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Spartans advance with late touchdowns

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SYCAMORE – During the final four drives of the IHSA Class 5A quarterfinal between Sycamore and Lincoln-Way West, the Spartans defined its season with resilience and excitement.

Trailing by seven midway through the third quarter, Sycamore turned around a tough game until that point and pulled out a 21-14 victory over the Warriors (10-2) behind the leadership of seniors Devin Mottet and Ben Niemann.

“We are going to the semifinals. We played well enough to keep advancing,” Spartans coach Joe Ryan said. “When you win at this time of the year, it is not always how you play – it is that final result. And that final result shows that you played well enough to win.”

Mottet finished the contest 10 of 12 through the air for 131 yards and two touchdown passes – both caught by Niemann in the fourth quarter. Mottet also rushed for 108 yards on 27 carries.

“We said it is now or never,” Mottet said. “I mean there is not going to be another chance after this. So, we had to give it all we got or it is over.”

Weather was an issue all day as Sycamore (12-0) was hit with rain throughout the morning and afternoon. The wind was swirling around and that set up some issues for both sides.

“We couldn’t get into our routes and do some of the things we wanted to do in the passing game so it did affect us,” said Ryan.

Because of the wind, the Spartans started their second drive of the second half on their own 2-yard line with 4:04 remaining in the third quarter. This is when Mottet went to work.

Mottet and the Spartans compiled a 13-play, 98-yard drive that spanned two quarters and took 8:15 off the clock. The senior quarterback completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive, including a 35-yard completion to Riley Hurley that got Sycamore out of the shadow of its own end zone.

The drive was capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass to Niemann in the middle of the end zone.

“(That play) was something that we put in this week, and we had been running the ball so we were lulling them to sleep a little bit and we were going to get them with the pass,” Niemann said. “Jake (Winters) kind of cleared the safety out so I was 1-on-1 with the corner. Devin threw me a good ball and I was able to make a play on it.”

Mottet said that he has a lot of faith in Niemann’s ability.

“(Niemann) is a great receiver and we have a lot of trust in him,” Mottet said. “If we have to throw it up, we know that he will go get it.”

After the Spartan defense forced a Lincoln-Way West three-and-out, Sycamore took over on its own 38-yard line with 5:45 remaining. Mottet took the game into his own hands by rushing six straight times before taking a shot to the end zone with his arm.

On the 11-yard line, Mottet dropped back to pass and threw to the left corner of the endzone. Niemann rose and hulled in the catch by keeping both feet in bounds.

“It was really exciting,” Niemann said. “Everybody started going crazy. It was awesome celebrating with my teammates. It was a momentum-changer and an exciting play.”

Ryan said it was the best time to take a shot for the endzone.

“It was one heck of a catch on the sideline there,” Ryan said. “We had been running, running, running and that first down was the best opportunity to take that chance to score right there because they wanted to play the run and that safety stayed inside long enough that he couldn’t get over the top of that ball.”

The Warriors made it interesting late as Lincoln-Way West drove down the field to the 11-yard line with 2.3 seconds remaining. Logan Schneider made the play to end the contest by pushing Warrior quarterback Justin Keuch out of bounds at the 4-yard line.

This was the second time Sycamore has beaten Lincoln-Way West this season. The first win over the Warriors came in Week 1 and Ryan knew how big the latest win was.

“We beat a great team twice, and that doesn’t happen very often,” Ryan said.

Next up for Sycamore is the Class 5A semifinal matchup against Montini High School. The game will be played in Lombard.

“It is great,” Niemann said. “Everything we worked for in the summer and this year, it is finally paying off. Montini got us last year and it is kind of exciting to have another shot at them.”

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