Dennis Dunn made so many big runs on the night he ran for a Freeport record 279 yards that his biggest blunder and greatest achievement somehow fused into one play in the memory of then-defensive coordinator Terry Werntz.
Werntz clearly remembers Dunn accidentally calling for a fake punt. And breaking up the middle for a game-winning 53-yard touchdown run with only 18 seconds left in a 40-33 victory over Hononegah 28 years ago that has been picked as the fifth-greatest football game in Freeport-area history.
"It was fourth down and we were punting and Dennis was the only up man we had," said Werntz, who was in his first year as Freeport’s defensive coordinator in 1992. "He was just going to stand back there and block. He would look at the defense and call set and then the play. The play had two color codes. One color was an audible and you snap it to him and he runs with it. He called the wrong color and just took off running, next thing you know he scored a touchdown."
Dunn did call the wrong color. And he did run 53 yards for the winning TD. But the two plays happened a little over two minutes apart.
Dunn only made it 5 yards on the accidental fake punt, giving the ball to Hononegah on the Freeport 29 with 2:30 to play and the Pretzels leading 33-27. Hononegah scored with 39 seconds left but kicker Jeff Pettenger slipped on the extra-point attempt to keep the game tied.
Dunn said in newspaper accounts at the time that he realized he called the wrong color, but the ball was snapped before he could call timeout.
He also lost two fumbles in the game, which led to Bill Wolverton’s tongue-in-cheek opening paragraph in his game story: "If it wasn’t for the touchdown runs of 48, 73 and 53 yards and the 279 yards rushing on 17 carries, Freeport’s Dennis Dunn had a terrible time in last night’s 40-33 win over Hononegah."
He then quoted Dunn calling it "the best and the scariest game I’ve ever played."
By the way, who gives the ball to the fullback on a run up the middle when you are 53 yards away from the end zone in a tie game in the final seconds?
Especially when you have Michigan recruit Todd Brooks, who had earlier scored on an 83-yard kickoff return and a 21-yard pass.
Well, Cal Cummins does. At least he did when he had a fullback like Dunn and receivers who took as much pride in their blocking as their catching.
"Dennis was an exciting player," Cummins, Freeport’s all-time winningest coach (109-61 in 17 years) said of Dunn, who led the NIC-10 in rushing that year with 1,333 yards and averaged an eye-popping 9.1 yards per carry. "He had more 50-plus yard runs than anybody. He played fullback, which was a little out of position for him, but he hit the holes so quickly he could get in the secondary. And once he got behind the linebackers and reached the open field, there was no stopping him.
"We had a great receiving corps that took pride in their blocks. Game after game, we would have long runs based on wide receivers making blocks 15 yards down the field, which you usually don’t see in high school. Dennis made a lot of cutback runs, which gave the receivers an opportunity to make those blocks."
Brooks, whose older brother, Otha, was a receiver at Northern Illinois University, never had eye-popping numbers at Freeport, which didn’t throw much. He was second in the conference in receiving as a junior in 1992 with 460 yards, averaging 19.2 yards per catch with four TDs. As a senior, he had three TDs and led the league with 690 yards, averaging 18.6 per catch. But Cummins said he had the size, speed and most importantly the work ethic to make it to the Big Ten.
"He took everything seriously — his speed training, his workouts, his conditioning, his weight training," Cummins said. "You could tell there was going to be nothing left. If he didn’t make it, nobody would."
That 1992 team became the first of 10 Cummins-coached Pretzel teams to reach the playoffs, where they advanced to the second round. That 40-33 win over Hononegah was key to the Pretzels finishing 7-4.
"That was a big, big, big win for us," said Werntz, who succeeded Cummins as head coach in 2006. "When I joined Cal, they hadn’t been in the playoffs yet. We made it the first year I was with him, and we did it by upsetting some of the teams he had struggled with early in his career."
And the Pretzels did it the way they would so often do it under Cummins -- by running the ball. And they seldom did it better than they did in 1992 with a sneaky-fast fullback and a bunch of good blockers.
"Dennis had a nice line in front of him," Werntz said. "In the 14 years Cal and I were together, that first year might have had the best all-around line. The line on the team that went 11-1 (in 2004) and this line were very, very close."
Matt Trowbridge: email@example.com; @matttrowbridge