The 7A state football championship came down to the final second, but it ended like it started for Lincoln-Way East and quarterback Tom Fuessel. He was battered by the tough Glenbard West defense to end the game.
His counterpart—Henry Haeffner—completed 10-of-13 passes for 145 yards and one touchdown in Glenbard West’s 10-8 victory over Lincoln-Way East. Haeffner stole the offensive spotlight in the title game at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Haeffner threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Nathan Marcus with 2:30 left in the first quarter. Hayden Lekacz added a 27-yard field goal as the Hilltoppers (14-0) extended their lead to 10-0 at halftime.
Glenbard West turned to its defense to bottle up Lincoln-Way East's Tom Fuessel as the Hilltoppers wrapped up their first state championship since 1983 and handed Lincoln-Way East (13-1) its first defeat.
Fuessel, a Northern Illinois University recruit, spent much of the game running for his life. He was harrassed into a 3-for-14 passing performance for 51 yards. And he was unable to squirt outside of the pocket in scramble situations.
Fuessel was limited to 17 yards rushing on 21 carries. He was sacked five times for losses totaling 30 yards.
"Well, he's the best player in the state of Illinois, based on the film I've watched," Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet. "I've seen some very good players. We've played against some very good players. But as far as an offensive weapon, I think he's got to be the best in the state.
"And, no, we don't change. We've been pretty good defensively. A sound defense is going to beat a great player. And those kids believe in that. They're going to play sound defense. He's going to make his plays.
"We just knew when he dropped back to pass that's when he's the most dangerous on his scrambles. We had to keep him in front of us and just be relentless in our pursuit and stay true in our coverage behind."
Lincoln-Way East closed to within 10-6 on a 35-yard touchdown run by Justin Corbett in the third quarter. The Griffins' defense forced three turnovers, including two second-half fumbles, and put East in position to pull out the victory in the waning moments.
Kyle Langenderfer's fumble recovery set up East with a first-and-10 on the Glenbard West 47 with 5:25 remaining. The Griffins moved to a fourth-and-10 on the 13.
Fuessel looked toward his tight end, then scrambled right. He raced toward the sideline and was rocked by Glenbard West's Hayden Carlson on a head-over-heels hit that knocked both players silly. Fuessel was stopped at the 6—3 yards short of the first down and 6 yards short of a winning touchdown.
"He's a winner—a champion," Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar said of Fuessel. "That's how he's been all year. That's how he played (against Glenbard West). Coming up 1 yard short on a play at the goal line doesn't tarnish the season. We're disappointed. It hurts (now).
"But Tom Fuessel's a champion—as well as the rest of the guys in this senior class and the rest of his teammates."
Glenbard West took over after Fuessel was stopped short with 3:35 left. The Hilltoppers ran the ball three times. Then, Haeffner purposely ran out of the back of the end zone and took a safety.
The Hilltoppers kicked the ball back to Lincoln-Way East clinging to a 10-8 lead. Lekacz's kick went out of bounds and the ball was spotted on the Hilltopper 45 with 23 seconds left.
Fuessel threw two incomplete passes and was sacked and knocked out of the game by Marcus. The game ended with Fuessel's cousin, Brett, taking the final snap for the Griffins. He was flushed from the pocket and pulled down by Glenbard West's Ruben Dunbar after a 2-yard gain.
"Heartache and disappointment are part of athletics," Zvonar said. "But the sun's going to come up tomorrow. God still loves us. And I think my wife and kids will too. These guys are champions. And we love them."
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