A pair of first half gambles on offense helped the Hinsdale Central Red Devils propel past the visiting Conant Cougars in the opening round of the IHSA 8A playoffs.
Facing a 4th-and-2 at the Conant 29-yard line in the opening stanza, Hinsdale Central head coach Dan Hartman elected to go for it instead of attempting a long field goal.
And senior running back Matthew Bobak made sure the reward was worth the risk. Bobak galloped into the end zone to put the Red Devils ahead 7-0 with 3:02 left in the first.
"We have the best and biggest offensive line in the state," said Bobak. "They make the holes for me and make my job easy."
With the score still 7-0 and just four minutes remaining in the half, Conant's defense kept it that way when they stopped the Red Devils on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
That stop gave the Cougar offense the jolt it needed. Senior quarterback Kevin Polaski engineered a 99-drive that culminated in a 7-yard TD strike to favorite target, senior wide receiver Anthony Wachal, to knot the game at 7-7 with just 39 seconds left in the half.
"He makes my life a whole lot easier," said Polaski. "I just need to get it into an area and he comes down with it."
After finally breaking through to tie the game, it appeared as if the Cougars would head to intermission in a stalemate and momentum on its side.
However, the Red Devils had other plans.
Staring at a 4th-and-7 predicament at midfield with 14 seconds to go, Hartman once again threw caution to the wind and went for it. This time, senior quarterback Matthew Rush heaved a 50-yard bomb that was snagged by junior wide receiver Braden Contreras for the score and a 14-7 lead at the break.
"I think the coaches are ready to kill me," said Hartman of his calls. "We had some chances earlier in the year on fourth down and didn't take advantage of it, [we always] elected to punt. Today, the kids wanted to go for it so we took some gambles and the kids bailed us out."
Early in the third quarter, senior Red Devils cornerback Guyhenry Goss came up with an interception at midfield. On the ensuing play on offense, Bobak took it the distance for a 50-yard score with 9:27 left in the quarter to make it 21-7.
Bobak then added a 6-yard TD run to open the fourth quarter to make it 28-7. He finished the day with 194 yards on the ground on 23 carries and 3 scores.
Despite being down three scores with over a minute left in regulation, Conant did not quit.
Polaski and Wachal hooked up one final time in their high school careers on a 36-yard strike to cut the deficit to 28-14 with 1:20 left in regulation. Unfortunately for them, they could get no closer as Hinsdale Central prevailed 28-14.
"This program took a step in the right direction," said Polaski. "But, we are still looking to improve and I think next year, the guys will be ready."
Conant had just one win a season ago, but this year, led by a group of tough seniors, went 6-4 overall and returned to postseason play.
"That's a senior class that's going to go down in Conant history as a class that got the program back to where it needs to be," said Cougars head coach Bryan Stortz. "There was so much fight in this team, I love them."