The game turned, when A.J. Henning turned on the jets.
For nearly three quarters, the Lincoln-Way East running back was a non-factor in the Class 8A football state championship game in DeKalb on Nov. 25.
But Loyola Academy was unable to hold the 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore in check forever.
On the final play of the third quarter, Henning struck it big by breaking off a 63-yard touchdown run.
He used breakneck speed.
A.J. Henning had turned into A.J. Foyt.
“His speed killed us,” said LA head coach John Holecek, following his team’s 23-14 loss to the top-seeded Griffins (14-0). “The majority of kids that we’ve played this year don’t make a run like that.
“He waits for something to develop, and then he explodes,” the LA coach added.
Henning, a human time bomb, accounted for only eight yards on six touches in the first half.
Henning, who ended up with 154 rushing yards, eventually put the game out of reach with 3:44 left to play, when he went up the middle on a 42-yard touchdown run.
“He’s a special talent,” said Lincoln-Way East coach Rob Zvonar. “When the chips are down, it’s good to get the ball in the hands of No. 3.”
Meanwhile, good things happened for Loyola, when the ball came out of Quinn Boyle’s hand. The senior quarterback had one of his best throwing games of the season. He completed 27 of 45 passes for 317 yards.
His pass of the night was delivering a 15-yard toss to Rory Boos in the right corner of the end zone with 7:53 left in the third quarter.
Boyle did a great job of spreading the ball around. The leading receivers were Boos (8 catches, 84 yards), Noah Jones (8-135), James Joyce (6-59) and Charlie Gilroy (4-26).
Having Jones, who has been in and out of the lineup due to injury, in the mix was huge for Boyle and the Ramblers (12-2). The junior standout caught two passes of 30 yards or more.
“It was great to have him in there … ,” said Boyle.
Boyle also wound up as the team’s leading rusher with 21 yards. His two-yard touchdown run, along with Eddie Auer’s PAT kick, gave the Ramblers a 14-13 advantage with 9:12 left.
Lincoln-Way East, however, didn’t trail for long. The Griffins regained the lead, 16-14, on a 32-yard field goal by Dominic Dzioban with 5:11 left.
Defensively, the Ramblers, who recorded four three-and-outs in the first half, were led by Anthony Rodriguez (8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss), Armoni Dixon (7 tackles, 1/2 sack, 4 TFLs), Patrick Daniels (5 tackles), Christopher Scott 95 tackles) and Jake Gonzalez (5 tackles, 2 TFLs).
The game marked LA’s fifth state-final appearance in seven years. The Ramblers captured the 8A title in 2015.
LA’s Game Balls: Quinn Boyle (Sr., QB), Rory Boos (Jr., WR), Noah Jones (Jr., WR), Armoni Dixon (Jr., LB), Anthony Rodriguez (Sr., LB), Jake Gonzalez (Jr., DB)
Lincoln-Way East Game Balls: A.J. Henning (So., RB), Turner Pallisard (Sr., TE), Devin O’Rourke (Sr., DE)
LA’s Offensive Player of the Game: Boyle
LA’s Defensive Player of the Game: Dixon
LA’s Offensive Stat Leaders
— Boyle (27-45-2, 317 yards, 1 TD; 17 rushes, 21 yards, 2-yard TD run)
— Boos (8 catches, 84 yards, 15-yard TD catch)
— Jones (8 catches, 135 yards)
— James Joyce (6 catches, 59 yards)
— Tyler Flores (7 rushes, 17 yards; 1 catch, 13 yards)
L-W East’s Offensive Stat Leaders
— Henning (17 rushes, 154 yards, 2 TD runs)
— Brendan Morrissey (5-11-0, 79 yards, 1 TD; 9 rushes, 13 yards)
— Pallisard (3 catches, 19 yards)
— Keenan Mason (1 catch, 25 yards, 1 TD)
— Shane Pedersen (1 catch, 35 yards)
LA’s Defensive Stat Leaders
— Dixon (7 tackles, 1/2 sack, 4 tackles for loss)
— Rodriguez (8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFLs)
— Gonzalez (5 tackles, 2 TFLs)
— Christopher Scott (5 tackles)
— Patrick Daniels (5 tackles)
— Marty Geary (3 tackles, 1/2 sack)
— Hugh Kelly (3 tackles)
LA’s Unsung Hero: John McMahon
Notable: All-conference defensive back Charles Largay was unable to play in the state championship game due to illness, while sophomore running back Trevor Cabanban missed his second straight game with a leg injury. … In addition to Cabanban, a big chunk of LA’s key personnel were non-seniors: Rory Boos (Jr., WR), Patrick Daniels (Jr., LB), Armoni Dixon (Jr., LB), Tyler Flores (So., RB), Michael Gavric (Jr., RB), Peter Gianaris (So., OL), Jake Gonzalez (Jr., DB), Noah Jones (Jr., WR), Christo Kelly (So., OL) and Hugh Kelly (Jr., DB).