MACHESNEY PARK – Harlem made it apparent in the second half that it would not be caught by Crystal Lake South.
The Huskies’ running attack with 225-pound back Adrian Palos was just too good.
But South quarterback Justin Kowalak also made it apparent that if the Gators were going down, they were doing so swinging.
Kowalak fired his last of 40 passes with 1:01 remaining, a 15-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Brady Schroeder, in South’s 64-39 loss to Harlem in their Class 6A playoff first-round game Saturday night at Clyde F. Peterson Stadium.
The Huskies (9-1) ended their nine-game playoff losing streak with an offensive explosion for 648 total yards, 507 of which came on the ground. No. 3 Harlem will host No. 6 Lake Forest (8-2) next week. South finished 5-5.
“It was a different feeling knowing it was my last high school game,” said Kowalak, a senior and three-year starter who passed 2,200 yards for the season. “I was going to do what I could to put as many points as we could on the board as possible. It was a nice feeling to have my last pass be a touchdown.”
Kowalak finished 22-of-40 passing for 324 yards and four touchdowns, all to different receivers.
“He’s a senior, he’s done everything for us,” Gators coach Rob Fontana said. “We wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing. We wanted Justin to finish on a high note. We weren’t going to take the ball out of his hands. He got us here, let him spin it a few more times.”
South kept pace with Harlem through the first half, even though Palos (32 carries, 247 yards) had four touchdowns at halftime. But Harlem pulled away in the second half.
It did not help that South was missing two-way lineman Andy Burburija (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) with an unspecified injury. With many of their players going on both sides, the Gators wore down against Harlem’s physical offensive line.
Deandre Young ran nine times for 143 yards and finished with touchdown runs of 47 and 50 yards in the second half. The Huskies look different offensively than the 2021 spring season with quarterback James Cooper slinging the ball over all the field.
“Last year we had an All-State quarterback, we’re going to throw the ball,” Huskies coach Bob Moynihan said. “This year we have an All-State running back, we run the ball. We play physical. That’s what we gear towards.”
Michael Prokos, Cooper LePage, Colton Hess and Schroeder each caught a touchdown pass. Prokos led South with seven catches for 122 yards.
Running back Nate Van Witzenburg carried four times for 100 yards in the first half. His first carry was for a 75-yard touchdown. But he was injured late in the half and did not play in the second.
“Their running back, No. 33 (Palos), is a hard runner, tough runner. And their line’s pretty solid too,” South running back-linebacker Shane Moran said. “We kept playing to the end and scored in the end. It would have been easy to give up, but we tried to lay it on the ine and still fought.”
South’s Kevin Landa boomed in field goals of 40 and 50 yards and Kowalak hit Hess for a 13-yard score with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter, making it 32-26.
But there was no stopping Harlem, which scored two touchdowns in the second half through the air after the Gators’ defense committed hard to stop the run.
“We battled hard the whole 48 minutes, but Harlem’s a good team,” Kowalak said. “They were physical and were bringing the house on me.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle