Taft runs into city semifinals with 33-21 win over Lane


Mara Mellits

Taft’s Isaiah Cruz (#8) puts his hand on the helmet of Lane’s Payton Gavaldon (#2)

By Alex Burstein and Mara Mellits

Rivalry games are always tense. Add in the playoffs, the stakes rise even higher.

Saturday afternoon, the Lane football team took the field on the road against the Taft Eagles. The Eagles, coming back from a first-round IHSA 8A state playoff loss against Palatine, were bumped down to the city playoffs after the state loss. 

Teams in the city playoffs who win their first city game and qualify for the state playoffs leave the city bracket, but return if they lose in the first two rounds of state. Taft won their first city playoff game against Goode STEM Academy two weeks ago.

In their second game against Lane this season, the Eagles beat Lane for the second time this year, winning 33-21. 

But Lane wasn’t always down by that many. A late touchdown reception from Lane wide receiver Casey Joyce cut the Eagles’ lead to 26-21 in the final minutes.

Yet Lane could not keep up their momentum from that touchdown, their defense allowing Taft’s Ryan Porebski to run all over them and get the final touchdown of the game, ending the score at 33-21. 

While Porebski stole the show at the end of the game for Taft, with a five-yard rushing touchdown with 3:52 left, his 74 rushing yards were less than Taft’s Isaiah Cruz (129 rushing yards).

Porebski only got the chance to shine after Lane switched their defense to shut down the outside, where Cruz had been beating them all afternoon, including an 80-yard rushing touchdown with 9:02 left in the third quarter.

The way our offense is structured and the way that Lane’s defense is structured, we liked our outside zone,” Taft’s Head Coach Zach Elder said postgame. “Obviously Isaiah’s our fastest guy so, it’s something we wanted to go with. They started to adjust to that and play more heavily off the edges, which neutralizes Isaiah, but then I’ve got a 210 pound running back (Porebski) who I like giving the ball to.” 

Despite giving up three fumbles and an interception, Taft’s offense rushed for 334 yards, which was too much for Lane to overcome. Lane had a quiet game rushing, going for 63 yards with 47 of those yards coming from quarterback Donnell Adams. 

Lane did find some success in the air, something they’ve struggled to do consistently this year. 

Adams threw for 204 yards and three touchdowns, with four catches apiece by Joyce, running back Finn Merrill and wide receiver Benji Agunloye, who led all receivers with 118 yards, including two touchdowns and a two-point conversion reception. 

Taft’s quarterback Barah Abad, who had a strong game in Taft’s first win against Lane earlier this year, picked up right where he left off, throwing for 151 yards to go along with 78 yards rushing. 

The junior showed off his field vision early, finding Taft’s Steven Tantchev wide open in the end zone for a three-yard touchdown reception just over three minutes into the game.

His other passing touchdown came on a quick two-yard pass to Jahmari Jackson in the second quarter that put Taft up 19-0 in the second quarter. The 19-point lead was the biggest of the day.

Lane picked up some momentum after that, with a 50-yard touchdown reception by Agunloye and an interception by defensive back Sebastian Cordero, but Lane would still go into the half down 13. 

Offensive gains for Taft were due to Taft’s quick offense. Even though Taft turned the ball over four times, Lane’s defensive line couldn’t seem to attack the Eagles, letting Taft run to the red zone. 

“[Taft is] bigger and stronger but I mean, we were meeting them at the point of attack,” Lane’s Dewalt Head Coach Derrick said postgame. “We just didn’t tackle. So none of that matters if you’re not tackling. We tackled a lot better in the second half. But, for the most part, the first half, we dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t get out of.”

Dewalt attributed Lane’s loss to their lack of tackling. He said the main difference between this game and the game Lane played against Taft a month ago was the defense. Lane struggled with stopping the opposition’s run throughout the year.

“We didn’t tackle. First game we tackled, this game we did not. That’s the difference,” Dewalt said. 

Taft (8-3, 5-1 Chicago Public Illini – Land of Lincoln Conference) moves on to the city semifinals with the win, where Elder said the team will likely face Kenwood.

It’s going to be just trying [to] neutralize their big plays,” Coach Elder said. “And really us setting the tone and ball control, and it’s going to come down to who makes the most errors, or who doesn’t make those errors.”

The loss ends the season for Lane, who finishes the year 5-6, with a 3-4 conference record.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Dewalt said. “We have some good kids coming back next year, but we just have a lot of work to do. And we’re losing a lot of good seniors that are going to be hard to replace. But we’ll be OK. We just have to get back to the drawing board but we will be fine.”