Things did not look good for the Riverside-Brookfield High School football team against visiting Wauconda on Friday night.
That’s until all Hunter Hughes broke loose.
Trailing Wauconda (also named the Bulldogs) 14-0 entering the fourth quarter, RBHS coach Brendan Curtin felt his team needed to try something, or better yet, someone new.
The announcement at 11:11 of the fourth quarter by RBHS public address announcer Lou Kucera sounded innocuous enough. ‘Now in the game, RB quarterback Hunter Hughes.
In fact, the real harm was inflicted on the Wauconda defense by Hughes and company as RBHS scored on its final three possessions to pull of an improbable 21-20 victory.
Hughes completed 13 of 19 passes for 142 yards, including multiple fourth-down conversions via passes during the Bulldogs’ spirited rally.
Starter Keenan Scott finished 10-for-17 with 83 passing yards.
Both quarterbacks dealt with consistent pressure as Wauconda racked up six sacks and also held RBHS to just 51 rushing yards.
“When we were down 14-0, we had about 10 minutes in the locker room at halftime to collect ourselves,” Hunter said. “We just wanted to fight for each other and get this W. It was a whole team effort.
“I was ready to get the call. I’m always fighting for (starting quarterback Keenan Scott) and he’s always cheering me on. Our coaches always talk about staying composed and letting the game come to you. That’s what we did in the second half.”
Hughes triggered the rally by engineering a 9-play, 58-yard scoring drive capped off by his 10-yard pass to Declan Lanam into the end zone. Spun around multiple times by Wauconda pass rushers, the elusive Hughes heaved the ball high into the air and Lanam came down with a spectacular catch in the left corner of the end zone. Emilio Solano added the PAT to pull RBHS within 14-7 with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter.
With momentum suddenly on its side, RBHS recovered an onside kick at the Wauconda 41 on the ensuing play. Hughes went to work again, leading a 9-play, 41-yard drive that culminated on a 30-yard TD pass down the middle of the field to speedy Stefan Giminski.
Instead of tying the game, RBHS opted to go for a 2-point conversion. The decision proved wise as the Bulldogs scored to take a 15-14 lead at 5:49 of the fourth quarter.
To its credit, Wauconda responded with a scoring drive of its own. Running back Jacob Bicknase scored on an 11-yard run to give Wauconda a 20-15 lead with 3:36 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Of course, 3:36 proved more than enough time for Hughes and his crew of playmakers including Lanam (2 catches, 24 yards), Giminski (8 catches, 86 yards, TD), Michael Wilson (4 catches, 45 yards), Ja’Mari Wise and Nicolas Del Nodal.
Hughes managed the clock beautifully as RBHS calmly worked its way down the field. Facing a 3rd-and-three on the Wauconda 12, he completed an 11-yard pass to Wise.
On the next play, Hughes (fittingly enough) scored on a 1-yard keeper with .44 seconds left in the game to cap off the Bulldogs’ memorable comeback.
While Hunter earned the primary share of the spotlight, RBHS improved to 2-0 courtesy of a complete team effort.
Wise led RBHS with 10 tackles. Giminski added five tackles and linebacker Joey Rehder Swallow had five.
“This was a great team win for us,” cornerback Jhalen Williams said. “It all comes back to our practices and work ethic. We’ve been working hard since Day 1. We’re more than just a team; we’re a family now.
“Wauconda punched us in the mouth in the first half, but we came back in the second half and showed them who we are. We’re the Bulldogs and we’re going to fight.”
The Bulldogs take on host Ridgewood Friday, Sept. 9. Kickoff is 7:15 p.m.