Preparing to defend a potential do-or-die 2-point conversion in the final two minutes of the Chicago Prep Bowl against Simeon, St. Laurence senior safety Brandon Wilson knew the time had come.
On its previous 2-point attempts, Simeon ran a jet-sweep play, but this time, the Wolverines switched their sweep to the other side.
However, Wilson and senior Will Waters were there to shut it down.
Stopping the play well short of the end zone with 1:51 left in the game, host St. Laurence prevailed to earn an exciting 35-34 victory on Nov. 29.
It was St. Laurence’s first Prep Bowl championship since 1978.
“We adjusted, and they ran opposite of their strengths and came to my side. I was able to make a play,” Wilson said. “That was a huge situation. [Coach Adam Nissen] always says, ‘Respond to adversity.’ We had to today.”
Wilson and Waters wrapped up Simeon quarterback Jacquez Woodland on the 2-point attempt as he scrambled to the left following Chau Smith’s 14-yard TD run that brought the Wolverines to within 35-34.
Up to that point in the game, Simeon had converted 1 of 3 2-point tries.
“We talked in the timeout … ‘Stop them, and we win; don’t stop them, and they probably win,’” Nissen said. “Our defense, nine of the 11 guys, are seniors, so this is your career. They answered the bell.”
Powering the Vikings against Simeon was star running back Nate Thomas who capped off a dominant junior season with 25 carries for 192 yards and 3 TD (17, 14 and 7 yards).
Thomas plunged through the defense on a 7-yard TD for the go-ahead score with 2:25 remaining in the game.
“I was extremely nervous, well, nervous in a good way,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Good, close games bring the best out in me. Our whole offense stayed focused. We executed and saw the results.”
Thomas battled leg cramps early in the fourth quarter but returned late for the game-winner. The go-ahead score was aided by a high snap on a Simeon punt that gave St. Laurence great field position at the Wolverines’ 11-yard line.
“It was a special moment for me when I scored,” Thomas said. “My teammates were counting on me. I hate that feeling of being out of the game where I can’t help.”
St. Laurence led 21-8 late in the second quarter only to see Simeon go up 22-21 in the third behind its dynamic offense led by Woodland and Smith.
Wilson and Jordan McMath had an interception apiece for the Vikings. Other key defensive performers included Sean Harrison (9 tackles), Waters (8 tackles), Myron Lewis (5 tackles) and Antonio Vargas (5 tackles).
Darius Wilson (70 rushing yards, 1-yard rushing TD) and Brailyn Johnson (82 rushing yards, 75-yard rushing TD) provided key contributions offensively.
St. Laurence finished 8-5 overall, rebounding from a loss to Hillcrest in the state playoffs to beat St. Patrick and De La Salle in the Chicago Catholic League playoffs and compete against Simeon in the Prep Bowl.
Of the Vikings’ 5 losses, 4 were by a combined 9 points, and Nissen said this game was special.
“It was huge to win a close game,” Nissen said. “We had some absolute back-breaking losses, so to see us come out on top the last game of the year is huge for the kids and the coaches.”
St. Laurence also won the Prep Bowl in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
“It means a lot to represent all the Catholic schools and everyone who’s played for St. Laurence,” Brandon Wilson said. “It felt good. We had some guys leave in the offseason, but we stuck together. That made us closer as a team.”