Jun 18

The Ghosts of Wheaton — Laying it on the Line

The Ghosts of Wheaton: How the Red Grange Tigers Conquered Illinois High School Football

Wheaton Central receiver Chris Johnson pulls in a spectacular catch in the Tigers’ 28-6 semifinal round victory over Joliet Catholic Academy in the 1991 Illinois Class 5A playoffs

Jan 25

The Ghosts of Wheaton — The Drive

Everyone in Hancock Stadium expected quarterback Ben Klaas to throw a quick pass out of bounds to stop the clock so the Tigers could attempt the 21-yard field goal to tie the 1992 Illinois Class 5A state title game. Instead, Tigers’ coach John Thorne had different plans as he sent junior kicker Doug MacLeod and the field goal unit racing onto the field as the clock continued to tick down from 15 seconds.

MacLeod’s leg was all that was standing between the Tigers and defeat. The Wheaton Warrenville South kicker had nailed a record-breaking 41-yarder earlier, but he had also short-legged a 26-yarder. Both were on his mind as he raced to put his tee down and holder Tim Kisner called for the ball. The snap from center Rich Thomas was perfect and Kisner dropped the ball onto the tee just before MacLeod’s foot Nelson cover FINALmade solid contact. The ball rose perfectly through the air and bisected the uprights with one second remaining. The Tiger sideline erupted.

“It’s good! Unbelievable! Oh my, my, my!” the television announcer screamed.

MacLeod’s follow through was to stare at the tee all the way through his kicks, so he was still staring at the spot thinking about overtime when he heard Kisner utter the words that shook him to his bones: “Wait, there’s a flag.”

MacLeod’s eyes shot up from the tee and searched the field. There it was: a yellow flag. In the panicked rush, a Tiger lineman had failed to enter the game on time, resulting in an illegal procedure penalty. The Tiger celebration abruptly ended as the three points were taken off the scoreboard and the officials marked off the five-yard penalty.

“Oh, my god,” MacLeod would say after the game. “It was a bad feeling. I didn’t want to think about it.”

You could almost hear the cruel giggling of history. The brass ring had been offered to the Tigers and snatched away so often that the worst was most surely expected as they lined up to kick the ball again: a botched snap or placement or perhaps Joliet Catholic’s All-Stater Mark Day bursting through the line to slap the ball back into MacLeod’s face.

Doug MacLeod field goal to tie the 1992 Illinois 5A state title gameWhen the official signaled for play to resume, the Hilltoppers called a time out to give MacLeod a few moments to think about making the kick one more time.

“How lucky for Wheaton that there is one second left for them to get another chance at this kick, this time from 26 yards,” the television announcer said.

MacLeod tried not to let too many things run through his mind as he waited during the time out. The kick would represent all that the Tiger football program had been through in the past five years. His mind no doubt swirled around the 21-yarder he had just nailed only to have it taken away just as swiftly. Now he would have to kick it again with one second left from 26 yards – the same distance he had short-legged a chip shot from with 10 minutes left in regulation.

Perhaps senior lineman and co-captain Pete Economos could sense the nerves bouncing around in the junior’s head, or maybe RearCover01the team’s resident prankster merely saw an opportunity to lighten the moment as he approached MacLeod.

“Don’t worry,” Economos grinned. “If you miss it, we lose.”

MacLeod laughed as the official blew his whistle. It’s not like he had a choice. It was crunch time. MacLeod took a last look at the goal posts and then focused his stare on the tee one more time.