NILES - As Larry Scott paused and scanned the wall of players in front of him as he prepared to return a kickoff, time seemed to stand still for both teams.
Hubbard was wondering why its star player stood motionless as 11 Niles players came barreling down the field. The Red Dragons, in the midst of a wild comeback, were waiting in angst for someone to break through and corral the elusive Scott.
Scott calmly stood his ground and did what he did for most of the Division III, Region 9 showdown with Niles. He waited patiently for yet another big play to develop.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Hubbard’s Larry Scott (3) rushes for yardage as Niles Tommy Duffy (25) and Kyle Paden (19) pursue during second-quarter action. This drive set up a touchdown for Scott.
"I was trying to find a blocker to get in front of me, so I could execute the return," he said. "That (kick return) was big."
Yes, yes it was.
Scott returned the kick 70 yards for a score and put an end to what would have been a major collapse for Hubbard in a 39-27 victory Saturday night at Bo Rein Stadium. The Eagles moved on to the second round and will face Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary at 7 p.m. Saturday at a site to be determined.
The Eagles (8-3) appeared to be on their way to a route of Niles as they struck for several big plays in the first half. Three of their four first-half touchdowns were of 40 yards or more, including a 44-yard Hail Mary from quarterback Brandon Harb to wide receiver Isaiah Scott (Larry's brother) as time expired in the second quarter. They took a 30-6 lead into halftime, but Niles (8-3), playing in its first ever home playoff game, recovered three onside kicks and made key plays of its own to come storming back. The Red Dragons cut the lead to 30-27 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter, but that's when Scott made yet another impact play.
With all but one player on the front line as Hubbard expected another onside kick, Scott caught the ball, moved forward a few yards and then came to a complete stop. His pause ended as quickly as it started as he saw a crease and darted through it for the game's biggest play.
"That was the difference," Hubbard coach Brian Hoffman said of the return. "He's mature beyond his years. He timed it up and he hit it in stride. Just an outstanding performance tonight."
Aside from his kick return, Larry Scott also picked off a pass and returned it 60 yards for the game's first score at the 5:14 mark of the first quarter. The Eagles hit on another quick-strike play on their next drive. Harb fired a quick screen out to wide receiver Darnell Tate, and Tate slipped a tackle and raced down the sideline for a 51-yard touchdown.
Scott, who finished with 203 yards rushing on 23 carries, added another score in the second quarter, powering in from 3 yards out. A 41-yard field goal by Pizanias preceded the bomb to Isaiah Scott to end the half.
"It was all big plays," said Niles coach Brian Shaner, whose team lost to Hubbard, 43-14, in Week 7, mainly because of big plays. "We knew going in, that if we made it a football game, where they had to drive the field, the outcome could be different. But when you've got guys like they've got, they make those plays. Tate and (Larry) Scott are phenomenal players. They deserve every accolade they get because they're that good."
The Eagles stuck with the running game for most of the second half to try and keep the clock running and hopefully allow Larry Scott to bust loose on another long run, Hoffman said. But Niles did a better job bottling up the dynamic sophomore running back, and the Red Dragons' passing game began to come to life.
A 58-yard pass from quarterback Stefan Yuhas to Chris Parry set up a 5-yard TD run by Yuhas.
The Red Dragons then recovered an onside kick but were unable to convert it to points. They did, however, force a three-and-out by Hubbard and again hit on a big pass play. This time it was Yuhas hitting Parry for 63 yards down to the 1-yard line. The momentum began to turn when Yuhas plunged in to cut the lead to 30-19.
"I didn't expect anything else from this team," Shaner said. "Always resilient, always have a lot of heart. Honestly, I believed on the sideline that we were going to come back and get that game."
Things really started to get interesting when Niles recovered another onside kick and marched 62 yards, capping the drive with a 3-yard touchdown by Aaron Watson. The packed stadium began to erupt as the Red Dragons scored 21 unanswered points and cut the score to 30-27. The ensuing kick, however, was meant to be squibbed on the ground, away from Scott, Shaner said, but it ended up in his hands and eventually in the end zone for a back-breaking score.
"I did it for my team, and my team did great things for me," Larry Scott said. "That's how we play as a team."
Niles drove to Hubbard's 35-yard line on its next drive, but a long pass by Yuhas was intercepted by Larry Scott at the 3-yard line to seal the victory. Scott finished with two interceptions, three touchdowns and more than 330 all-purpose yards. He scored on offense, defense and special teams. Not a bad day for kid who still has another two years of high school football to play.
"He's just a good back," Shaner said. "We had guys on him all night long and it didn't matter."