Belvidere marched into Boylan’s home turf last season and marched out winners for the first time in eight years thanks to a broken pass play that was magically transformed into a wild throw and a clear shot into the end zone in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. This year’s game looked to be even bigger. Both the Bucs and the Titans had passed a crucial milestone: beating the traditional NIC-9 leading Freeport Pretzels. Both teams were 3-0 going into Friday night’s match and both teams were hoping to knock an arch rival off the top of the standings.
The Bucs started prepping for Friday night’s match the minute the whistle ended the game against Rockford East. “Boylan Week” at Belvidere meant more drills and longer practices. Coach Hearn admitted there were some rough spots during the week, but it all came together Friday evening. Cars filled the lot and lined the streets surrounding Belvidere High School. The crowd inside Funderburg Stadium was standing room only. Fans that left their seats to brave the lines at the concession stand marked their foot of aluminum bleach with yellow rolls of police tape. And as the sun set on a perfect evening for football, the home crowd was treated to an exciting game culminating in a 28 – 14 victory.
Boylan won the toss and elected to kick off. Tyler Pearse grabbed the ball and brought it out to the Bucs 30 yard line. Matt Barr connected with Brandon Wakeley on a third and long to keep their opening drive alive. Tyler Pearse pushed his way into Titans territory. Adam Wells found a hole in the middle and rushed down to the 22. On second down and four from the 16 yard line, Matt Barr kept the ball and dashed into the end zone for the first score of the night. Jason Schwartz’ kick was good and the Bucs were up 7 – 0 after burning up four and a half minutes off the clock.
Boylan’s turn. Bryant Beal took the kick off for the Titans and pushed it out to their 34 yard line. Quarterback Jake Smolinski handed it off a couple of times before keeping the ball himself and rushing 20 yards into Bucs territory. The Bucs defense came to life. On first down from the Bucs’ 19 yard line, Nathan Kays sacked Smolinski. A run by Malcolm Tinson and another attempt by Smolinski went nowhere and the Titans were forced to try a field goal from the 11 yard line. Ben Salley came out of nowhere and blocked the kick. Nathan Kays came up with it on the 28 yard line and the Bucs finished up the first quarter with possession of the ball and a touchdown lead.
The lead wouldn’t last long. Belvidere went three and out at the opening of the second quarter. The Titans started at their own 24. Jason Coniglio put on a burst of speed to get the ball up near midfield. On the next play, a fake hand-off gave Smolinski time to complete a long pass to Vernon Sims who took it 51 yards in for a touchdown. The point after was good and the game was tied 7 – 7.
The Bucs started on their own 20, but didn’t stay their long. Matt Barr rushed for a first down at the 32 and a trio of handoffs to Brandon Smaha got the Bucs into Titans territory. Barr found Tyler Pearse to get down to the 37 yard line. On first down, Barr connected with Brandon Wakeley, but he was stripped of the ball. Robert Wood picked it up for Boylan and he rushed it back to the Bucs’ 47. However, the Bucs defense solidified. Smolinski tried another run that went nowhere. Malcolm Tinson took a handoff, but was stopped by a gang of Bucs defenders. Smolinski set up in the shotgun formation, but that didn’t buy him much time; a trio of Bucs defenders surrounded him in an instant. Smolinski managed to hurl the ball as he was wrapped up, but it came down in the hands of Belvidere’s Kevin Byrd.
The Bucs weren’t able to capitalize directly on the interception; they punted it away four plays later. But the Titans were backed up, starting their next drive on their own 18 yard line. And the Bucs defense wasn’t taking any prisoners. Cory Radke shot through the line, wrapping up Jason Coniglio for a six yard loss. Coniglio got the call again and a swarm of Bucs stopped him at the line of scrimmage. Boylan punted it away on fourth down and ten. Tyler Pearse picked it up and weaved his way down the sidelines back to the Boylan 12 yard line before being pushed out of bounds. Barr connected with Brandon Wakeley a couple of plays later; a 14 yard pass into the end zone. Schwartz’ second point after was good and the Bucs had the lead again, 14 – 7 with a minute to play in the half. The kickoff was short and the Titans started with good field position. Jake Smolinski tried out the shotgun formation again. He was flushed out, but managed to scramble into Bucs territory for a first down. He tried the shotgun again on the next play and this time he was sacked for a 12 yard loss and Boylan finished the half on their side of the field.
The Bucs defense continued to clamp down hard on the Titans in the third quarter. Their opening drive went 11 yards in the wrong direction. A punt from the 12 yard line gave the Bucs excellent field position, starting at Boylan’s 42 yard line. Brandon Smaha and Adam Wells shared hand-offs to get the Bucs down to the 19 yard line. Matt Stringini took advantage of a big hole and shot up the middle into the end zone. Schwartz’ kick was good and the Bucs had a 21 – 7 lead.
The Titans weren’t out of it yet. Jason Coniglio took the kick off about 25 yards and Jake Smolinski settled down, completing an 8 yard pass to Logan Hulick. On the next play Smolinski looked to be bottled up, but he flicked the ball to Robert Wood in the backfield who raced 14 yards into Belvidere territory. A few plays later, Smolinski connected 14 yards to Coniglio waiting in the end zone for a touchdown. The point after was good and the Bucs’ lead was down to a single touchdown.
There was an anxious moment on the kick-off. Tyler Pearse missed the ball and had to circle back to recover it. The Bucs started their drive on their own 18 yard line. Boylan’s defense ground the running game to a halt. On third and 11 Barr went to the air; a pass to Brandon Wakeley caught at the 30 yard line. This loosened Boylan’s grip on the line of scrimmage. Matt Stringini pushed the ball up six yards and then Brandon Smaha broke through a crowd and was off to the races, a 64 yard run for a touchdown. The point after was good and the Bucs had a 28 – 14 lead.
Now the Bucs just needed to hold on. Their opening drive in the fourth quarter didn’t end in a score, but it ate three minutes off the clock. Boylan got the ball and tried to rush down the field. At first it worked. Smolinski was hit twice by Bucs defenders, but he still managed to complete a pass to Logan Hulick for a first down. The wily quarterback kept the ball to rush for an 11 yard gain the very next play. But the Titans got sidetracked by an illegal procedure call. The Bucs shut down the run and Smolinski tried passing from the shotgun again with even more disastrous results than the first time. Smolinski was sacked for a 12 yard loss and then smacked hard as the Bucs defense rushed past the front line. Boylan tried a fake punt; the pass was complete but too short and Belvidere took over on downs. The Bucs didn’t manage to gain a yard, but they did take another three minutes off the clock. With 3:46 left in the game, the Bucs defense took to the field one last time. Nathan Kays and Mike Magyar stopped a quarterback run. Jason Lucas wrapped up Malcolm Tinson for a loss. On fourth down and 12, Jake Smolinski went back to pass one last time. The throw was a crowd of Bucs defenders were waiting for it to make sure it was incomplete. The crowd jumped to their feet as the Bucs took over on the Boylan 18 yard line. Matt Barr rounded around to get the ball up to the 4 yard line, but instead of padding the score, the Bucs took a knee to end the game. The crowd roared their approval and rushed the field as the two teams lined up to congratulate each other on a game well played.
The only bad news to come out Friday night was word that Guilford had crushed Jefferson 57 – 0 to remain unbeaten in the NIC-9. Belvidere travels to play the Vikings on October 21st. The last game of the season may truly be the decisive game for the top spot in the NIC-9. However, the season is only half over and anything can happen. In the meantime, the Bucs travel to Rockford this Friday to take on Auburn. The Knights are 0 – 4, losing to three NIC-9 opponents and an out of conference team. The game starts at 7:15.