PARK FOREST | Until a game ago, Nick Horne was a tight end for Rich East.
The Bloom Township football team wishes he still was. Horne ran for two touchdowns, threw a flea-flicker pass to set up the second, and applied the pressure that triggered an interception in the course of Rich East's 20-14 come-from-behind victory in Saturday's Southland Conference showdown.
The outcome guaranteed Rich East (6-2, 4-0) a playoff spot, and puts Bloom (5-3, 2-2) up against it. The Trojans have to win next week at Rich Central to lock in a berth, or rely on the kindness of strangers via the playoff point system to work their way into the postseason.
"Now our life hangs in the balance the way theirs did," Bloom coach Tony Palombi said, gesturing toward the Rockets, celebrating their success.
He was extremely displeased that some players missed practices this week -- some for a death in the family, he said -- and that others didn't show their best in the game.
"If you don't want to commit, do us a favor: leave," he told his group on the field after the game. "You've got four days left to prepare for Rich Central. We want 100 percent."
Horne's big day in the rain was the lion's share of the turnaround for the Rockets.
"This was to show everybody we're not the low team in the conference," Horne said.
Bloom jumped out 14-0 before Rich East could put together a scoring drive. It was Horne's 51-yard completion to Robert Foster on third-and-28 that set up his 4-yard plunge with 7.6 seconds left in the half.
Horne's 17-yard excursion off left end, coupled with his conversion run, tied the game at 14 with 9.4 seconds left in the third quarter. Rich East took the lead on quarterback Malcolm Miller's 24-yard weave through Bloom's defense with 2:20 left in regulation, two plays after Horne gained six yards on fourth-and-2.
The Trojans, held to 27 yards offense in the second half, and 127 for the game, couldn't answer, even though running back Justis Brantley reached 100 yards rushing on the final drive.
Brantley might have been well over 100, but for one of the four penalties issued against Bloom. A holding call on Alan Hall wiped out Brantley's 49-yard touchdown run as the fourth quarter opened. The Trojans didn't make another first down the remainder of the game.
Bloom's lead came via touchdown runs by Zerrel Jackson and Brantley. Jackson's 8-yard jaunt capped an eight-play drive, while Brantley's 6-yard dash came on the second snap after Josiah Dailey picked off Rich East quarterback Malcolm Miller deep in Rockets territory.