The postgame gathering inside Grayslake Central's old gymnasium was already rowdy before football coach Nick Goshe walked in and made an announcement.
"It's Sept. 30 and Grayslake Central is in the playoffs," Goshe shouted.
That's an unprecedented accomplishment for the Rams. This will be the fifth trip to the playoffs in school history, but they never started any of those seasons with a 6-0 record.
Grayslake Central stayed perfect with a 10-7 victory over visiting Crystal Lake Central on Friday in the Fox Valley Fox Division.
The Rams took to the air frequently, with quarterback Ray Beckman completing 14-of-24 passes for 179 yards and receiver Vince Smith hauling in 5 catches for 96 yards. Some of those throws led to Beckman's 3-yard sneak that made it 10-0 with 5:13 left in the third quarter.
Then, once Crystal Lake got on the board with 4:53 remaining, the Rams turned to running back Joey Valdivia. Usually a workhorse, Valdivia was quiet until rolling up 49 yards on 9 consecutive carries, allowing Grayslake to run out the clock.
"We take what they give us," Goshe said. "They were obviously trying to shut down Joey. It took us a while to kind of figure out their puzzle. So in the meantime, take what they give you and they were giving us the pass.
"They were running a lot of spying with No. 40 (Mark Adams) athlete on athlete type of thing; wherever Joey goes, he goes. We figured it out with formations. We were able to take advantage and get that kid blocked."
Grayslake Central's margin of victory came on a 36-yard field goal by Jon Gurchak early in the second quarter. Late in the first half, Crystal Lake's Tanner Fehring barely missed a 43-yard attempt.
The visiting Tigers (3-3, 2-1) faced tough circumstances after losing top running back Gage Harrah to a knee injury last week against Prairie Ridge. Coach Matt Fralick said Harrah is expected to be out 4 to 6 weeks with a sprained MCL.
"These kids don't make excuses," Fralick said. "We kind of have that old-school, blue-collar mentality and just work hard. We weren't quite good enough tonight."
At running back, Crystal Lake turned to junior Matt MacAlpine, who carried 29 times for 146 yards. He had runs of 19 and 12 yards to set up a 3-yard touchdown plunge by sophomore Connor Hines that made it 10-7. But the Tigers never got the ball back after Valdivia went to work.
According to Goshe, no player on the Grayslake Central varsity had ever beaten Crystal Lake Central at any level.
"They've got talent gushing out of the school," Goshe said. "They're still a playoff team without a question in my mind. I think they go 6-3 and make the playoffs, but you never know how they're going to respond when you lose your big player."