The best part about writing about the greatest high school games in Rockford and Freeport history is reliving the greatness. Even in games that I never saw, interviews with people who were there made me feel like I was. And if I was there, talks helped me treasure those special games all over again.
The worst part was leaving so many great games out.
Here are some of my favorites that didn’t make the top 10 cut.
Freeport beats No. 1 Sterling in 1973
The No. 6-ranked Pretzels dominated Sterling, which came in 7-0. Cal Cummins ran for 161 yards and two TDs and Jim Spielman had 145 yards on 10 carries, including a go-ahead 89-yard run on a third-down trap play late in the third quarter. The Pretzels outrushed Sterling 336 yards to 141 and held the Golden Warriors to 5-for-16 passing for 49 yards with two interceptions.
That win helped East move up a spot to No. 2 in the final rankings and put Freeport at No. 3. East (9-0), with 129 points in the final Associated Press poll, finished one point behind Belleville West. Freeport’s only loss that year was 33-21 to the E-Rabs in the season opener. East would then go undefeated again and win state the next year in the first year of the playoffs.
“The East game was a little anticlimactic, because it was so early in the year and people didn’t know how good East and Freeport were going to be,” said Cummins, who later coached Freeport for many years.
The Sterling game drew 6,000 fans to the Pretzel Bowl and included eight or nine Division I players. For Freeport, Cummins went on to play for Iowa State, Spielman was a fullback/linebacker at Eastern Illinois, Jim Luedeking was a receiver at NIU and Dave Babcock — the father of Stillman Valley all-stater Bucky Babcock — also played at Eastern.
Perhaps East would have been No. 1 if the E-Rabs had taken advantage of the same rule Freeport did. The Pretzels finished 9-1. They were one of four ranked teams that year that took advantage of a one-year rule change to play an extra game. Belvidere (5-5), Boylan (5-5) and Harlem (1-9) were the only other Big Nine teams besides Freeport to play 10 games.
“We got an extra game in the regular season that year because they were going to start the playoffs the next year and they wanted to see how teams responded to an extra game,” Cummins said.
Several people nominated the game in which Veto Santini had a then-state record 17 tackles for West in a 7-6 upset of No. 1-ranked Evanston in 1967. “The previous year, my first as head coach at West, they hosted and toasted us at Evanston, 28-8,” Tom Schwalbach remembered. “They led until the last two minutes. We recovered a bad snap by the center on their 20-yard line. Three plays later we tied it up and kicked the point to win 7-6. That team had just four TDs scored on it that year.”
Schwalbach also put in a plug for West’s 7-6 victory over Boylan in the 1980 quarterfinals, when the Titans failed on a late 2-point conversion try.
The West game that came closest to making the list was a 21-17 win over Aurora East in 1964. Fullback Maurice Cox scored on an 80-yard kickoff return with less than a minute left as West went on to finish 9-0, the best record by a Rockford team since high school football began in the area in 1891. The only previous undefeated records were 8-0 by Rockford High in 1910 and 3-0 by Rockford East in 1945 when the season was halted because (this should sound familiar) of a flu epidemic. “That set the foundation for the rest of the life of our football program at West,” Schwalbach said.
Frank Cesarek nominated what he thinks was the last game ever at Beyer Stadium, the home of the famed Rockford Peaches. Cesarek, a longtime local golfer who played quarterback for two years at the University of Colorado, led Sterling Newman to a 13-0 win over St. Thomas, Rockford’s all-Catholic boys school which soon after merged into Boylan. St. Thomas was quarterbacked by Frank DeCastris, another avid local golfer who would become one of the area’s greatest minor league baseball stars. “I’ve had bragging rights from that game for over 60 years,” Cesarek said.
One of Boylan’s top receivers in that game was Lou Bachrodt.
Mark Campobello nominated East beating Boylan 2014 in 2016 to snap a 27-year losing streak to the Titans. I was tempted to make that a dual entry with Jefferson’s 21-20 win over Hononegah the same day. Hononegah (4-3) had beaten Jefferson 14 years in a row by a combined 663-118.
I could have almost made a top-10 list of Boylan games alone. One of my favorites was Boylan’s 35-32 win over Gurnee Warren in the 1991 quarterfinals. Gurnee Warren was out-rushed 360 yards to four, but led 24-7 at the half with an early spread offense. “It was football like we’ve never seen,” Boylan lineman Tom Pryztulski told me at the time.” Boylan turned it around by blitzing Tim Scharf almost every play in the second half. “It felt like I was throwing against 40 people,” Gurnee Warren QB Craig Shelton said.
Bert Adams liked Boylan’s 16-10 semifinal win over Lake Zurich in 2011, featuring Tyreis Thomas’ 66-yard scoring run. The Titans’ 20-14 quarterfinal win over Cary-Grove in 2010 was also special. Stuart Rucks nominated Boylan’s 21-13 win over Willowbrook in the 1975 semifinals. Mike LaLoggis threw a 78-yard TD pass to Tom Gerhart and a 36-yard TD to Dan Voellinger and Steve Anderson stripped a receiver after a late long pass play to upset Willowbrook.
Hononegah in 1982
Hononegah, moving up from the SHARK Conference with small schools such as Harvard and Kirkland Hiawatha, lost 15-12 to Guilford in its first NIC-10 game in 1982. Steve Cofoid had three interceptions, but the Indians lost when Dave Crouch intercepted a flea flicker and returned it for a 30-yard TD with 95 seconds left. Guilford would go on to become undefeated state champs.
Then-coach Donn Van Schelven nominated two other games that year. Cofoid, a 5-foot-10, 151-pound running back, and 5-7, 132-pound QB Scott Sauberlich led Hononegah on a late 82-yard drive to beat West 21-19 and the Indians rallied from 21-6 down in the fourth quarter to beat Boylan 25-21 on a 14-yard pass with 23 seconds left. Sauberlich had 244 yards passing and Cofoid 120 receiving in that game.
“It took me one game to learn Cofoid was the best clutch player ever, anywhere,” Van Schelven said.
Among other games, Van Schelven also liked Hononegah’s 21-19 win over Woodstock in the first round of the playoffs that helped them get to the state finals in 1985, a 22-15 playoff loss in 1987 to New Lenox Providence which ended with the Indians at the 10-yard line and a 1986 “smashfest” with Boylan. Kurt Whisenand had given Hononegah a one-point lead only to see Boylan win 24-22 on a 26-yard field goal with 26 seconds left after Boylan recovered a squib kick at Hononegah’s 36 with 4:32 to play.
Schwalbach and Jeffrey A. Myers also mentioned Guilford’s last two playoff wins in its 13-0 title season in 1982, a 14-10 win over Chicago Mt. Carmel and 16-12 over Chicago Robeson for the 5A title. Jeff “Whitey” Anderson threw a 28-yard pass on fourth-and-10 to Credell MaGee and then hit Scott Ege for a 14-yard TD with 1:34 remaining to beat Mt. Carmel. MaGee then scored virtually untouched on a short run with 45 seconds left to beat Robeson for the title after Kevin Kellner recovered a Robeson fumble with 2:35 remaining.
Others to remember
Tom Fitzgerald said South Beloit’s 50-22 rout of El Paso to win the 2002 Class 1A state title was “the greatest game there ever was.” It certainly was for SoBo fans.
Jordan Austin liked Guilford beating Hononegah 14-10 in the first round of the 2007 playoffs after losing to the Indians 37-9 during the regular season.
Evelyn Meeks nominated the game when her future husband Tommy Meeks threw two TD passes in 15 seconds to lift Auburn over Harlem 15-6 in 1971.
Every single one of those games was a classic in its own right.
Now it’s on to basketball. We’ll start in early May with our 10 greatest girls basketball games countdown, then move on to boys basketball. After that comes our countdown of greatest athletes in every IHSA sport.
Matt Trowbridge: email@example.com; @matttrowbridge