It was everything Homecoming is not supposed to be. The skies turned dark before the sun set and a cold hard rain poured down on Funderburg Stadium. The Homecoming Queen and her court almost ran through the halftime presentation with the Belvidere High School band nowhere to be found. Worst of all, the Bucs lost a heartbreaking game; coming back with time running out, only to be stopped at the last moment. “We all made mistakes,” said Bucs Coach Mike Hearn. “We really had great opportunities, but weren’t able to take advantage of them.”
The field was wet when the game began, but the rain didn’t start in earnest until halfway through the first quarter. The Indians took Belvidere’s kick off in the end zone, and started on their own 20 yard line. The Belvidere defense held tough, pushing them back four yards and forcing them to punt. The Bucs had excellent field position, starting at the Hononegah 44, and at first things went their way. Quarterback Jason Fiske was able to convert on a fourth and two and a short Matt Barr run converted another fourth down. The Bucs marched down the field on a series of handoffs, getting to the eight yard line. On second down and seven, Jason Fiske went to the air for the first time. Indians Nate Schnader intercepted it and scrambled out to the 31 before being stopped by Fiske himself.
The Belvidere defense hung tight again, forcing the Indians to go four downs and out. Belvidere took control on downs at the Indians 41 and ate up the rest of the first quarter. With time running out and the rain pouring down, Belvidere managed to get down to the three yard line, but no farther. Chris Barta came in to kick a field goal and the score was 3 – 0 as time expired.
Chris Barta’s kick off in the second quarter was up and made a sharp left turn from the strong winds. Hononegah started on their own 35. Quarterback Casey Ryczek handed off to David Frank and he ran 63 yards for a touchdown. Their extra point was good and the Bucs were down 7 – 3, less than a minute into the quarter. “The defense played well for 95% of the game,” said Coach Hearn, “But we got beat for a big run.” The Bucs went three and out on their next possession. Jason Fiske tried another pass but it was incomplete. The Indians were a bit more successful in the storm; Ryczek completed a single pass to Matt Miglin for a first down. But the Belvidere defense soot firm. On the Bucs 35, they swarmed in from both sides to sack Ryczek for a five yard loss. “Anthony Goransen put in a lot of effort,” said Coach Hearn. “That sack helped him be the defensive player of the game.” Hononegah had to punt it away.
Belvidere started on their own 20 with a series of handoffs. Mitch Hendrickson zig-zagged up the middle of the field for a 19 yard gain, but the weather shut down their drive. A Fiske pass went in and out of the hands of Eddie Saldana and they fumbled the ball at the Indians 41 yard line. “The weather affected our game a lot,” said Coach Hearn. “But then again, the conditions were the same for both teams out there.” Hononegah recovered, but weren’t able to keep it long. Defensive End Anthony Goransen recovered and the Bucs started on the Hononegah 31 yard line with time running out. Two incomplete passes and a run up the middle by (Hendrickson) went nowhere. On fourth down, they decided to go for it. Fiske tried a pass to Hendrickson, but it was incomplete. The Indians took over on downs, took a knee and it was halftime.
The capacity crowd filed out and less than half of them returned for the third quarter. The Bucs kept the ball on the ground and took their first drive into the end zone for a touchdown from Matt Barr. Chris Barta’s kick was good and the Bucs had the lead, 10 – 7. Sean Michael Wiley slipped on the kickoff return and the Indians started deep on their own six yard line. The Bucs defense only allowed three yards. Hononegah punted it away to their own 40. The Bucs started again, but weren’t able to gain much ground. They tried to convert on a fourth and two at the Indians 22 yard line, but Barr was unable to get enough. The Indians took over on downs. Again the Belvidere defense stepped up. Ryczek was unable to complete a pass and Defensive Back Vinnie Kertz rushed the punter. Belvidere recovered on the Indians 11 yard line. Three plays later Jason Fiske ran 7 yards for a touchdown, but it was nullified by an illegal block call against the Bucs. Fiske took to the air and Schnader intercepted it in the end zone. “We had five dry footballs at the start of the game, but it didn’t take long for them to get wet,” said Coach Hearn. “It slipped out of Jason’s hand as he threw.”
The Indians started the fourth quarter on the move. Wiley ran 27 yards into Bucs territory. Ryczek completed a pass to Matt Miglin to get it down to the three yard line. And Wiley took it in for the touchdown. Kelly Njos broke up the extra point, so the Bucs were only down by three. Time was getting short. The Bucs started their drive from the 25. Fiske connected with Jimmy Billon to get out to the 45 yard line and a pass to 35 got them down to the Indians 36. Hononegah’s defense stepped up. A handoff to Matt Barr went nowhere and Jason Fiske was unable to connect again with Billon. On fourth down, Fiske went back to pass again and Justin Kinser intercepted it on the one yard line. Still the Bucs didn’t give up. The crowd was reduced to a small core of umbrellas huddled together, roaring “let’s go Bucs!” with the cheerleaders. The defense held the Indians down at the goal line and the Bucs took their time outs to prevent them from running out the clock. Hononegah’s punter Matt Miglin was stopped in the end zone for a safety and the score was 13 – 12 with a little more than two minutes left. The kick off was caught by Tyler Pearse who ran down to the 30 yard line of the Indians. The small group of supporters screamed louder than the entire crowd had earlier. Jason Fiske went to work, connecting with Jimmy Billon down at the 21 yard line.
In two games this year it has come down to the final moments, the final pass. Both times, the Bucs have walked away with a win. This time, it wasn’t the Bucs turn. Under pressure, Fiske ran it out of bounds at the 10 yard line, but was sacked for a five yard loss on the very next play. The Bucs were out of time outs with less than 20 seconds left on the clock. Coach Hearn said if he had it to do over again, he would have called a running play. “We only needed to get a few more yards to get a first down and into field goal range,” he said. “We could have run, spiked the ball and would have been looking at a 25 yard field goal.” Instead, on fourth down Jason Fiske went back to pass and it was almost intercepted by Justin St. Marie in the end zone. The Indians took over on downs, they took a knee and the game ended with Hononegah the winners, 13 – 12.
The loss was a hard one for the Bucs, but Coach Hearn said it provides focus for the team. “We can use our frustration and take it out on our next opponent.” Belvidere travels to Machesney Park this Friday to take on the 3 – 3 Harlem Huskies for their Homecoming game. The Huskies have had a tough road this season. Their first game was cancelled due to a teachers’ strike. They beat Hononegah convincingly and lost a close one to Freeport. However they were crushed by Boylan, 49 – 14. “This is a must win game for them,” said Coach Hearn. To that end, the Huskies senior quarterback Robbie Wiest has been moved back to defensive end, the position where he was All Conference last year. Junior Ryan Jensen made his first start as QB in their non-conference win against DeKalb last week. “They’ve had an up and down season. It’s tough to gauge which team will show up,” said Coach Hearn. “However, we expect it will be the good one.” The game starts at 7:00.