New Trier scores in final seconds to edge ranked Warren
Nykaza's 1-yard plunge to paydirt seals 10-7 victory
After posting only three points during the first 47 minutes of its season opener and trailing area-ranked Warren 7-3, the New Trier football team received a little help and finally generated some offense when it needed to the most.
After two consecutive major penalties against the Blue Devils moved the Trevians to the Warren 16-yard line, New Trier senior quarterback Benji Cohen hit senior receiver Charlie Tilson on a 15-yard wheel route to place the ball one yard from the end zone. That big play set up junior tailback Jack Nykaza’s game-winning touchdown with just 21.6 seconds left, giving the Trevians a thrilling come-from-behind 10-7 road victory in coach Dan Starkey's debut.
"We brought our big guys over to the left and I knew we’d get a good push," said Nykaza, who finished with 54 yards on 14 carries. "So I just figured go for it as fast as I can, and if I get the chance, I’m going to take it in."
Warren could only muster 18 yards from its own 20-yard line on its final drive before New Trier senior cornerback Thomas Merriman sealed the game with his second interception. The Trevians’ defense forced four turnovers and held an explosive Warren rushing attack to just 146 yards.
However, things didn’t start out quite so well for the New Trier defense.
Warren scored on its second play from scrimmage when junior quarterback Bob Boesch (8-for-15 passing, 86 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) and junior receiver Mitch Munda connected on a 41-yard touchdown pass with 8 minutes, 27 seconds left in the opening quarter. However, that would be the only time Warren lit up the scoreboard.
"The team never quit," New Trier senior linebacker Jack Montgomery said. "Everybody kept working hard. We knew that if we did what we had to do, we could beat them. Thomas Merriman, Jack Piermarini and Chris Kennedy made big plays. It was a whole team effort. It was unbelievable!"
Merriman picked off his first pass on the first play of the second quarter to halt a Blue Devils' drive at the New Trier 5-yard line.
After each team traded punts, Cohen (12-for-20, 125 yards, 1 INT) threw a quick pass to a wide open Scott Schoder, who took it 55 yards before being dragged down deep in Warren territory. A holding call brought back a Cohen 9-yard TD scamper, so the Trevians settled for a 19-yard Schoder field goal with 5:19 to go in the opening half.
Starkey credited his defense for clamping down after giving up the big play early.
"Just an overall great defensive effort," Starkey acknowledged. "Jack Montgomery just battled – I knew he was going to have a great year for us. I could see that this summer. We really have some great linebackers on this team with Jack, Connor Casas, Taylor McGinnis and Scott Southern. We’re built around our linebackers on defense. They played extremely well. But then you have to give credit to the guys playing up front. We had a few guys playing both ways."
Warren senior running back Nolan Sordyl (9 carries, 80 yards) broke off a 28-yard run to start a drive that brought the Blue Devils to the New Trier red zone. However, Montgomery then recorded his only sack and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Trevians. During the play, Montgomery injured his left calf, but didn’t let it force him from the game.
"I wasn’t going to sit out the rest of that game," Montgomery said.
Trailing 7-3 with 4:25 left in the third quarter, Kennedy recovered a fumbled punt on Warren’s 13. But New Trier's ensuing drive would end with a missed field goal.
On the next Blue Devils’ drive, safety Piermarini came up huge with a 7-yard sack on third-and-five, killing the momentum Warren had at the time.
New Trier started its victory drive on its own 46 with 2:05 on the clock. After an incomplete pass, the Warren defense was flagged for two consecutive late hits to move the Trevians into the red zone.
"It was a pretty good formula tonight," Starkey said. "We caught a few breaks. I thought our kids played very smart football though. We kept our penalties to a minimum and we were able to run the football and throw it just when we needed to."
The play to Tilson that set up Nykaza’s game-winning dive into the end zone felt as though it was a long time coming for Starkey.
"I’ll give (offensive coordinator) Mike Napoleon a lot of credit because he really stuck to our game plan," Starkey said. "I was getting a little antsy wanting to get the ball out in space a little bit. But he found a way to get Charlie the ball late in the game. We knew we had to do that because he is a game-breaker."
Starkey also complimented his quarterback’s persistence and confidence.
"He made a mistake early with that pick on the sideline, but he kept his head up," Starkey said. "He bounced back like a champion. We talked about that against their defense sometimes they’ll have a great play and we just have to keep our heads and come back the next play. He’s a senior and played like it tonight."