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Last week was bliss for Hales. The Spartans defeated Aquin for the first IHSA playoff win in program history. But Saturday was a different story as Hales fell to Lena-Winslow 27-21 in a Class 1A second-round playoff game in Chicago.
“This hurts real bad,” said 6-9, 295-pound junior offensive lineman Denzel Ward, who has committed to Michigan. “I give all credit to the seniors for getting us this far. Hopefully I can help get us back here next year.”
Fans were treated to a wild, high-scoring first half. After a 49-yard half back pass from Zack Diaz to Shay Chenong gave the Panthers a 7-0 first-quarter lead, the Spartans showed how dangerous they could be.
On the third play of Hales' next possession, quarterback Donovan Jenkins (10-for-19, 162 yards) handed off to Patrick Nelson (eight carries, 70 yards, touchdown) who burst down the left sideline for a 45-yard touchdown run.
The Spartans had a tough time stopping the Panthers (9-2). Chenong caught his second touchdown pass on Lena-Winslow’s next drive, this time for 19 yards. Things got worse for Hales a minute later when Tyler Oakley returned a punt 41 yards for a touchdown. Oakley, who tight-roped the sideline as he sped past Hales defenders, recorded his fifth punt return for a touchdown on the season.
After Hales (7-4) went four-and-out, a blocked punt by Tyler Walker led to a safety that gave the Panthers a 19-7 lead.
But the Spartans showed the kind of resilience that got them here. After recovering the onside kick following the safety, Hales coach Randall Townsel called for a half back pass for Joseph Morrow (eight carries, 95 yards, touchdown, six cathces, 85 yards). Morrow, who will play at Central Michigan next year, scanned the field and took off as he broke tackles in the backfield. Fifty-seven yards later, he found the end zone with 1:15 left in the half to cut the Panther lead to 21-14.
“It was supposed to be a half back pass, but I didn’t see any receivers open down field. But I did see a hole open up and I used by speed to run through it,” Morrow said.
After a scoreless third quarter, Hales made a mistake that sealed its fate. On fourth-and-1 from their own 42 with 8:40 left in the game, Jenkins fumbled on a quarterback sneak. The ball bounced and rolled all the way to the 12 before being pounced on by Panther defenders. Two plays later, Austin Mancosky (116 yards) scored from six yards out.
Hales scored again when Dale Johnson (13 carries, 43 yards) ran it in from a yard out, but the touchdown came with just five seconds left in the game.