WARSAW — It’s a tale as old as high school football has been played.
The game isn’t 12, 24 or 36 minutes long.
It’s 48 minutes and Maroa-Forsyth (11-1) needed each and every one of them to pull off its come-from-behind 20-16 victory against West Hancock (11-1) Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A playoffs.
West Hancock outplayed Maroa most of the game, but with a minute left, Deondre Gregory scored on a 2-yard run for his third touchdown. It gave the Trojans their first lead of the game, and West Hancock couldn't score on its final possession.
“Our offensive line from inside the five, we like to start running the power stuff and our line was getting a big push up front,” Gregory said. “Following Tanner Falk, he’s a big kid and so I follow that kid and he’s going to hit somebody, but that line makes holes so big it’s hard to not get through.”
West Hancock’s offense was led by running back Riley Langford who kept pounding the Trojans' defense, frequently picking up more than 10 yards a carry.
It seemed only a matter of time until Langford would break a big one and he did just that at 4:10 in the first quarter with a 73-yard TD run.
His running partner Chase Hartweg added another rushing score for the Titans in the second quarter as time was expiring, giving West Hancock a 16-0 lead going into halftime.
It was shocking for the Trojans, who had been averaging 42 points.
“They outplayed us by far in the first half and probably outplayed us a little bit in the third quarter,” Maroa coach Josh Jostes said. “I thought our kids decided that they weren’t going to be done and I’m very proud of that effort.”
It was Maroa’s senior players, particularly Deondre Gregory, who refocused the team at halftime.
“We definitely had to regroup at halftime. We didn’t play to the ability we are capable of in the first half,” Gregory said. “The seniors definitely didn’t want to go out on a loss his far away from home. We looked at each other and said we aren’t going to lose this game.”
Trojan senior wide receiver Aaron Inda thought the team was refocused in the second half.
“We knew what we had to get done and we did it in the second half," Inda said. "We are moving on, that’s all that matters."
The Trojans’ offense that sputtered in the first half started putting together quick drives in the second.
Maroa moved 44 yards on three plays with Gregory capping the drive on a 2-yard touchdown run, tightening the game to 16-8 in the third quarter.
With six minutes left, a three-play Maroa drive featured a 22-yard pass to Gregory and a 38-yard pass to Kameron Boline, setting up another Gregory rushing TD from the 1-yard line.
A failed two-point conversion kept the Trojans down 16-14.
It was West Hancock’s game to win at that point, but its offense couldn't get anything going against the stingy Trojans’ defense that shut out the Titans in the second half.
Finally, with 3:30 left, Maroa embarked on a 10-play drive that ended with Gregory's touchdown with a minute left.
Maroa won, but both Jostes and West Hancock coach Travis Cook agreed on which team should have won.
“That West Hancock team, I thought they outplayed us, I thought they out-coached us, definitely for a half,” Jostes said. “I thought their kids were physical and they wanted it more than us. We are lucky to get out of here with the win.”
Cook said the loss was frustrating.
“Football is about more than wins and losses. It’s about adversity and it teaches you about life," Cook said. "This is one of those things ... it stinks. Congratulations to them, but the best team didn’t win.
“I think we are the better team and I don’t think anyone but us and the coaching staff believed that. I think everyone thought it was going to be a blowout. But we lost the game, we just didn’t get it done, so best of luck to them next week.”
While Gregory had a three-touchdown performance, he also threw an interception in the end zone on a halfback pass with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. At the time, it looked like it might have lost the game for the Trojans.
Fortunately for them, their defense saved the day.
“Yes, I would like to have that one back. We’ve only run the halfback pass a couple times,” Gregory said. “I personally didn’t make a good decision throwing that ball but thank goodness my defense made a big play, got a stop and got us the ball back.
“After that I said, ‘I’m sorry, I will make up for it, we are going to finish this thing’ and that’s what we did.”
In the postgame huddle, Jostes touched on the Trojans’ opponent in the semifinals next week, Shelbyville. Maroa eliminated the Rams last year 48-8 in the semifinals and Shelbyville will be motivated for revenge.
“I’m going to tell you, there is nobody in the state of Illinois that wants to beat us more than Shelbyville,” he said. “And that level of effort today will get our butt beat.”