The stands were filled with purple and gold last Friday night as the Bucs hosted the Wauconda Bulldogs in the first 5A playoff game. At first, it was hard to tell which side of the stands was the home team. The Wauconda fans – armed with purple and gold noisemakers – rattled and roared from the moment they arrived. The Belvidere fans seemed to be more subdued, at first, but came to life as their team did and by the end of the game, the sodden crowd was on their feet to cheer the Bucs playoff victory in round one.
Wauconda’s opening drive started on their own 26 yard line and they began their slow, steady pace to the end zone from there. They relied primarily on Brad Wisniewski to run the ball. On two fourth downs, a handoff to Wisniewski kept the drive alive. On a third down and 12, quarterback Garrett Dorsey went to the air, connecting with Keith Palmer at the 12 yard line. Wisniewski pushed it down and ended up going in for the touchdown on his tenth touch of the drive that took seventeen plays and ate up more than seven minutes on the clock. Keith Wilson’s point after was good and the Bulldogs had a 7 – 0 lead with 4:28 left in the first quarter. Tiras Harris took the kick off for the Bucs and ran it up to the 27 yard line of Belvidere. The Bucs kept the ball on the ground. Still, they were able to move the ball quickly. Kyle Tevebaugh kept the ball on a quarterback keeper, running it up to near midfield. Then, Harris took a handoff and broke things open. He rushed 46 yards for Belvidere’s first score of the night. Unfortunately the point after was no good, so the Bucs were still down 7 – 6. With less than three minutes left in the first quarter, the Bulldogs got the ball back on their own 32 yard line. They were able to quickly move the ball past midfield thanks to Brad Wisniewski and also two penalties on Belvidere. On third and three from the Bucs 38 yard line, Dorsey went to the air and connected with Jimmy Williams in the end zone. The Bucs blocked the point after, so they were down by seven points going into the second quarter.
Chris Gust took the kick off close to the end zone and ran it out about thirty yards to give the Bucs good starting position. Runs by Gust and Patrick O’Brien quickly moved the ball into Wauconda territory. On second down and nine, Tiras Harris took a handoff and tore down the sidelines to the 6. O’Brien pushed it in from one yard out. Kyle Tevebaugh faked the point after and passed to Chris Gust in the end zone to give the Bucs two more points. The Bucs had a 14 – 13 lead with 10:14 left in the half. Wauconda got the ball back and went to Brad Wisniewski again, but the Bucs defense was ready and Wisniewski only netted a single yard. The Bulldogs were facing a fourth down and nine, so they came out to punt. However it was a fake. Chris Jahnke looked to throw to someone, but the Bucs defense had everyone covered. He looked to run and met with a Bucs defender with a crack that could be heard at the top of the stands. The ball was loose and Phil Czechowicz picked it up and ran it back 41 yards for a touchdown. The point after was good and the Bucs pulled ahead 21 – 13. However, Wauconda was down but not out. On the kick off, Jimmy Williams ran back to the Bucs’ 32 yard line, tripped up by Chris Gust who saved the touchdown. The Bucs held tight, but a penalty on Belvidere on fourth down gave the Bulldogs new life. Jason Holst ran in from the 22 yard line two plays later. Wauconda tried a two point conversion, failed, but were within two points of the Bucs. That didn’t last long. On the Bucs next possession, on third down and ten, Tevebaugh connected to Charles Chatman at the 40 yard line. He found a hole and ran it in for a score. The point after was good and the Bucs were up 28 – 19. Wauconda went three and out on their next possession and the Bucs were back on offense with three minutes left in the half. This time, on third down and two, Patrick O’Brien took a handoff and smashed his way downfield into the end zone. Wauconda blocked the point after, but the Bucs were now up 34 – 19.
There were only two minutes left in the half, but it took a lot longer than that to actually play. The Bulldogs started at their own 33 yard line. The quarterback kept the ball on second down and scrambled up to midfield. The Bucs stopped the clock. Another handoff to Brad Wisniewski was wrapped up behind the line of scrimmage and the Bucs took another time out. Dorsey was able to get away from the Bucs and get out of bounds at the Bucs 39 yard line. A pass to Jimmy Williams go them within the two yard line and Brad Wisniewski ran it in for another Bulldogs touchdown. The kick after was no good and the Bulldogs were down 34 – 25. Now, the Bucs has a minute left on the clock and 73 yards to go. Kyle Tevebaugh’s three passes were incomplete, but Tiras Harris on fourth down was able to grab 14 yards and go out of bounds, keeping 46.5 seconds left before halftime. Tevebaugh threw down to Charles Chatman. It was incomplete, but a personal foul on Wauconda gave the Bucs another first down at the Bulldogs’ 35. The Wauconda coach was furious. Another pass play incomplete, but another flag on the Bulldogs. The coach stalked out onto the field to argue with the referee as the crowd egged him on. 19.4 seconds left. A handoff to Tiras Harris and another flag on Wauconda. The coach was back out on the field to no avail. With 13 seconds on the clock, the Bucs found themselves on the 18 yard line. They had three shots at the end zone. Two passes were incomplete, but another flag hit the grass as time ran out in the half. A pass interference call on Wauconda gave the Bucs one more chance to score from the 8 yard line. Kyle Tevebaugh tried to kick a field goal. It was short.
The bad vibes between Wauconda coach and the referees continued into the third quarter as the Bucs began to pull away. Patrick O’Brien ran for 25 yards and a touchdown on their first possession. The point after was blocked, but the score was 40 – 25. Rain began falling in earnest. Wauconda ground out the yards, but were held near midfield by the Bucs defense. They failed to capitalize on a fourth down and four and the Bucs took over at their own 40 yard line. They were unable to move it much, forcing to punt at the Bulldogs’ 39 yard line. This put Wauconda deep in their own territory. The defense held tight and Wauconda went three and out, punting it away. Josh Easley ran it back to the Bulldogs 29 yard line and the Bucs only needed three plays to score. Tevebaugh lobbed a 16 yard pass to Chris Gust in the end zone for the touchdown. The kick after was short, but the Bucs were up 46 – 25. Belvidere tried an onside kick, but Wauconda recovered with excellent field position. Brad Wisniewski picked up 24 yards on a third down carry to get the Bulldogs down to the eight yard line. But they fumbled the ball on the next play. Wauconda recovered, but at the 18 yard line. They were unable to score on the fourth down and the Bucs took over. While the Bucs didn’t score, they did manage to eat five minutes off the clock. The Bucs defense was on a roll and Wauconda went four and out, Belvidere taking over on downs again. With four minutes left, the Bucs could do no wrong. Kyle Tevebaugh, on a quarterback keeper, burst through and ran 57 yards to the end zone. The point after gave the Bucs an insurmountable 55 – 25 lead. Still, with 2:22 left, Wauconda was not going to give up without a fight. Working the clock, the Bulldogs marched up the field, but with 38 seconds left, Garrett Dorsey put the ball in the air and Nate Culvey came down with it, running it back 68 yards before being stopped short of the goal line. The Bucs took a knee and let their 55 – 25 score stand as the final.
With the victory, the #8 seed Bucs travel to Chicago this Saturday to take on #1 seeded Robeson Raiders. Robeson went 8 – 1 on the season, winning the Land of Lincoln league title. They overcame an early deficit against 16th seed Johnsburg last weekend and won 32 – 27. The game begins at 12:30.