The defense on the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team is known as, “The Dark Side.”
Saturday afternoon was certainly a lights out experience for Grayslake North star running back Dami Oladunmoye as the Bulldogs knocked the highly touted junior, who had gained more than 1,800 yards this season, out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter.
That kind of intimidating physicality sent the tone during the host Bulldogs’ 21-14 win over Grayslake North in a second-round matchup of the Class 6A playoffs. The victory advanced RBHS to its first state quarterfinals appearance in 14 years.
Despite giving up about 50 pounds per man along the defensive line, RBHS hit hard from the first play of the game when linebacker David Pribyl Pierdnock brought down Oladunmoye for a short gain to the final play of the game when 180-pound linebacker Joey Swallow made a clutch open field tackle on receiver Elliot Hochstein six yards short of the tying touchdown after Hotchstein caught a double pass as time ran out.
“I didn’t even notice the [double pass] happening,” Swallow said. “I just saw the pass and I went to break up, saw the guy coming, and just made the tackle. It was just all instinct.”
Swallow said the size disadvantage is nothing new for the Bulldogs (10-1).
“We’re always overmatched by 50, 60 pounds so it’s no big deal to us,” Swallow said.
Grayslake North coach Steve Wood admitted that his team was a little surprised how hard RBHS hit.
“They were a lot more physical than we thought,” Wood said. “On film they really didn’t seem nearly as physical. They were really, really physical.”
The Bulldogs did just enough offensively as senior quarterback Ryan Swift overcame a slow start to throw two touchdown passes to Dean Zigulich and run for another. Despite misfiring on his first four passes, Swift got hot in the second quarter and finished 20 of 32 for 219 yards. Swift also ran for 67 yards on 15 carries including a 6-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the second half to give RBHS a 14-7 lead.
“I started off really slow but the team around me kept pushing,” said Swift who lost a fumble at the Grayslake North 5-yard line late in the first quarter. “They made up for my mistakes at first and then I just made an adjustment with my throwing motion. The team was already playing great and I just joined in, and obviously we got the lead and won.”
The Swift to Zigulich connection has been the focal point of the RBHS offense all season. Saturday was no different.
Zigulich, a clever route runner with sure hands, caught the game-winner, a 6-yard catch on a comeback pattern in the front right corner of the end zone with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Zigulich got RBHS on the board with 2:40 left in the second quarter when he nabbed a short pass from Swift in the flat, broke a tackle at the 5-yard line and danced into the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown reception after Grayslake North (6-4) had scored on a pass off a reverse in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
Zigulich finished with nine catches for 90 yards.
“It doesn’t matter what stage of the game it is, he’s going to make big plays,” Swift said about Zigulich. “I just have to get him the ball. My job is easy. He’s the one who does all the work.”
After Swift scored on his 6-yard run to put RBHS ahead 14-7, Grayslake North backup running back Griffin Gawenda (17 carries, 144 yards) scored on a 49-yard run with 5:14 left in the third quarter to tie the game.
Grayslake North tried a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff but sophomore Daniel Moore, playing on the front line of the kick return team, grabbed the ball to give RBHS good field position at their own 47. Swift then hit Zigulich for a 15-yard reception and a late hit by Grayslake North on Zigulich moved the ball to the Knights’ 23. After a couple of runs from Swift and Al’lon Carter, Zigulich caught a 6-yard pass for his second TD reception of the game.
Grayslake North barely missed scoring the tying touchdown when Joseph Geary was ruled to have caught a pass on fourth down barely beyond the end zone with 1:42 left in the game.
The Bulldogs couldn’t quite run out the clock and Grayslake North moved the ball from the RBHS 42-yard line to the 21 to set up the final play of the game with 2.8 seconds left. That’s when Swallow made a huge tackle as time expired.
Third-seeded RBHS will travel to play at second-seeded Prairie Ridge (10-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m.. Prairie Ridge defeated Lake Forest 40-13 Friday night and has won its last 10 games by an average margin of 38 points.
“I’m just happy for our young men,” RBHS coach Brendan Curtin said. “Not everyone outside of that locker room believed in them. There are people that did. They’ve come so far.
“To be a state quarterfinalist, one of the eight remaining teams [in Class 6A] is pretty special. We’re looking forward to the next trip to Prairie Ridge.”
*Video provided courtesy of Jerry Buttimer