Winnebago didn't play the greatest football game in area football history.
But it got off to the greatest start.
Winnebago built an unheard-of 18-point lead against the most dominant playoff juggernaut in state history, and that's good enough to make our list as the sixth-greatest Rockford-area football game of the past 75 years.
Addison Driscoll won 37 consecutive playoff games and a record seven straight state titles from 2001 to 2007 before closing after the 2008-09 school year. Ten of those wins came against six different Big Northern Conference teams.
"They’ve really wiped us out here the last seven or eight years," Mike Lalor, who has coached Stillman Valley to five state titles, said in 2009.
But the unlikeliest of those six conquered BNC teams threw a giant scare into Driscoll before falling 37-21 in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs in 2003.
Winnebago led 21-3 less than halfway through the second quarter after Brandon Wogomon threw touchdown passes of 23 yards to Andrew Edward and 15 and 5 yards to Kevin Terviel.
"We were definitely a little stunned that we were up that much," Terviel said.
"The lead was the most shocking thing ever," Wogomon said. "Nobody thought we had a chance."
And then, suddenly, Winnebago didn't.
Things may have started going downhill for Winnebago with that final touchdown pass, which also involved a borderline late hit.
"I got clotheslined, hit top and bottom," Wogomon said. "It wasn't that bad. I was down for a bit. I got up and finished the game. But right after that, the wheels fell off."
Wogomon was down for five long minutes before being helped off the field.
"I am not saying they were dirty," said coach Mike Elsbury, now an assistant at Byron, "but we knew they were going to play to the whistle. We had other coaches call and warn us."
Wogomon threw for 184 yards and three touchdowns in the game's first 16 minutes, but only 49 yards — with five interceptions — in the 32 minutes after being slammed to the turf.
He also gained the vast majority of his 106 yards rushing on 22 carries in the first half.
"The big hit he took caused him to run and scramble a lot less in the second half," Terviel said.
"We should have stopped throwing the ball," Wogomon said. "I had over 100 yards rushing in the first half. Once I got hurt, I stopped running the ball."
And Wogomon was Winnebago's running game. Tom McDonald, with two carries for eight yards, was the only other Indian with a single rush.
"Brandon was escaping and scrambling real well," McDonald said. "We should have kept doing that."
Wogomon and McDonald both think he should have kept running. Elsbury isn't sure Wogomon should have kept playing.
"He was pretty banged up," Elsbury said. "He played the best he could. If we had the concussion evaluation stuff back then, he might not have played the second half."
Before Winnebago surprised Addison Driscoll, the Indians surprised the Big Northern. Winnebago, with a run-based Wing-T offense, had gone 1-8 the previous year and hadn’t won more than two games in five years. The Indians hadn't won a playoff game in 15 years, not since Joe Murphy — who has now won over 700 games as Winnebago's boys basketball coach — finished his three-year stint as football coach.
But Elsbury had spent the winter talking with Drew Potthoff, who had coached South Beloit and star quarterback Jered Shipley to the Class 1A state title the year before.
"The Wing-T hadn't worked for a decade, so we started running the Air Raid like South Beloit," Wogomon said. "It was great."
It didn't start out great. Winnebago lost its opener 45-7 to Byron.
"I threw more touchdowns to Ryan Considine than to my own team," Wogomon said.
Byron needed only 223 yards of offense that game (including a 19-yard pass reception by Considine) because Considine scored on 90- and 37-yard interception returns and an 82-yard kickoff return to begin the second half.
Winnebago ran for minus-36 yards, but Elsbury said Byron was the perfect team to open against.
"Brandon learned you can't throw the ball down the middle of the field with a 3-deep defense if you have Ryan Considine sitting there," Elsbury said.
So the Indians tweaked the Air Raid. They didn't throw downfield as much as Shipley did at South Beloit. Instead, Wogomon threw short and relied on a talented group of multisport athletes to do the rest. Wogomon was a wrestler, David Merchant pitched at Creighton and a bunch of others, including Ben Powers, played on Winnebago's powerhouse basketball team for Murphy.
"We had to make some minor adjustments and have a different philosophy," Elsbury said. "We were going to take four downs to gain 10 yards. It didn't matter how it happened. Our passes were going to be like a handoff. We weren't trying to bomb it down the field. We were just trying to gain 10 yards. We were kind of ahead of our time."
The Indians started showing that in Week 2. They won seven games in a row before losing a 40-36 shootout to eventual Class 3A state champion Stillman Valley.
A team with a similar offense, Fairbury Prairie Central, lost to Driscoll 37-21 in the state title game, throwing for 305 yards and rushing for 11.
"It would have been an interesting championship game against us if we could have beaten Driscoll," Wogomon said. "It probably would have lasted six to eight hours. It would have been all passing."
Instead, the Indians remember playing Driscoll. That's a memory that will never pass, even if they didn't like the ending.
"Everybody keeps telling me that was the most shocking game," running back/slot receiver Tom McDonald said. "We will be outside a bar or restaurant and someone will bring up that game."
"We have talked about that a lot," Elsbury said. "A lot of coaches look back on certain games and remember the one that got away."
Matt Trowbridge: 815-987-1383; email@example.com; @matttrowbridge