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Wild Finish Sends Hornets to State Title Game

Well Hornet fans, it’s time to book your hotels and fuel up your vehicles, because the boys in blue are heading back to Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University for the State Championship game. It is their second trip to the title game in as many seasons. Oddly enough, it was a similar road as the one the ‘19 State Runner Up team paved. Following a home victory against Mendon Unity, the team followed suit with victories over Bismarck-Henning, Pana, and now Decatur St. Teresa. Although this go round, the Bulldogs  had to travel to Nashville due to already playing more home games.  

Following a promising opening drive, Colten Gajewski had his pass intercepted by a St. Teresa defender which set the Bulldogs up deep in their own territory. For much of the first quarter, both teams traded possessions and were unable to put points on the board. Nashville was able to change that narrative when Gajewski threw an underneath pass to running back Connor Gladson, and the senior rusher was able to find his way for six after a 19 yard scamper. After the Eduardo Garibay extra point, it was the Hornets who held a 7-0 edge over the visiting Bulldogs with 3:41 left in the opening frame. The next score did not come until three minutes into the second quarter when St. Teresa’s Royce Harper cashed in on a 22 yard run, and the score was tied at seven all. 

The Bulldogs were able to pin the Hornets deep in their own territory on the punt and were able to grab the lead courtesy of a 16 yard pick six from Matt Brummer. In a matter of 12 seconds, the Hornets saw their lead evaporate. Nashville would answer once more before the half with another Gladson score, this time coming from 5 yards out with 3:37 left in the half. Unfortunately for the home team, the Bulldogs were able to grab the lead before the half via a Denim Cook rushing touchdown. Cook set up the touchdown with a 54 yard rush earlier in the drive. The Hornets found themselves down 21-14 at the break, and St. Teresa would have the ball to open the second half. 

It was Cook again who set his team up with another big run, this one going for 41 yards. The Bulldogs were able to tack onto their lead not even two minutes in, enabling them to double up Nashville. The Hornets continued to battle, and on the ensuing drive, Gajewski found Isaac Turner for a clutch score on 4th & goal with 5:08 left in the third. With 8:26 left in the game, the Bulldogs were able to go up by 14 points once again thanks to a 41 yard touchdown reception from Trey Spence. Although down two scores, Nashville refused to go away and scored quickly. Less than two minutes after the St. Teresa touchdown, Gladson completed the hat trick with a 19 yard scramble, pulling the Hornets to within seven. It was Gladson who then recovered the onside kick to give the Hornets a shot to tie it with just over six minutes to play. With 5:22 to go, Gajewski found Turner for the second time from 52 yards out. The Garibay extra point was blocked, and the Bulldogs held  a slim 35-34 lead, but the Hornets still had all three timeouts in their pockets. Nashville was successful in recovering another onside kick as Turner caught the ball just before going out of play. The home team was not able to take advantage of the recovery, and the St. Teresa defense stepped up, stopping the Hornets on an attempted 4th and 14 conversion with 3:59 left in the game. Needing a first down, Quinten Loquasto was able to stop Cook just shy of the marker on fourth down, and the Hornets were set up with a first down with 2:24 left at the Bulldog 42. Nashville marched all the way down to the Bulldog 7-yard line before Coach Kozuszek called a timeout to give the field goal unit time to get onto the field. 

The season then rested on the shoulders of the kicker Garibay, and the sophomore was able to deliver. He drilled the go-ahead field goal with just three seconds left on the clock, putting Nashville up 37-35. As time dwindled off of the clock, the comeback, as well as the dream to play for a State Title, were both complete. 

“It was a beautiful moment,” said Garibay. “The most important kick of my life.” 

While the win was exhilarating, the story book ending is not yet complete. The Hornets will have a chance to win the program’s first ever championship on Friday at Huskie Stadium. In prior years they finished as runner-ups in 1998 as well as in 2019. The Hornets (12-1) will be tasked with Wilmington, who will go into the contest with an undefeated record of 13-0. It will not be uncharted waters for the Hornets, as it will be the fourth consecutive game where the team has faced an undefeated opponent. Gajewski finished the outing completing 23 of 33 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns, both going to Turner. Turner finished the day with 11 total catches for 128 yards. Gladson rushed for 127 yards on 34 carries and three touchdowns.

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