August 28, 2008
By BILL STONE
Lyons Township then-senior linebacker Mark Nolan had a partially torn left meniscus in his left knee, but the final regular-season game of the 2006 football season was against Hinsdale Central with a playoff berth on the line.
"I was going to play no matter what," Nolan recalled. "I had taken a bunch of Advil and I was icing it for a long time."
Two years earlier, Hinsdale Central had lost its star running back P.J. Beuke to a torn ACL, but senior linebacker Garrett Sosnovich and the Red Devils were determined to keep their Class 8A playoff run going, especially when playing at home against LT in the second round.
"You better win (against LT). At least in my two years (on varsity), or even as a freshman or sophomore, we never lost to them," Sosnovich said. "With all of the fans there, obviously it was a heated rivalry. To come out and play the way we did -- especially on our field -- was something else."
Those are just two reasons why the Hinsdale Central-LT football showdowns often are special. Here's a closer look at some of the more memorable meetings in the recent past.
1994 Hinsdale Central 10 Lyons Township 9
The "bing" caused by Hinsdale Central placekicker Dan Ryan in the Week 8 regular-season game turned out to be a tolling a new era of Red Devils' excellence.
The visiting Red Devils trailed 9-0 in the fourth quarter when Ryan attempted a 37-yard field goal. He realized he was too close to the tee, but his long, spinning kick from the left hash mark hit the right goal post and caromed through the uprights.
"I just remember I didn't get all of it," Ryan said. "Just watching it, I saw there was a ton of backspin on it and I didn't think I had enough on it because I didn't get all of it. I think after watching the videotape of it, it almost hit the referee that was standing underneath. So it just made it over."
With 1 minute, 33 seconds left, Ryan added the crucial extra point after Anthony Julian's 47-yard touchdown run on an end reverse. The Red Devils then beat Hinsdale South to earn their first playoff berth since 1986, starting a stretch of 10 playoff trips in the last 14 seasons.
"It's kind of huge. We went on to our senior year and got back in the playoffs again (in 1995), and basically the tradition has continued on from there," Ryan said. "I also had a chance to coach Falcon football, so seeing those guys grow up and actually playing and making that difference within the community is pretty cool to see as well."
2000 Lyons Township 48 Hinsdale Central 28
Then-senior LT quarterback Matt Bruckner broke the index finger on his right throwing hand in Week 2. Wearing a pad on his hand, he still played at running back and strong safety, but his return to quarterback still was in doubt before this Week 6 matchup.
The 2-3 Lions -- one loss from playoff elimination -- faced undefeated Hinsdale Central in front of a homecoming crowd in Western Springs.
"It was a pretty tense atmosphere. I remember going home Thursday night and thinking, 'I have to make sure I know quarterback, and also running back,' " Bruckner said.
Bruckner played quarterback and rushed for 241 yards and four TDs, including a 45-yarder less than three minutes into the game. By halftime, LT owned a 28-6 lead over a Hinsdale Central team that had allowed only 20 points and 684 total yards in its first five games.
"Honestly, to this day, people still say that was unbelievable," Bruckner said. "It's the game that I'm reminded about the most, especially since it's the game where everybody from college comes back to see."
Bruckner remained at quarterback, and the Lions won their last three regular-season games to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They even upset Schaumburg 30-21 in the first round.
"We were playing for our playoff lives so (Hinsdale Central) was like no other game that season. From that point on, it was do or die every week," Bruckner said. "That game kind of catapulted us and carried our momentum for the rest of the season."
2004 Hinsdale Central 22 Lyons Township 7
The Red Devils beat LT 21-6 in the regular season, but they went into the second-round home playoff game minus Beuke, who was injured the previous game.
In the only playoff meeting between the longtime rivals, Sosnovich, the Red Devils' defense and senior Scott Hrubes were ready.
Hrubes had a 96-yard TD reception from quarterback Brett Morse -- the longest TD reception in school history -- and also scored the final TD in the third quarter on the free kick after the defense recorded a safety.
"Hrubes had an all-star game. He was all over the place, really helping us out, knowing when you played LT it didn't matter who was missing," Sosnovich said. "We all played our (butts) off. A lot of good things came out of that game."
Hinsdale Central's defense recorded nine sacks and allowed just 37 rushing yards. Starting LT quarterback Nick Saraniecki left the game early in the second quarter with a separated shoulder.
Despite another great defensive effort, the Red Devils lost to eventual Class 8A state champion Downers Grove North 14-0 in the state quarterfinals.
"At that point of the season, everybody's banged up so we know everybody's sore and you try and block the pain out and keep going," Sosnovich said. "You always think about the what ifs, but you can't really change it now. (Beuke) clearly was one of the best players on the team, but he wasn't there so that's how it ended."
2006 Lyons Township 25 Hinsdale Central 14
After a 1-4 start, LT had to win its last four games to make the playoffs. Following resounding victories over Glenbard West and Downers North, the Lions' regular-season finale was in Western Springs against already-qualified Hinsdale Central (5-3).
"Our team wanted to crush those three teams," Nolan said. "We were ready for (Hinsdale Central) to come on our field and 'Lock the gates,' as (LT defensive coach Mark Kropke) says."
The Red Devils led 14-3 at halftime, but early in the third quarter, LT's Casey McMurray booted a 70-yard-plus punt out of the end zone, and moments later, Nolan returned an interception to the 19. McMurray soon followed with the first of his three rushing TDs, and the Lions pulled off a dramatic comeback.
"I wish I would have taken her in for a TD," Nolan said. "The (memory) that sticks out in my head was when Matt Gralen recovered a fumble on our 20 (in the final moments). When anyone (on our team) thinks of Hinsdale Central, that's the one moment that sticks out. That sealed the deal."
Nolan's victory was even more meaningful because his older brother, Brent, was on LT's 2004 team that Mark said was "in my opinion, the best LT team I've ever seen."
Now a club lacrosse player at Illinois State, Mark Nolan spoke for many players on both sides regarding his high-school football days.
"I always think about it. That's what they always says when you're a senior. You'll think about it the rest of your life and it's true," Nolan said. "I miss going to practice, the camaraderie with all of the guys on defense, and on offense. I wish I could go back."
-- Staff intern Ryan Dixon contributed to this story.
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