It was Homecoming night at Harlem High School with confetti flying, balloons and a capacity crowd. Magic was in the air and the Huskies were inspired to work a little magic of their own against the Bucs. Where straightforward plays may not have worked, misdirections and substitutions were able to confuse Belvidere in key situations and cost the Bucs the game.
The misdirection started with the opening kick off. Harlem surprised the Bucs with an onside kick. “That was actually an illegal formation,” says Bucs coach Mike Hearn. “But the referees didn’t catch it.” It bounced off one of the Bucs in the front line and then it was anyone’s ball. Harlem recovered and went to work from their 48 yard line. Two long runs by Jake Porter and Zack Sheets got them down to the Bucs eight yard line before the Belvidere defense tightened up. On fourth down at the one yard line, the defense stopped the charge and the Huskies came away with nothing. The Bucs were unable to move the ball offensively and punted it away. Harlem started with good field position, from the Bucs 42 yard line. The defense held firm though and they were forced to punt.
Or so it seemed.
It was a punt fake. Rob Wiest, former starting quarterback, stood in the backfield. He took the snap and made a quick throw to Josh Kennington. He broke one tackle and ran it down to the four yard line before he was knocked out of bounds. Matt Kennington ran it up the middle for a touchdown. The kick was good and the Huskies had a 7 – 0 lead. Again, the Bucs were unable to generate any offense and they punted it away.
The Huskies started the second quarter with possession of the ball and control of the field. But the Bucs defense began to work some magic of their own. Kelly Njos stopped Nolan Lamb in the backfield for a loss and Anthony Goransen stepped up with a big stop of quarterback Jensen at the ten yard line on a third and one. Harlem lost five yards and had to try for a field goal instead. The kick was low and barely made it over, but it was good enough to put the Huskies up by ten.
Belvidere’s offense finally got into gear. Brandon Smaha returned the kick off 18 yards to get the drive started at the 29 yard line. He and Mitch Hendricksen traded running plays to move the Bucs down the field. Jason Fiske got into the act as well after a passing play went south. Chased by a group of Huskies defenders, he circled around in the backfield and rushed 24 yards into Harlem territory. Smaha and Hendricksen continued plowing straight through the Huskies defense. On first down from the four yard line, Brandon Smaha took it in between blocks from Matt Barr and Ryan Vetter. Chris Barta’s kick was good and the score was 10 – 7. Harlem was unable to move the ball and tried another fake punt, but the Bucs defense was onto them this time. While they managed to complete the pass, it was far short of the first down. Belvidere took over with 42 seconds left in the half. Cliff Paul shot down the field to the Huskies 22 yard line, but that was as close as they would get to the end zone. Jason Fiske put the ball into the air and Mike Cox intercepted it. That finished the half.
The Huskies continued to work with a lot of fake hand-offs and misdirections. The Belvidere offense, by comparison, worked mostly with runs up the middle. Cliff Paul went to work along with Mitch Hendricksen. Jason Fiske found another opportunity on the ground and rushed 20 yards to finish up the quarter. Down at the five yard line, the Bucs did some feinting of their own. A fake hand off to Cliff Paul instead went to Matt Barr who ran in for the go ahead score. Chris Barta was two for two and the Bucs were up 14 – 10 with less than ten minutes in the game.
Junior quarterback Ryan Jensen, in just his third start, couldn’t get anything going again against the swarming defense of the Bucs. One pass was picked off by Cliff Paul. The Bucs took, but a costly penalty set them back to their own 17 yard line. Two more penalties pushed them back to punt from their own end zone. Harlem took over with good field position, starting at the Belvidere 45. However, the Bucs defense didn’t allow any gain. Harlem was forced to punt again.
Belvidere seemed content to run out the clock, nursing a four point lead with less than seven minutes left. On a fourth and one, Jason Fiske kept their drive alive with a quarterback sneak. The Bucs managed to get out to the 46, but couldn’t advance any farther. Matt Barr punted it down to the Huskies 14 yard line. There was less than three minutes to go.
Harlem had one last trick up their sleeve. Quarterback Ryan Jensen was replaced with their senior QB, Rob Wiest. “We were concerned with keeping them away from the sidelines,” explained Coach Hearn. “They were out of timeouts and we didn’t want them running out of bounds and stopping the clock.” The clock turned out not to be much of an issue. His first completion to Josh Kennington was good for a first down. His second completion to Jake Ruef got the Huskies into Bucs territory. The crowd woke up with a roar. With two minutes left, Wiest connected with Kennington at the fifteen yard line. He ran in untouched for the go ahead touchdown.
The Bucs had two minutes to come back. Jimmy Billon managed a 12 yard return and the offense started on their own 26 yard line. They had been content to keep it on the ground most of the night, but with no time outs left, they went to the air. Jason Fiske’s pass was intercepted and the game was over. The Bucs dropped their second in a row, 17 – 14.
The Bucs return home Friday night for the last home game of the season. The Guilford Vikings come in with a 6 – 1 record. “They’re not a big team,” says Coach Hearn. “But they have incredible quickness. You have to watch them – even on their own one yard line – they can break out.” Running back Dion Williams leads the NIC-9 in rushing yards. George Brents and Guilford quarterback Phil Adams are also threats on the ground. While the Bucs defense has been practicing hard to contain Guilford, the best defense is a good offense. “We need to keep the ball as long as possible,” says Coach Hearn. The offense has been struggling the last two weeks, especially the passing game. While the Bucs need to win one of their last two games to qualify for the playoffs, Coach Hearn wants them both. “It would be good to go into the playoffs with some momentum.” The kick off is at 7:15.