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Class 7A: Lincoln-Way East comes up short vs. Glenbard West

Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel looks pass with Glenbard West's Ruben Dunbar trailing from behind. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media

Lincoln-Way East quarterback Tom Fuessel looks to pass with Glenbard West's Ruben Dunbar trailing from behind. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 24, 2013 4:47PM



One play for state championship No. 2.

That’s how close Lincoln-Way East came in Saturday’s Class 7A title game at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Trailing 10-6 with 1 minute, 59 seconds remaining and facing a fourth-and-10 at the Glenbard West 13-yard line, East senior quarterback Tom Fuessel took the snap in spread formation.

As he has so often this season, Fuessel avoided the rush, saw an opening and raced around the right side. It appeared he would get the first down and perhaps score, but West junior defensive back Hayden Carlson had other ideas. His shoulder tackle at full speed flipped Fuessel near the sideline at the 6 and turned the ball over three yards short of the first down.

The Hilltoppers took an intentional safety with 23 seconds left to leave the final of the defensive classic 10-8.

“Probably not,” Carlson said about whether he ever hit anyone that hard. “I dropped in coverage and when I saw him scramble I went at him. It ran through my head that I make that play or we could lose the state championship.”

Fuessel had difficulty getting up, and he was shaken a couple of times earlier in the rock-’em-sock-’em brawl. He rushed for 1,502 yards coming in but was limited to a net of 17 on 21 carries by a defense that had been allowing about 50 rushing yards per game. In the face of relentless pressure, he also completed only 3-of-14 passes for 51 yards.

“I don’t remember getting hit,” Fuessel said. “I just wanted to keep my head in the game. It definitely was the most physical game I’ve been in, but you expect that. It’s the state championship game.”

“Tom is a winner, a champion,” East coach Rob Zvonar said. “He did what he has done all year. That he came up a yard short does not tarnish his season.”

“He’s the best in Illinois as far as being an offensive weapon, and he’s most dangerous when he drops back to pass,” West coach Chad Hetlet said of Fuessel. “But we feel a great defense will beat a great player.”

East, whose defense also was exceptional, trailed 10-0 at halftime but got back in it on Justin Corbett’s 35-yard sweep around the right end with 2:47 left in the third quarter, capping a 10-play, 85-yard drive. However, Anthony Sciarini’s conversion kick sailed wide left, leaving the Griffins four points behind. That may have come into play late because East twice was in range of a possible tying field-goal attempt.

The Griffins (13-1) finished with 197 total yards and 13 first downs, the Hilltoppers (14-0) with 195 and 10. West’s touchdown was a 25-yard Henry Haeffner to Nathan Marcus hookup that capped a 72-yard drive in the first quarter. A 27-yard Hayden Lekacz field goal in the final minute of the half came after the Hilltoppers took over at the Griffins’ 40 after stopping Fuessel short when he ran from punt formation on a fourth-and-9.

East finished 4-of-10 on third-down conversions.

“We didn’t come here to tie or lose, we came here to win,” explained Zvonar, whose 2005 Griffins won the 8A title 30-24 over Maine South in two overtimes. “We feel we will pick it up most of the time when 2 (Corbett), 15 (Nick Colangelo) and 18 (Fuessel) can get the ball.”

Corbett finished with 82 yards on 15 carries and Colangelo added 50 on 17. The Griffins’ defense limited West to 53 yards in the second half and created three turnovers. Safety Jarrett Lecas intercepted a pass in the end zone, his sixth of the season, and returned it 38 yards in the second quarter and linebacker Kyle Langenderfer forced two fumbles, one of which he recovered to set up East’s final near-miss drive.

“They got us on a couple big plays, but we recovered a couple big fumbles and otherwise held them down,” said the 150-pound Langenderfer, who led East with 11 tackles, including nine solo and two for loss. “Our offense and defense both played great.”

“If we’re the best defense in the state, then they’re probably the second best,” Hetlet said.



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