The clock said the Oak Park Fenwick game was over.
Peter Cimino said it wasn’t.
Every stat said the Sycamore game was over.
Xavier Bryant said it wasn’t.
Cimino and Bryant were right, and their heroics led to two of the most stunning playoff victories in NIC-10 history. We are putting Boylan's twin quarterfinal playoff miracles down as a joint entry and naming them the area's seventh-greatest football game of the past 75 years.
Boylan edged Oak Park Fenwick 22-21 in 2012 after Cimino's 90-yard punt return with no time left and beat Sycamore 19-16 last fall after Xavier Bryant scooped up a pair of fumbles in the mud and returned them 93 and 67 yards for touchdowns.
In Cimino's opinion, this should be a solo entry.
"Xavier had two 90-yard touchdown plays to win a game. That tops one 90-yard touchdown any day of the week," Cimino said.
Yet both games were so Boylan. The Titans have pulled out many Houdini escapes over the years.
"That's definitely part of the Boylan culture," Cimino said. "Never give up. Always believe in yourself. Almost every game in high school where we were playing Harlem, it seemed they were up at halftime but we would win."
And as soon as word spread about Boylan beating Sycamore in a game in which the Titans were outgained 355 yards to 99, Cimino instantly thought of his game.
And so did Zack Matthews, who scored the two-point conversion against Fenwick.
"It's pretty much the same thing," Matthews said. "You think they are down and out but somehow they find a way to come back and win. It made me bring up the video on Youtube and watch it there."
The key thing about both miracles is the Titan players always believed they could win. Even when Fenwick punted from Boylan's 40 with 19 seconds left.
"It wasn't like we thought we were going to lose when they were punting. We had Peter, who can do crazy things out of nowhere, back there," Matthews said. "If you needed a miracle, he was your guy."
As a junior, Cimino had three interceptions and a fumble recovery in one playoff victory on the way to Boylan's second consecutive state title. He wore No. 1 as a senior — a jersey reserved only for the most special Boylan players.
Cimino fielded that punt wide of the right hash mark. The nearest defender slipped and fell and Cimino almost did too, but stayed up by putting his left hand on the ground. He cut back to the left, juked out the nearest defender and made it all the way to the left sideline. He was never touched, but had to slow down and maneuver through traffic near the 20-yard line before he scored.
"There was a lot of zigging and zagging and slipping and falling," Cimino said. "I remember crossing midfield and looking up and seeing the clock was at zero. I thought I started running faster when I saw that, but looking back on film I was running slower because I was so tired."
Trailing by one, first-year coach John Cacciatore went for the win and gave the ball to 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker Zack Matthews on a play called 23 blast.
"That was our most basic play out of our heavy run package," Matthews said.
Cacciatore had asked his players if they wanted to go for 2 and the vote was unanimous. And quick.
Cimino says the same thing now as he did after the game: "You put 1-on-11 on Zack Matthews and I'll take Zack 10 times out of 10."
The 2-point run was also rather amazing. Matthews ran hard into a wall off left tackle, was stood up, slid to the right and slowly pushed the wall of defenders into the end zone, finishing up over center.
"I don't remember thinking to even look for a hole," Matthews said. "I didn't think there was going to be one. We just had to outmuscle those guys. And they were a big team. I got stopped at the line, but I got help from the guys up front, some people pushed me from the back and we got into the end zone.
"It was like it wasn't even real. It was so crazy."
And now it's crazy times two.
Defensive coordinator Bryant Salamone was calling plays from the press box when Boylan trailed Sycamore 16-7 early in the fourth quarter last fall. "If they score here," Salamone told another Boylan assistant, "we are finished."
But the Spartans didn't score. Xavier Bryant did. And the Titans were just getting started after Bryant scooped up a fumble and returned it 93 yards for a touchdown.
The game looked over again with only two minutes remaining until Bryant scooped up another fumble and ran 67 yards for a 19-16 lead.
And even that almost wasn't enough. Sycamore drove all the way to the 6-yard line, but Boylan's Nikos Xydakis blocked a 23-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game to clinch the win.
"It was one of the greatest, craziest, weirdest things I've ever seen in my life," Salamone said. "It took about a day for my heart rate to slow down. But it does say a lot for us. Sometimes you don't have to be the better team. You never know what can happen if you keep playing the game."
Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge