tipped off his helmet, the ball flew in the air and I was just sitting there waiting for it and I was like ‘don’t drop it, don’t drop it’ and I caught it and I just said ‘oh my God!’ ”
The win gave Aquin its first playoff victory since 2005, the last year the Bulldogs won the state championship.
Aquin found itself trailing for the first time all game in the fourth quarter with less than a minute left. Aquin needed to drive 61 yards down the field with three timeouts, down 38-35.
Brannick completed a screen pass to Erich Awender, who ran 41 yards on the first play of Aquin’s final drive. An incompletion and a sack from Chicago Hopes’s Deon Burgess set up a third-and-15 play from Hope’s 25-yard line.
Brannick found Lucas Diemer in the end zone and tried to squeeze the ball in a tight window for a score. The ball deflected off a Hope defender’s helmet and Gogel was in the right place at the right time.
“I rolled out and didn’t go through my progressions the right way,” Brannick said. “The person I was supposed to get the ball too ended up being wide open, from what I heard afterwards.
“I threw it, it bounced off his head and we ended up getting it in the end zone. I was happy to finally get out of the first round.”
Both Aquin and Chicago Hope had epic offensive performances Saturday afternoon.
Awender finished with 17 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns and the Eagles tandem of speedster Jeremiah Westbrooks (30 carries, 185 yards, 2 TDs) and Cordero Daniel (118 yards, 4 TDs) combined for more than 300 yards on the ground.
Chicago Hope’s two punts in the second half accounted for the total number of punts the entire game. The first defensive stop for either team came just before halftime when an Aquin fumble on the center-to-quarterback exchange ended an eight-play 52-yard drive that allowed Hope to end the half down one point, 21-20.
Aquin’s defense broke down all game against the run as Hope’s speed and big offensive line were too much for the Bulldogs to handle.
“They had speed and they’ve got a good mix,” Aquin coach Todd Kramer said. “They’ve got speed, they’ve got size, they’re quick, our kids didn’t wrap up and we did everything we could on defense that we could.
“It wasn’t plays that really surprised us, they just brought it to us.”
The Bulldogs held the Eagles scoreless in the third quarter and had a nine-play, 82-yard drive capped off a Brannick (12-for-18 for 189 yards, 2 TDs, INT) pass to Lucas Diemer for a 28-20 lead with 1:53 left in the quarter.
Hope responded with a Daniel TD, but missed on the two-point conversion for a 28-26 score with 8:44 left in the game. Two plays later, Aquin scored on a five-yard TD run by Brannick after Awender galloped for 84 yards from Aquin’s 11-yard line.
The Eagles drove right back down the field and Westbrooks zipped through defenders on third-and-6 from Aquin’s 26 and crossed the end zone. Chicago Hope missed on the two-point try, but wasn’t finished tallying points.
With 5:13 left in the game, the Eagles tried and succeeded in recovering an onside kick. Aquin’s defense forced a fourth-and-5 on the Bulldogs 20-yard line, but Westbrooks picked up eight yards on a run and three plays later Daniel scored from eight yards out, giving Hope its first lead of the game.
“We were not used to seeing that kind of speed,” lineman Alex Jelinek said. “They were very fast, one of the fastest teams we’ve ever seen.”
Hope failed to score after Aquin’s stunning game-winning touchdown drive.
Aquin faces Stockton on the road next week, a rematch of Week 9’s NUIC-Upstate title game. The Bulldogs know they were fortunate to come out on top after two straight heartbreakers the past two seasons, but understand Stockton will provide another tough test.
“We have a lot of work to do,” lineman Collin Curry said. “That pretty much sums it up.”