By Bill Harrison
CHAMPAIGN Glenbard West defensive back Hayden Carlson said he never hit anybody as hard in his life as he did late in the Class 7A state title against Lincoln-Way East late in the fourth quarter.
He had good reason to sacrifice his body.
On a fourth-and-10 attempt by Lincoln-Way East on the Hilltoppers 13-yard line, the junior defensive back recorded the play of the game when he flipped quarterback Tom Fuessel, three yards short of the first down.
That gave the Hilltoppers the ball back with 1:50 left, and they held on for a 10-8 win for the first state title in program history.
I knew I had to make that play or we can eventually lose the state championship, Carlson said. I felt it afterward, my shoulder was killing me but I still had to get back out there for the final series.
Following Carlsons hit, the Hilltoppers (14-0), leading 10-6, faced a fourth-and-3 from their 13-yard line and opted to take an intentional safety instead of punting. A free kick went out of bounds and set up Lincoln-Way East at the Glenbard West 45-yard line with 23 seconds to play.
But Fuessel, still shaken up by the Carlson hit, wasnt close on a pass attempt before being sacked by Nathan Marcus on second down. Fuessel managed to spike the ball with one second remaining, but appeared confused and dazed and was replaced for the last play by cousin Brett Fuessel, who was tackled by Ruben Dunbar trying to scramble out of a heavy rush to end the game.
I dont even remember the hit, said Tom Fuessel, who appeared shaken at the post-game press conference.
The Hilltoppers defense set the tone from the start of the game, holding the Griffins (13-1) to 44 total yards of offense in the first half. No small feat considering Lincoln-Way East produced two 1,000 yard rushers this season.
Glenbard Wests offense struck with 2:30 left in the first quarter on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Henry Haeffner to Marcus for a 7-0 lead. The Hilltoppers increased their advantage to 10-0 with 40 seconds left in the frame on a 27-yard Hayden Lekacz field goal.
A 35-yard run by Justin Corbett pulled the Griffins within 10-6. But a missed extra point would change the strategy of the game, contributing to the Griffins attempting to convert on fourth-and-10 instead of a going for a game-tying field goal.
If were the best defense in the state, Lincoln-Way East is the second best, Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet said.