The stage was set for a storybook ending to what seemed like a perfect night in Northfield.
With just over six minutes remaining Friday night, New Trier junior quarterback Patrick Heneghan fired a 27-yard touchdown pass to senior stalwart Miles Cremascoli to give the Trevians a 10-point lead. They appeared well on their way to a second straight win and a joyous conclusion to their home opener.
But the Prospect Knights weren’t interested in any of that.
The Knights rallied to score 14 points late in the fourth quarter to stun the Trevians and hand them a heartbreaking, season-altering 24-20 defeat on Friday, Sept. 8, at Robert Naughton Field.
“This is going to be a really tough one for our team; this is going to be a tough one for our staff,” New Trier head coach Brian Doll said. “I thought the better team did not win tonight.”
Trevs quarterback Patrick Heneghan winds up for a throw while facing pressure.
Prospect seemed all but out of the game after the Trevians forced a turnover on downs following Heneghan’s touchdown pass. But the Knights refused to give in.
After a Trevs’ three-and-out, Prospect went 86 yards in a hurry to shrink New Trier’s lead to three points. The Knights’ 10-play, 86-yard drive finished on a 13-yard touchdown pass.
Yet, with just under two minutes of game time to play, the Trevians still controlled their own fate. But that command was momentary, as the Knights attempted and recovered an onside kick inside New Trier territory.
It took Prospect only two plays to move the ball into the Trevs’ redzone. And just two plays after that, the Knights put the finishing touches on their staggering comeback, scoring on another 13-yard touchdown pass to take the 24-20 lead over New Trier.
“To be honest with you, this one is going to hurt for a while,” Doll said. “I was pretty jacked up about it with everything that was going on at school today and everything that was going on with the environment here tonight, and then to lose this one, where you’ve got it pretty locked up, is tough.”
Although the finish was far from what New Trier hoped for, the beginning to the night could not have commenced in better fashion for the hosts.
Franklin Zoloto (92) pressures Prospect quarterback Lucas Deines.
Just two plays into the game, senior Jackson McCarey broke free for a 73-yard touchdown run to put the Trevs out in front early. McCarey’s scamper sent the Trevains faithful into a frenzy, as the vast crowd that packed the stands on the program’s youth night exploded.
New Trier extended its lead later in the first quarter when junior kicker Niki Dugandzic drilled a 31-yard field goal to give the Trevs a 10-0 lead.
With just under three minutes to go in the first half, Dugandzic then delivered another booming strike, converting a 49-yard field goal attempt to put New Trier up 13-0. The Trevs star kicker is off to a stellar start to the season. He’s a perfect 4-of-4 on field goal attempts, all of which have been more than 30 yards (45, 35, 31, 49.)
Prospect got on the scoreboard before halftime with a field goal of its own as the Knights capped a strong drive with a 33-yard make. The Knights then opened the second half with a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to make it a 13-10 ballgame.
New Trier’s offense was quiet for much of the second half until the 71-yard drive that resulted in Cremascoli’s touchdown catch. Aside from that scoring drive, the Trevs put together just 32 yards of total offense in the second half. New Trier gained positive yardage on only 13 of their second-half plays, nine of which occurred during the lone scoring drive.
Yet, despite that, it looked like a night that would define the Trevians’ nonconference season. A game that would have given them a needed second victory and put them on a clear path to their return to the postseason.
But instead the evening will go down as one of the toughest defeats in recent memory. New Trier knows it was a night of missed opportunities. The Trevs missed scoring chances in both halves, as they dropped a few would-be touchdown passes and failed to score on drives with good starting field position.
Charlie Gardella (6) celebrates a sack with teammate Liam Fitzgerald.
“You’re going to be able to look back at about six or seven plays tonight that are really, really tough, but we had a lot of chances to win this game and we have to step up in those situations,” Doll said.
“We have to grow from this,” Doll later added. “I think this was a big game for us obviously. We should have won, we should be 2-1 right now but now we’re sitting at 1-2 and we have another big game next week and that’s hard for us right now that we have to turn around on Thursday and play.”
The Trevs will continue to run the gauntlet that is their opening five games next week as they’ll head on the road to take on Barrington (3-0), another Mid Suburban League power.
The game will be played on Thursday night (Sept. 14) instead of Friday. Many local teams are playing next Thursday in an effort by the IHSA to alleviate the officials shortage the state continues to face.
New Trier will focus on putting Week 3’s unsavory finish behind them as they prepare for another tough opponent. But it certainly won’t be easy.
“A lot of guys are going to have to dig down deep and come back,” Doll said. “And I told them, tomorrow is not going to be a fun day to walk through the door because you’re going to hurt and Monday is going to hurt too. But we have to get ready to play a game next Thursday against a really good football team.”
Getting healthy will also be a key for the Trevians, who lost both Heneghan and senior defensive standout Dylan Jeppe late in Week 3. Heneghan departed late in the fourth quarter after an ankle injury, while Jeppe exited with a lower-body injury.
Thankfully for the Trevs, both injuries seem minor as of Friday night. Doll said that Heneghan rolled his ankle and “he’s not overly concerned.” Jeppe could be back to practicing with the team as soon as Monday, Doll said.
New Trier will need to have all its leaders healthy and ready to go to match up with the undefeated Broncos.
“Our playmakers are going to have to step up against Barrington,” Doll said. “Barrington is a good enough team that if you don’t have your big guys stepping up and making plays, they’re going to shut you down quickly. We have to do a better job there.”