Preps Talk

Three infamous yards show up again for Homewood-Flossmoor

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Three infamous yards show up again for Homewood-Flossmoor

Three yards away. Again.

When Deante Harley-Hampton fumbled in the final minute of last year's 8A state title game, the champion Stevenson Patriots fell on the ball at the 3-yard-line. A touchdown would have given the Vikings a victory in the most unlikely of comebacks, having trailed by 15 points with less than 6 minutes remaining.

The loss was a painful reminder all offseason of just how narrow the gap between winning and losing can be. And while the Vikings said all the right things in the lead-up to the 2015 season, using that loss and those yards as motivation for what was expected to be a championship season, nearly a year later the football again rested on that infamous 3-yard-line, nine feet away from glory.

This time it came in the 8A quarterfinals, a matchup between Loyola and Homewood-Flossmoor, the state's most talented teams expected to meet in the title game. The way the brackets shook out after the Vikings suffered a loss in the regular season's final week pitted the two teams against each other two weeks prior to DeKalb, in what many touted as the game of the year and the most highly anticipated quarterfinal game in recent memory.

Homewood-Flossmoor entered the contest averaging better than 43 points per game. The Ramblers' top-ranked defense had allowed 73 points all year, including five shutouts. Something had to give as the state's most lethal offense squared off against the state's most unforgiving defense. And it happened on the first play of the final quarter.

The Vikings, leading 21-19, had manufactured another successful drive deep into Ramblers territory. To that point, the 12-play drive included a key third-down run by Devonte Harley-Hampton, a sparkling 24-yard run by Deante Harley-Hampton - who had scored three times in the game - and an incredible 51-yard catch-and-run by Kendric Pryor with the Vikings facing a 2nd and 41 after a pair of penalties.

On first and goal from the 8, Devonte Harley-Hampton rushed for two yards. A Bryce Gray incompletion set up third and goal from the 6, with Gray keeping an option down to the 3-yard-line as time expired in the third quarter.

That set up a 4th and goal from the 3. Earlier in the week the Vikings had game planned to feature more of a passing attack than usual, and with a touchdown meaning a two-possession lead with Loyola going into the wind head coach Craig Buzea put the ball in the team's most reliable of hands, Gray.

The senior signal caller rolled right and saw Deante Harley-Hampton alone in the back of the end zone. He lofted a pass just high enough for the leaping 5-foot-6 Deante Harley-Hampton to get his hands on. But as the running back began his descent into the end zone, Loyola defensive back Ian Swenson pushed Harley-Hampton just enough for the running back's right foot to come down out of bounds by mere centimeters, if that.

The result was a turnover on downs. And while that missed opportunity certainly didn't end the game - the Vikings held the lead and Loyola was heading into the wind - it shifted momentum entirely. The Ramblers proceeded to go 97 yards in 19 plays, both managing the clock and keeping the HF offense on the sideline. A 10-yard Emmett Clifford touchdown run gave the Ramblers a 27-21 lead with less than 5 minutes remaining, and the Vikings went four-and-out on their next possession to all but wrap up the game.

A multitude of factors played a part in the Vikings' loss, but again those three ugly yards were left on the field.

It was an unfortunate microcosm of the senior class which will graduate more than half its starters from a team that was widely expected to compete for a state title. For all the group accomplished, nearly winning it all in 2014 and crushing school records a year later, that elusive state title was a goal the team never reached.

And yet, the bigger picture reigned supreme.

Gray said at the beginning of the year that his hope was the 2015 class would be remembered forever. What he assumed was that a state title needed to be brought home to the halls of Homewood-Flossmoor High School in order for that to be achieved. And for likely the first time in his career, Gray would be wrong.

Just eight of the 256 teams that qualify for the IHSA playoffs bring home a title. Five straight wins against premier competition is a feat in and of itself, and certainly with the way the 8A bracket shook out the Vikings had nothing to hand their collective heads on over losing to the Ramblers, which defeated Palatine on Saturday to advance to DeKalb.

It's true, the 2015 Homewood-Flossmoor Vikings won't be remembered as the team that went wire-to-wire as the top team in Illinois. They won't be remembered for winning a state championship. They weren't the team of destiny they had been pegged as in August.

But for this tight knit group, the collection of seniors who joined the varsity team three years ago, they'll be remembered in a larger realm than any trophy could have described them.

"We came in wanting to be the best ever to walk through the halls. I think we proved that we’re up there, definitely. We didn’t get the main goal but we did some great thigns here, I’m proud of us," Gray said. "We won conference here for the first time, a lot more good than bad this year. Sorry. I love those guys and I’m going to miss them. I’m going to miss walking on the field with them."

Gray defined what it meant to be a Viking. The Harley-Hampton twins combined for more than 3,000 total yards and 49 touchdowns. Kendric Pryor, who committed to Wisconsin early in the year, totaled 1,152 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 26.2 yards per reception. Junior Ty RIchie went from unknown to underrated, catching 20 balls, five of which for touchdowns. The offensive line, led by senior Desmond Bland, made the Vikings' "machine" work.

The defense surely wishes it could have that 97-yard drive back. But senior Percy Walters and Tyler Newkirk led a group that constantly was forced to take the field after the Vikings' offense exploded for three- and four-play drives. It's no easy feat being the follow-up act after the state's most dynamic offense put on their own show. And Zac Wells' group more than played their part. As it was with the entire group, they didn't complete their ultimate goal. But they, too, will be remembered for what they did in their time wearing the red and white and will grow from it.

"We had a heck of a team. We just fell short. You move on in life from this," Newkirk said. "You take this and you carry this. Tough one to take on the chin, but we move on and grow as men."

The Homewood-Flossmoor football program is in phenomenal hands under Craig Buzea. Spend even one day around them and you realize they're about something more than nine weeks of wins and losses. Buzea's goal every season is to be ranked nationally and to win a state championship. One day he'll get there, so long as he keeps the core values he's built this program on intact. It didn't happen with the 2015 team, as many expected, but that special group of players will leave their own mark. And that mark will last long after they leave Flossmoor.

"A lot of these guys came up as sophomores, pretty immature sophomores. And to see them walk out as young men like they are," Buzea said with a smile, "and knowing that what they’re going to accomplish in years to come, is pretty special to watch."

Edgy Tim's Preps Power Rankings: Week 9

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NBC Sports Chicago

Edgy Tim's Preps Power Rankings: Week 9

Here are the latest @NBCSPreps Top 25 Power Rankings.
 
1. Lincoln-Way East 8-0 (1)
Last Week: Beat Thornwood, 56-18
This Week: vs Bolingbrook
EDGY's Take: The Griffins get a nice Week 9 test hosting Bolingbrook. Can the Raiders push the Griffins for four quarters?

2. Batavia 8-0 (2)
Last Week: Beat St. Charles North, 27-24
This Week: @ Wheaton North
EDGY's Take: An epic drive late in the game with no timeouts. The Bulldogs pull out the close-call win over St. Charles North.  

3. Brother Rice 8-0 (3)
Last Week: Beat Leo, 48-0
This Week: @ Montini Catholic
EDGY's Take: What were the preseason that the biggest Chicago Catholic League game of the year would be Brother Rice at Montini?

4. Marist 7-1 (4)
Last Week: Beat Marian Central Catholic, 42-6
This Week: @ Benet Academy
EDGY's Take: The Redhawks will get a nice Week 9 on Friday from Benet at Benedictine University. 

5. Mount Carmel 7-1 (5)
Last Week: Beat St. Laurence, 40-0
This Week: vs Fenwick
EDGY's Take: The Caravan have been playing as well as any contenders ranked here.

6. Homewood-Flossmoor 7-1 (6)
Last Week: Beat Andrew, 35-3
This Week: vs Sandburg
EDGY's Take: Head coach Craig Buzea got his 200th career win last Friday over Andrew.

7. Cary-Grove 8-0 (7)
Last Week: Beat Prairie Ridge, 21-14
This Week: vs Naperville Central
EDGY's Take: The Trojans rallied from being down 14-0 and scored 21 unanswered points to defeat their bitter rivals.

8. Simeon 8-0 (8)
Last Week: Beat Taft, 58-7
This Week: @ Curie
EDGY's Take: The big question coming Saturday night-- Will the Wolverines wind up in 8A or 7A? 

9. Nazareth Academy 7-1 (9)
Last Week: Beat Joliet Catholic, 49-20
This Week: vs Marian Catholic
EDGY's Take: The Roadrunners get a nice bounce-back win last Friday over Joliet Catholic.

10. Maine South 7-1 (10)
Last Week: Beat New Trier, 38-21
This Week: vs Niles West
EDGY's Take: The Hawks get another big Central Suburban South win. 

11. Oswego 8-0 (11)
Last Week: Beat Joliet Central, 49-0
This Week: @ Plainfield South
EDGY's Take: The Panthers will take on a very defensive-minded Plainfield South team on Friday.
 
12. Richards 8-0 (13)
Last Week: Beat Reavis, 51-0
This Week: vs Eisenhower
EDGY's Take: The Bulldogs continue to cruise and are gearing for a high seed in Class 6A.
 
13. Phillips 6-2 (14)
Last Week: Beat Westinghouse, 46-6
This Week: @ Raby
EDGY's Take: The Wildcats will look to finish strong this week against Raby.

14. Willowbrook 8-0 (15)
Last Week: Beat Proviso East, 40-7
This Week: @ Downers Grove South
EDGY's Take: The Warriors will look to send Downers Grove South (4-4) home for the holidays on Friday.

15. Naperville Central 6-2 (16)
Last Week: Beat Waubonsie Valley, 35-14
This Week: @ Cary-Grove
EDGY's Take: The Redhawks have won six straight games and have the makings of a team that could make some postseason noise. 

16. Bolingbrook 7-1 (17)
Last Week: Beat Thornton, 43-7
This Week: @ Lincoln-Way East
EDGY's Take: The Raiders will look to derail the "Big Cobalt Blue Machine" this Friday in Frankfort. 

17. Montini 8-0 (18)
Last Week: Beat Providence Catholic, 27-3
This Week: vs Brother Rice
EDGY's Take: The Broncos will host Brother Rice on Friday in the biggest game of the year in the Chicago Catholic League.

18. Oak Park-River Forest 6-2 (NR)
Last Week: Beat Glenbard West, 10-7
This Week: vs Lyons Township
EDGY's Take: The Huskies have a top-notch defense and found a way to beat Glenbard West at Duchon Field. It was OPRF's first win there since 1998.

19. Warren Township 7-1 (NR)
Last Week: Beat Stevenson, 21-0
This Week: @ Mundelein
EDGY's Take: The Blue Devils defense came to play. An impressive 21-0 shutout over Stevenson 21-0 last Friday.

20. Glenbard West 6-2 (12)
Last Week: Lost to Oak Park-River Forest, 10-7
This Week: @ Proviso West
EDGY's Take: The Hilltoppers defense is still salty as ever. But can the offense find a few more options besides standout RB Tyquan Cox?

21. Hillcrest 8-0 (22)
Last Week: Beat TF North, 50-6
This Week: vs Bremen
EDGY's Take: The Hawks have made it look easy this regular season. They'll go for a 9-0 sweep later this week in an effort to claim a high seed in 5A.

22. Notre Dame 7-1 (23)
Last Week: Beat Carmel, 21-7
This Week: vs Joliet Catholic
EDGY's Take: The Dons now host JCA and will try to knock out the Hilltoppers from the state playoff field.

23. Hinsdale Central 8-0 (24)
Last Week: Beat Lyons Township, 57-0
This Week: vs Hinsdale South
EDGY's Take: The Red Devils will get challenged this Friday against crosstown rival Hinsdale South (The "Doings Cup" game).

24. Rolling Meadows 8-0 (NR)
Last Week: Beat Hersey, 38-35
This Week: @ Buffalo Grove
EDGY's Take: The Mustangs get a huge win over Hersey. Why do I get the feeling we could see an RM-Hersey rematch in the postseason?
 
25. St. Charles North 6-2 (21)
Last Week: Lost to Batavia, 27-24
This Week: vs Wheaton South
EDGY's Take: The North Stars drop a last-second loss to Batavia last Friday; they will look to get back on track this week against another tough opponent in Wheaton South.
 

High School Lites Football Roundup Week 8

High School Lites Football Roundup Week 8

High School Lites is back with an exciting Week 8 full of thrilling matchups. NBC Sports Chicago has the highlights of some of the top matchups from Friday's games.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @NBCSPREPS for all of the latest IHSA football scores and highlights.

DRIVEBatavia (episode 8)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Prospect/Elk Grove Girls Volleyball

VIEWERS' CHOICE GAMES OF THE WEEK: Downers North shuts out rival Downers South

WINTRUST ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Downers Grove South runner Brenna Cohoon 

Eisenhower's Jade Watson makes a big impression on the football field 

FRIDAY'S TOP 25 SCORES

(1) Lincoln-Way East 56, Thornwood 18

(2) Batavia 27, St. Charles North 24

(3) Brother Rice 48, Leo 0

(4) Marist 42, Marian Central 6

(5) Mount Carmel 40, St. Laurence 0

(6) Homewood-Flossmoor 35, Andrew 3

(7) Cary-Grove 21, (25) Prairie Ridge 14

(9) Nazareth 49, Joliet Catholic 20

(10) Maine South 38, (20) New Trier 21

(11) Oswego 49, Joliet Central 0

(13) Richards 51, Reavis 0

(14) Phillips 46, Westinghouse 6

(15) Willowbrook 40, Proviso East 7

(16) Naperville Central 35, Waubonsie Valley 14

(17) Bolingbrook 43, Thornton 7

(18) Montini 27, Providence 3

Warren 21, (19) Stevenson 0

(22) Hillcrest 50, T.F. North 6

(23) Notre Dame 21, Carmel 7

(24) Hinsdale Central 49, Lyons 6

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Rolling Meadows 38, Hersey 35

Antioch 43, Lakes 24

Byron 21, Genoa-Kingston 14

SATURDAY'S TOP 25 GAMES

(8) Simeon vs. Taft at Lane Stadium

Oak Park-River Forest at (12) Glenbard West