SANDWICH – Sluggish starts crippled the Lisle football team down the stretch.
In the final month of the regular season, the Lions fell behind in three of their four contests, and in spite of a few furious second half rallies, Lisle lost all three games. Had all three – or even one of the games – gone their way, the Lions would be playing in the playoffs this weekend.
Instead, Lisle (4-5, 3-2 Interstate Eight Small) ended its season the same way it did last year – one game short of becoming playoff eligible. It’s an all-too-familiar feeling for head coach Dan Sanko, who’s football team lost at Sandwich 35-21 on Friday.
“We just didn’t come out like we wanted to and fell behind early,” Sanko said. “I think this happened to us far too often – not being ready to play or ready to compete. We mounted a comeback against Sandwich but it just wasn’t enough.”
The Lions’ offense sputtered in the first quarter against Sandwich while the defense yielded two time-consuming touchdown drives. Sandwich added a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Daulton Murphy to tight end Eric Schwartz and took a 21-0 lead into the locker room.
As they had done all season, the Lions clawed back in the second half. Running back Kevin Coppin finished off a drive with a 2-yard touchdown plunge early in the third quarter. After a Sandwich turnover in its own end, Coppin added a 4-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to seven points, 21-14.
“We didn’t give up and played really hard in the third quarter,” Sanko said. “Our team showed a lot of resiliency – like they had all year – and made some nice adjustments. But one quarter of football doesn’t win you many games.”
With 11 minutes left in the final frame, Sandwich returned a Lisle fumble for a touchdown and added another rushing score to put the game out of reach.
Griffin Huba hit Eric Puccini on a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 35-21, but that was all the Lions could muster. The loss moved Lisle’s record under .500, thus making the Lions ineligible for their postseason.
“It’s deflating,” Sanko said. “Ending the same way we did last season is a bitter feeling. But we will retool and looks towards next season.”
A new regime of players must assume leadership roles next year, as the Lions will graduate 17 seniors, including starting running backs Coppin and Cliff Krause as well as starting quarterback Huba.
Alec VanVolkenburg might be the likely heir to the quarterback role. The sophomore made one start this season – a 28-0 victory over rival Westmont – and completed four of six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.