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Elk Grove tried to defy odds all the way to the end
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/13/2011 12:51 AM

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Elk Grove was staring into a 25-mph wind at an end zone 80 long yards away.

Behind that south end zone at Lake Zurich's Mel Eide Field was a scoreboard that had the Grenadiers chasing a 14-point deficit and facing a clock with only three minutes and eight seconds left on it Saturday afternoon.

And between that end zone and the Grenadiers was a Lake Zurich defense that had allowed exactly 2 field goals in the previous 95½ minutes.

Basically, the Grenadiers were facing precisely the odds they had defied all year. So in no way did they believe the end was near in their Class 7A state football quarterfinal.

"Sometimes life throws lemons at you and you have to make lemonade," said senior leader Dejan Basara, who squeezed every ounce of everything he had into one of Elk Grove's most refreshing seasons in its history.

"I felt this way and I'm sure the team felt the same way I thought we were going to come back and win the same way we did against Fremd," said Elk Grove senior safety Dylan Edwards of turning a late 11-point deficit into an overtime win. "You can make anything happen if you work hard enough and believe."

Elk Grove did and finally reached that end zone on Basara's 3-yard pass to Darren Little against one of the last decade's monsters of 7A. The deficit was reduced to 17-10 but the clock was also down to only 28 seconds.

An onside kick attempt bounced out of bounds and Lake Zurich took a knee to end a season where the Grenadiers believed they could achieve anything.

Heartbreaking? It always is the deeper you go in the postseason.

"We came up that short," said Basara, who certainly didn't after passing for 111 yards, running for 74 on 28 grueling carries, kicking a field goal, getting a sack, recovering a fumble, snapping on punts, etc ...

Disappointing? Not a chance for a team that defied most expectations with 10 wins, a Mid-Suburban East title and a memorable postseason run.

"Talk about overachieving, most people thought we would be 3-6 or 4-5," said third-year Elk Grove coach Brian Doll with a smile. "They were a bunch of believers in each other. They were as special as it gets and as a coachable as it gets.

"Listening is a skill and they have it. I appreciate that."

Equally important was what the Grenadiers didn't listen to after they lost all-area captain Nick Meyer and a large cast of talented players from consecutive playoff teams.

"Ever since day one, you have everybody doubting you," Basara said, "and personally doubting me and doubting the whole team."

It only increased in Week 4 when Basara busted his collarbone, Edwards dislocated his elbow and defensive lineman Johnny Assimakopoulos and linebacker Alfonso Lavin went out with injuries.

But the next week, they overcame a 10-point deficit to pull out a win at Buffalo Grove that was another sign this could be a special year.

"Everyone said, 'Elk Grove is done,' but we brought guys up and we bounced back," said Edwards, who returned in Week 9 after learning he didn't need Tommy John surgery. "We knew after that, when we lost key guys and other people stepped up like that, we had the potential to go all the way."

It looked more promising when Glenbard West, a team many pegged to reach Champaign, was cleared out last week. But facing a Lake Zurich team that took second place there last year hardly an open door to a semifinal trip.

That was evident as the hard-hitting crew led by Minnesota-bound linebacker Jack Lynn and defensive lineman Will Hussey allowed 1 first down and no trips into its territory in the first half.

"We know we're a running team and it was going to be a struggle," Doll said. "Dejan did a heck of a job and the offensive line did a heck of a job, but when it came down to it they made plays on third down."

Elk Grove displayed its usual defensive toughness by allowing only 220 yards. But 78 of them came on a touchdown drive at the end of the first half and 53 came on Mike Shield's run to set up Lake Zurich's final touchdown with 3:08 left.

It simply wasn't enough time to avoid the typical postseason-ending scenes such as Basara and two-way lineman Greg Johnsen sharing an emotion-filled hug.

But it was enough time to show exactly what this team was all about this season.

"It was an unbelievable job by everybody," Basara said.

"This team and all we've been through, it's been like a second family," Edwards said. "I've never been around anything like this before."