BELLEVILLE - Lake Park didn't make a 300-mile trek from Chicago to Belleville to do something ordinary.
With 1:31 remaining Saturday, the Lancers declined a chance to kick the game-tying extra point and instead threw a successful 2-point conversion pass to defeat Belleville East 22-21 in a Class 8A state playoff game.
"There wasn't any decision - on the road, go for the win," Lake Park defensive coordinator Bob Nihells said after quarterback Larry Nawrot rolled left and hit Clay Cooper for the decisive conversion pass.
Nawrot said head coach Andy Livingston never hesitated after calling a timeout to set up the play.
"We knew we were going for 2," said Nawrot, whose 32-yard pass to Artie Monaco set up Monaco's 1-yard touchdown run that led to the critical moment. "This is the playoffs, you've got to take chances."
Nawrot rolled left to get the defense's attention, hoping Cooper would find a way to get open.
"I knew if I gave that (Belleville East) kid a little step inside he would come up to me and leave Cooper wide open, so that's what I did," said Nawrot, whose 8-2 team wiped out a 14-0 halftime deficit and ended Belleville East's season at 7-3.
"They made some good adjustments," Belleville East coach Tim Funk said. "I thought that we would come out and play a little bit better the second half. We can say that we didn't play well or we can give them credit, and that's what we're going to do."
A pair of 14-yard TD runs by Lake Park's Jake McNamara in the third quarter helped turn his team's fortunes around. McNamara finished with 121 yards on 19 carries.
"I think we just calmed down," Nihells said of the second-half turnaround. "They came out and really got after us, I think they got us reeling in the first half. We just calmed down and started playing some good football."
After dominating play throughout the first half thanks to a strong running game and tight defense, Belleville East seemed to lose composure a bit in the third quarter. Belleville East was flagged for 3 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the second half to 1 for Lake Park, while Belleville East cornerback Cole Collins was ejected from the game.
Still protecting a 14-7 lead, Belleville East was called for 2 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the same play late in the third quarter. The calls pushed Lake Park 30 yards closer to the goal line, and the Lancers took over at the Belleville East 26, scoring four plays later when McNamara dashed through a huge hole up the middle from 14 yards out.
"I'm not sure what happened," Funk said. "The officials are in charge and apparently our kids were doing some things they shouldn't (do), which obviously I didn't take very well."
Funk wasn't sure Collins should have been ejected, noting Collins was talking with teammate Warren Herring at the time.
"He was having a conversation and wasn't saying anything to the officials, and then they throw him out," Funk said.
A 10-yard TD run by Keith Chism put Belleville East on top with 1:05 remaining in the first quarter, but Brandon Leveling's extra-point try was blocked.
Belleville East's Kevin Gettis turned in a dazzling run late in the first half, leaping over one defender and outrunning another on the way to a 23-yard touchdown. Aaron Hampton's 2-point conversion pass to Darnell Stevenson made it 14-0. After McNamara tied it with a pair of third-quarter TD runs, Belleville East regained the lead on a 1-yard run by Ryan Herring. Lake Park's journey to the second round of the playoffs began at its own 20-yard line with 4:31 remaining.
Monaco ripped off a 27-yard gain on the first play of the drive. He was wide open near the goal line on a 32-yard pass play, then scored on the next play.
"They made plays," Funk said. "We made some big plays today as well, but they made a few more at the end of the day. It came down to one play.
"As I told the kids at the end, (the 2-point conversion) was obviously a huge play. But you can¹t just look at one play in a football game and say that¹s the difference."