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Benet wide receiver Jack Toner (2) joyfully discards the football after making a touchdown catch as time ran out, clinching a 26-24 win over Downers Grove North. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
In a fantastic finish to one of the most memorable playoff games ever, Jack Toner made a leaping grab of a Jack Beneventi pass in the back of the end zone as time expired to lift visiting Benet to a 26-24 victory over Downers Grove North in a Class 7A quarterfinal Saturday at Carstens Field in Downers Grove.
With the win, the Redwings (11-1) tied the school record for victories and advanced to the state semifinals for the second time ever and first since 1984.
The winning play was a five-yard touchdown pass that capped a drive that saw Benet go 65 yards in 84 seconds without the benefit of a timeout. Toner barely got one foot down and confusion reigned for a while because no official signaled a touchdown.
“That was my first time in an ending like that,” Beneventi said. “It was just crazy with how loud it got, and Jack Toner made a great play. I threw the ball a little high and for a second my heart dropped, but he just had his arms all the way out, got his feet in and made a great catch.”
Toner, a senior who had three of his four receptions on the final drive, was brimming with confidence on the play, which started with three seconds left.
“I knew I had to catch it otherwise my high school career would be over,” Toner said. “It was a slant and I got jammed by that corner — he did a pretty good job — and I kind of just slipped behind him. Beneventi rolled out and saw me in the back of the end zone, he threw it up and I went up and got it.
“I had no doubt that we were going to score. We made a few mistakes in a row and we could have given up. But our team is strong and we came back and we got the win.”
Benet built a 20-7 halftime lead thanks to touchdown runs from Nick McTarnaghan and Porter Ontko, and a 14-yard touchdown pass from Beneventi (25-for-46, 236 yards) to McTarnaghan, but Downers North (7-5) rallied behind its defense and special teams.
Vontae Diggs blocked a punt and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown 22 seconds in the fourth quarter, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing series.
Kyle Leto scored on a 24-yard run three plays later to put the Trojans ahead 21-20 and then Benet fumbled the kickoff and Kendrick Schultz recovered for Downers North. That led to a 30-yard field goal by Gareth Jones that made it 24-20 with 4:55 left.
The Trojans then stopped the Redwings on downs at their own 36 with 1:48 remaining, but the hosts failed to get a first down and Benet got the ball back. The Redwings caught a break on the winning march, with Joe Batina making a diving 25-yard catch off a deflected pass on third-and-15 from the Benet 48-yard line.
“Joe Batina saved that drive,” said Beneventi, a sophomore. “He made a great catch diving for it. I guess that happens in the playoffs. We’re just happy it went our way.”
For Downers North, it was a bittersweet ending to an unexpected playoff run that saw the Trojans upset undefeated Batavia and Thornton on the road.
“Our defense didn’t come out the way we wanted to the first half,” Diggs said. “In the second half our coach made great adjustments and we came out and shut them down for the most part and then in that last two minutes they came after us.
“Their quarterback has one heck of an arm and he made all the right passes and we just couldn’t come together and rally. That last three seconds I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. That ball was put on the money, but if you ask any of us we’ll tell you [Toner] was out of bounds.”