FLOSSMOOR | In the end, the wrong Viking burst across the goal line.
It was coach Craig Buzea, in hot pursuit of an officiating crew making hastily for the locker room, after a stunning, befuddling end to Homewood-Flossmoor's 24-21 second-round loss to Naperville Central in the Class 8A state football playoffs.
Seconds earlier, his Vikings were trying to scramble to snap the ball at their own 7-yard line. A Naperville Central player was down, the clock was stopped with two seconds to play, and the officials were huddling over the spot. Abruptly, they picked up the ball and waved to signal the end of the game.
"I just wanted to know why the clock was stopped," Buzea said. "It shouldn't have been stopped, but it was stopped while they were conferring on what was going on. We just wanted a chance to spike the ball but we couldn't spike the ball because they were over the ball, and Naperville Central had a kid hurt. The clock had stopped — I don't know.
"I think that's irrelevant. I'd hate for that to take away from a game of this magnitude. I thought it was a well-played game by both teams, unfortunately some things happened that were, I guess, a little bit out of the norm."
Yeah, a little bit.
A pair of offensive juggernauts, each averaging more than 36 points per game, amassed 31 rushing yards combined in the first half.
H-F fell behind after its punter shanked one into a howling wind for 12 yards, leaving the Redhawks to march all of 33 yards for the game's first score. The Vikings tied it after Central's punter inadvertently downed the ball while preparing to punt into that same wind, handing H-F the ball at the Redhawks' 30.
Central went ahead on a wind-aided 36-yard field goal. Then the Vikings took the lead when James Sheehan corralled a tipped pass for a 36-yard gain, then went 19 yards with a screen pass for a touchdown.
And later, H-F appeared to cement a victory with what might have been a will-busting, 12-play, 75-yard drive, eating more than six minutes off the clock and leaving the Redhawks 6:31 to try to do something about their 21-17 deficit.
"Six minutes to go, we've got the lead, they've got to go 80 yards into the wind," Buzea said. "If you'd have told me that before the game, I'd have felt pretty good."
As it was, the buzz wore off in 13 seconds, the length of time it took Central wideout/running back to sprint 80 yards through the heart of H-F's defense for what was ultimately the decisive score.
And that's when it got weird.
In Naperville territory, H-F lost the ball when it was snapped off Isaac Cutrara's leg while the quarterback wasn't looking. Though Cutrara appeared to dive on the ball, the officials quickly signaled a Naperville recovery and, with nearly equal speed, tossed a flag on the Vikings for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The flag, Buzea said, was on the H-F bench, which had already complained about what the Vikings believed caused the critical fumble — and another in the first half.
"Two times our kids said their defensive line was calling signals," Buzea said. "So we snapped the ball on the wrong count, fumbled it twice …"
After the walk-off, Central had the ball at the H-F 37. And on third-and-12, it got weird again.
Before the snap, Central was handed a first down at the H-F 24 thanks to another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Vikings — this one, apparently, for trying the same tactic that Central allegedly used to force H-F's early snaps.
On the sideline, Buzea fumed, railing at the refs, "Real gutsy call. After we tell you what's going on."
Later, he was more philosophical.
"That's not the tale of the tape," he said. "They made one more play than us."
Buzea spent 15 minutes with his players in the H-F locker room before emerging to talk with reporters.
"It's a special group of kids," he said. "Nobody talked about them at the beginning of the year. Nobody gave them a shot about anything. But I think we knew we had a shot as we started getting better and better.
"You get attached to kids like this. These kids are good football players, but they're great kids. I love coming to work with them each and every day. That's what makes it hard. "