SYCAMORE – At times football can be a subtle game, with nuances that decide the game not being detected by coaches until they see film.
Sometimes, a team blocks two kicks and returns another for a touchdown and it's obvious.
Special teams doomed Sycamore to a 14-13 loss on Saturday night against Lincoln-Way West, a continuation of a game Friday that was postponed due to lightning with 1:33 left in the first quarter in a scoreless tie.
"It's like half a yard away from going into the end zone, then they get it at the 20," Sycamore coach Joe Ryan said Kurtis Flondor's 99-yard kick return with 4:06 left in the contest. "They just got through the seam. We had some guys that were cramping, so we had some different guys in there and they were split."
The Spartans (0-1) took the lead 14 seconds earlier on a 2-yard plunge up the middle by Brett Weaver, normally the team's linebacker. He played a lot in the second half in the backfield for the Spartans, who were without normal starting back Dion Hooker – although it was unclear if it was an injury or if he was one of the seven Sycamore players suspended for the first two weeks of the year.
But the snap was high on the PAT and Tyler Maveus' kick was blocked by senior Nate Paniak. Warrior coach Dave Ernst said the Paniak was the spark for the Warriors (1-0) on Saturday night – he had blocked a field goal on the prior drive.
After the block, Flondor took the kick from almost as close as the goal line as possible, straight up the middle. The extra point gave the Warriors the one-point lead.
Sycamore had trouble throwing the ball all game, and the Warrior defense pressured quarterback Brett Bemis on the final drive, sacking him twice. Ryan elected to punt with 1:12 left facing a fourth and 20 from his own 10.
"If we're closer, yeah, but we were 14 yards away, 15 yards away" Ryan said. "I don't have a lot of those in the playbook. I though if we could hold them, we could maybe get something going. It was the decision I made."
After their first two drives – one Friday night, one Saturday – went three-and-out, the Spartans put together a scoring drive early in the second, capped on a 4-yard naked bootleg by Bemis. The Warriors tied the game in the third when Dino Borrelli was about to get sacked by Weaver, but threw of his back foot and found Joe Shirley in the end zone for the tying score. Shirley had six receptions for 69 yards as the Warriors only completed 10 passes in the game.
Borrelli started Friday night under center, but Connor Lowman played the second quarter. The Warriors got 70 total yards from Borrelli and 26 from Lowman, and Borrelli played the second half. Ernst said the plan was to play both sophomores for a quarter and let the one playing better play more.
"Tonight Dino performed better, next week maybe Connor," Ernst said. "Next week who knows?"
Bemis struggled throwing the ball, completing two of nine passes for 34 yards. He has a 35 yard screen pass to Trace Hefler that set up the first touchdown. Bemis ran for 68 yards on 21 carries, while Weaver had nine carries for 36 yards.
"If we need to change some things up, I'm not afraid to do some different things,' Ryan said. "I thought that gave us the best opportunity to win in the second half."
Sycamore beat the Warriors twice last year, the only losses Lincoln-Way West suffered.
"I know they had some adversity, but I know down the road our paths will probably cross again," Ernst said. "They're a very good team and they are going to make a run in this area, and hopefully we make a run in ours.