DECATUR — The wind was blowing and the hot chocolate was flowing Saturday as MacArthur met Peoria Notre Dame in its Class 5A first round playoff game at Millikin’s Frank M. Lindsay Field.
It came down to the final play, on which MacArthur stopped a two-point conversion to preserve a 34-33 win. The Generals (8-2) will travel to Washington next Saturday for their second-round game.
Everywhere you looked, the Millikin’s “M” logo suddenly stood for MacArthur as the Generals hosted the dominating run offense of the Irish.
The Irish came in with a run game that had amassed 3,641 cumulative yards and a tendency to run up the score.
Their game plan didn’t change one iota Saturday.
The four-pronged rushing attack was led by junior Logan Cover and supported by Dominic Lefante, Giorgio Grivetti, and Jack Dawson.
It was Lefante who put the Irish on the board first with a 2-yard run early in the first quarter.
The point-after would be missed however, a small point at the time but one that came back to haunt the Irish in the final seconds of the game.
Two touchdowns by Giorgio Grivetti, one of 18 yards and one of 9 yards, put Notre Dame up 20-7 and left MacArthur looking visibly frustrated with its performance.
The Generals’ defense may have been bending to its extreme but they never broke and the offense picked up the slack.
Quarterback Amir Brummett connected with brother Armon on a 5-yard touchdown pass with five minutes left in the half tightening the game to 20-14.
Three minutes later it was Amir to senior wideout Ray Neal Jr. on a 38-yard touchdown pass and suddenly the Generals were leading 21-20.
The momentum quickly swung the other way as the Irish momentarily abandoned the run during the two-minute drill and quarterback Caleb Haisler connected with tight end Connor Jacob on a 12-yard touchdown pass giving Notre Dame the lead at halftime 27-21.
During halftime, MacArthur coach Derek Spates needed to made some changes to the defensive scheme that allowed 285 Irish rushing yards in the first half.
“We had to make adjustments because we’ve never seen this sort of offense before,” Spates said. “I told them we’ve got to be tougher and we had to be more physical and just make tackles.”
“Coach wanted us to come out there and fight harder,” Armon Brummett said. “He was preaching defense, defense, defense, you know our offense was working, but in the second half our defense needed to step up and make big plays.”
The adjustments worked as suddenly the Notre Dame offense seemed to hit a brick wall.
The run game sputtered and MacArthur held the Irish scoreless nearly the entire half.
MacArthur’s offense continued to run on high octane as Armon Brummett added a second touchdown from 34-yards out to tie the game at 27-27.
On the ensuing Irish drive, an unlikely hero emerged for the Generals as defensive lineman Tylan Jackson intercepted a pass from Haisler.
The 5-foot-9, 245-pound lineman then proceeded to return the ball deep into Irish territory.
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“He threw it straight above me and I didn’t know if I could jump that high but I got up there,” Jackson said. “I tried to take it all the way back but I just couldn’t do it. I was out of breath and I just couldn’t do anything more.”
Spates had a range of emotions about the interception.
“My feelings were, 'Oh yeah!' and then I was like, 'Too slow.' That’s how I felt,” Spates said, smiling.
A 2-yard Amir Brummett touchdown run quickly followed and the Generals took the lead 34-27 with 3:47 left in the game.
The Irish weren’t finished yet as they orchestrated a final drive that marched down the field.
Jack Dawson caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Haisler making it 34-33 MacArthur and suddenly Notre Dame coach Sean Gillen was faced with a choice.
Go for the win or go for the tie.
“I talked to those guys and I talked to the seniors during the timeout and we definitely wanted to go for the win there,” he said. “We’ve done it in the past. We’ve kind of always gone that route.”
The play looked to be a hand off but a miscommunication caused it to break down and MacArthur’s defenders swarmed the quarterback.
“Unfortunately, we had a little bit of a mix up on the play call. One of our backs went to the right and the play was called for the left,” Gillen said. “We trust those guys to usually come up with that play and they normally do. Ninety-nine percent of the time we would.”
A couple of Amir Brummett kneel downs later and the Generals’ win was official, 34-33.
Jackson and Armon Brummett were ecstatic about the playoff win.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I’ve been on this team for a couple years and all we had were losses,” Jackson said. “To come out as a team and beat Notre Dame and take over in the second half. It’s an amazing feeling.”
“Notre Dame has a great defense and their coaches, they know what they are doing,” Armon Brummett said. “We’ve been trying to make history all season and we continue to do it. It feels really good.”
“This is great for all those guys for the last two years were on those 1-8 football teams to get the playoff victory in this manner today," Spates said. "It is great for our program."
Gillen added some final thoughts on the Irish’s season.
“My guys have nothing to be ashamed of in any way. They played fantastic,” he said. “These seniors have left this program another legacy to live by.”
MacArthur’s performance today is a great reminder that the football game is 48 minutes long and to not give up when things don’t immediately go right in the first few minutes of the game.
Spates spoke to this and what the Generals would have done if Notre Dame had taken the lead at the end.
“I knew our guys had to make one more play to win. I told them that playoff football is all about adverse situations and who can recover from adversity,” he said. “And if they would have gotten it, we were prepared to try to win it with 57 seconds left in the game. But fortunately, we were able to get a stop.”
This is the first playoff victory for MacArthur since 2008 during Spates’ first season coaching the team.
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