One of baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra’s supposed malapropisms was the phrase, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Sandburg coach Dave Wierzal could be excused for not finding any humor in Berra’s famous quote Friday night, mainly because his Eagles were on the verge of reliving a Week 1 nightmare. In that previous situation, Sandburg failed to hold onto a 21-6 halftime advantage and ultimately suffered a devastating 26-21 setback to Lincoln-Way Central.
Fast forward to Seliga Field in Week 2, where visiting Andrew had rallied from a 28-14 deficit to grab a 35-28 lead eight minutes into the fourth period. With the Thunderbolts having scored on three straight possessions, Wierzal was understandably nervous about what was unfolding in front of him.
“It was pretty stressful,” he said. “There was a lot of time left, but there was the issue of would we be able to stop them if we went three-and-out [on offense] again? We hadn’t stopped them for three series.”
But just when it was most needed, Eagles defenders did exactly that — twice in a row, in fact. In between, Sandburg’s offense tallied twice, on Aidan Muno-Kohn’s 7-yard run and Brian Langowski’s 4-yard dash.
The latter’s occurred with just 36.7 seconds left and, when Andrew couldn’t get beyond the Eagles’ 47-yard line in the remaining time, the hosts pocketed a satisfying 42-35 win in Orland Park.
Sandburg’s victory was its ninth in 10 tries versus its District 230 sister school. But as Wierzal pointed out, the Eagles’ win-column dominance hasn’t come about without plenty of anxious moments.
“The majority of those games have been decided in the last few minutes, or been decided by a touchdown or less,” he said. “I was really proud of the kids [here]. For our seniors, it was a much bigger game than I thought.”
Sandburg’s current upperclassmen were part of a successful varsity venture in 2012, but fell short against the T’bolts in lower-level affairs as both freshmen and sophomores. Because of those earlier missteps, Wierzal wasn’t sure what his guys’ response would be once Andrew set its second-half comeback in motion.
“There’s always psychological factors involved,” he said. “The way the third quarter went, that was exactly the issue — we went from feeling good to uh-oh. Even when we were still winning 28-21, you could tell there was a lot of offense on the field, and based on what happened against Lincoln-Way Central, I was wondering about how the kids would react.”
The T’bolts’ rally started with AJ Malzone’s 11-yard touchdown catch on their first series of the second half. The Eagles’ own offense sputtered, and Andrew climbed into a 28-all tie when Jacob Platt tossed his second TD pass of the evening to Nino Sanfilippo, this one a 13-yarder.
A punt return to midfield put the T’bolts back in business when they regained possession of the ball, and Jarvious Franklin’s 12-yard sprint handed the visitors their first lead. Franklin’s 19-yard run had supplied Andrew with its second touchdown of the game.
After that, though, Sandburg’s defense grew some teeth. While it has not yet adopted the same junkyard-dog demeanor as its immediate predecessors, the Eagles’ prevention corps stood tall when it mattered most, which pleased Wierzal a great deal.
“Some of the issues that came up [as problems] are basic communication things, which is an experience thing,” he said. “We can fix that. They’re going to be OK.
“The defense came through when it had to, and I think this game is going to be a turning point [in the season] because they came up with a couple key [series] stops.”
Eleven Sandburg players registered at least four solo tackles and one assisted stop. Mike Howard was the headliner with eight solos, two assists and a sack, but Marty Micek was an able accomplice with seven solos and four assists.
Other notables included Tamonte Brown (seven solos, one assist), Alante Walker (six solos, four assists), Dan Trentacoste (five solos, one assist), Adam Nash (five solos, one assist) and Shawn McHale (four solos, seven assists). Amazingly, Andrew accrued 15 fewer yards than the Eagles (1-1) despite running 80 offensive plays, compared to Sandburg’s 50.
Lavelle Johnson gave the Eagles a leg up in the early going by latching onto touchdown passes of 64 and 23 yards from Sean Leland. Leland also scored himself on a 1-yard run in the first half and then collaborated with Adam Valiga on a 3-yard TD toss just before halftime, which ended an 80-yard drive with 36 seconds to go and was set up by Leland’s 35-yard completion to Dennis Bresingham.
“That was impressive,” Wierzal said of the Eagles’ last possession of the second period. “There was probably less than three minutes left [when it began]. Our [original] concern was would we be able to score enough points to keep it close?”
The answer was yes, but Wierzal didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until time ran out completely. Even with only about a half-minute with which to work at game’s end, he felt the T’bolts posed a threat, especially with the explosive Franklin on their side.
“Him in the open field is about as scary as it gets,” Wierzal said. “You’re in the prevent defense and people are spread out. If somebody’s out of position, there’s a lot of room to run.”
Sandburg travels to Lockport for its SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue opener on Friday.
“This [win] helped our kids believe in themselves again,” Wierzal said, “but we’ve got to start playing our best ball real quick.”
Andrew 7 7 14 7 - 35
Sandburg 14 14 0 14 - 42
First downs 28 23
Yds. rushing 209 250
Yds. passing 212 186
Total yds. 421 436
Att./comp. 26-20 17-11
Fumbles/lost 1-0 1-0
Had intercepted 0 1
Penalties/yds. 5-51 3-20
Punts/avg. 1-39.0 2-41.0
CS — Lavelle Johnson, 64-yd. pass from Sean Leland (Jonathan Milazzo kick)
VJA — Nino Sanfilippo, 11-yd. pass from Jacob Platt (Michael Brennan kick)
CS — Johnson, 23-yd. pass from Leland (Milazzo kick)
VJA — Jarvious Franklin, 19-yd. run (Brennan kick)
CS — Leland, 1-yd. run (Milazzo kick)
CS — Adam Valiga, 3-yd. pass from Leland (Milazzo kick)
VJA — AJ Malzone, 11-yd. pass from Platt (Brennan kick)
VJA — Sanfilippo, 13-yd. pass from Platt (Brennan kick)
VJA — Franklin, 12-yd. run (Brennan kick)
CS — Aidan Muno-Kohn, 7-yd. run (Milazzo kick)
CS — Brian Langowski, 4-yd. run (Milazzo kick)
Sandburg Rushing: Muno-Kohn 11-102, Langowski 13-78, Johnson 5-54, Leland 2-14, Trentacoste 2-2. Passing: Leland 17-11-186. Receiving: Johnson 3-98, Bresingham 3-54, Carney 2-17, Langowski 1-7, Muno-Kohn 1-7, Valiga 1-3.