Eagles lose lead, then game to rival Knights
Running second in the first week has not been Sandburg’s style of late.
En route to earning playoff berths each of the last five seasons, the Eagles’ typical modus operandi has been to win a batch of early games, nail down a spot in the Class 8A tournament as quickly as possible and then concentrate on fine-tuning the operation. Lincoln-Way Central unexpectedly interrupted that pattern Saturday night in New Lenox.
Seeing as how the Knights have positioned themselves as one of Sandburg’s bigger rivals over the past decade-and-a-half, Eagles coach Dave Wierzal was expecting a tussle. In 2012, Lincoln-Way Central lost a hard-fought 7-3 decision to Sandburg.
“I thought they were in a little bit of a [down] cycle [in recent seasons], but I thought they were better than their record last year,” Wierzal said of the Knights. “I thought they could have won at least two more games than they did.”
This time, though, Lincoln-Way Central didn’t have to settle for a moral victory versus Sandburg. The Knights notched the real thing by rallying from a 21-6 halftime deficit to pin a stunning 26-21 defeat on their visitors.
“Our kids were frustrated [afterward] and the coaches were, too,” Wierzal said. “We thought we were going to play much better. This was a classic example of everybody contributing to a loss.
“Calling [the contest] sloppy might be too kind. Both teams made several mistakes and both teams took advantage, but they generated a few more big plays and, ultimately, that decided the game.”
While Lincoln-Way Central did indeed burn the Eagles a handful of times — three of the Knights’ touchdowns covered at least 31 yards — also detrimental to Sandburg’s well-being was its own periodic struggles on offense. Perhaps the most debilitating event was a third-quarter interception thrown inside the Lincoln-Way Central 20 that prevented the Eagles from capitalizing on one of their better drives of the evening.
“We could have taken momentum back and extended our lead [to at least 15 points],” Wierzal said. “Turning the ball over there was heartbreaking. It was like who was going to survive the mistakes?”
That wound up being the Knights, but they certainly had their moments of despair, particularly during the opening half. Not only did Lincoln-Way Central lose four fumbles, but three of those handed the ball over to Sandburg inside the Knights’ 10.
The Eagles didn’t squander any of the opportunities, as Dan Trentacoste and Sean Leland both tallied on a 1-yard runs and Leland tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Pavlos Marudas. Linebacker Bobby Krop was involved in two of those Lincoln-Way Central turnovers, while Shawn McHale caused one of them.
Trentacoste’s and Leland’s touchdowns occurred on successive series and temporarily overshadowed the fact that Sandburg was actually having some trouble advancing the ball. The Eagles’ initial series, for instance, started inside Knights territory, but then went in reverse after three penalties were assessed.
“It was kind of strange,” Wierzal said. “We were winning 14-0, but if you focused on our first possession, you’re thinking, ‘Hey, there’s real problems here.’ The score was a little misleading because our points all came off turnovers they made, and that’s how the game started to play out.”
Sandburg collected only 14 total yards in the first half, but narrowly missed carrying an 18-point edge into the break. After Trentacoste recovered yet another Lincoln-Way Central drop at the hosts’ 21, the Eagles were poised to let all-area kicker Jonathan Milazzo add to their lead with a field goal, but more backwards movement forced him to attempt a longer one than expected and the differential remained 15.
A 31-yard scoring run early in the third stanza then gave the Knights a boost and began Sandburg’s gradual downward spiral.
“Psychologically, for us as a team, the momentum had shifted and it was kind of scary,” Wierzal said. “You start to get that bad feeling in your gut.”
Lincoln-Way Central eventually overtook the Eagles with less than five minutes remaining in the game on a 20-yard TD pass. Sandburg made some headway on its ensuing possession, but a fumble ruined the promising series at the Knights’ 46. One last turn with the ball came with under a minute left and ended quietly.
Lincoln-Way Central outgained the Eagles by more than 130 yards, but was unable to pull away because of some respectable individual displays by Sandburg defenders. Besides Krop (five solo tackles, two assists), McHale (three solos, five assists) and Trentacoste, prevention-side notables included Graham Hevel (four solos, four assists, sack, forced fumble), Matt Taylor (four solos, three assists, forced fumble), Tony Laurciello (two solos, seven assists) and Mike Howard (two solos, three assists, forced fumble, fumble recovery).
The Eagles renew acquaintances with District 230 sister school Andrew on Friday in Orland Park. The teams will again combine on a fundraiser that will donate money to Home for Heroes.
“It’ll be an intense environment and the energy level will be high,” Wierzal said.
Adding to that feeling will be the need for the Eagles to bounce back from defeat.
“We can’t take time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Wierzal said. “To lose the opening one like this, where you don’t play very well, is disappointing, but the issue is it’s only Week 1. We’ve got eight games to play and we’re in a situation where every game is critical.”
Sandburg 14 7 0 0 - 21
L-W Central 6 0 14 6 - 26
First downs 11 13
Yds. rushing 27 141
Yds. passing 114 133
Total yds. 141 274
Att./comp. 27-11 7-6
Fumbles/lost 3-2 5-4
Had intercepted 2 1
Penalties/yds. 8-80 5-45
Punts/avg. 6-38.0 4-39.0
CS — Dan Trentacoste, 1-yd. run (Jonathan Milazzo kick)
CS — Sean Leland, 1-yd. run (Milazzo kick)
LWC — Erik Hark, 35-yd. pass from Dan Campbell (kick failed)
CS — Pavlos Marudas, 6-yd. pass from Leland (Milazzo kick)
LWC — Kyle Waytek, 31-yd. run (pass failed)
LWC — Hark, 35-yd. pass from Caleb Hayes (Waytek run)
LWC — Hark, 20-yd. pass from Hayes (run failed)
Sandburg Rushing: Trentacoste 10-27, Langowski 7-25, Muno-Kohn 4-11, Johnson 1-(-5), Leland 7-(-31). Passing: Leland 27-11-114. Receiving: Marudas 5-53, Carney 2-49, Bresingham 2-12, Muno-Kohn 2-0.