It certainly didn’t seem like a time for confidence. In fact, trailing 14-0 with its fastest running back, Ryan Kuester, writhing in pain on the ground, things could scarcely have looked bleaker for Glencoe-Silver Lake.
At least, that was the outsider’s point of view.
The Panthers, while concerned, knew they had a weapon in running back Tony Mizuhata, a 5-foot-8 amalgam of energy and desire whose refusal to go down on contact made it seem as if he had allergy to turf.
Picking up carries that would normally have been set aside for Kuester, who left the game for good after suffering a leg injury on the Panthers’ third drive of the game, Mizuhata set a career-high with 31 carries en route to 139 yards and three touchdowns in the victory over Delano. Making Mizuhata’s performance seem more impressive was the fact that many of his yards came after initial contact with Delano defenders as he consistently turned short gains into much longer ones.
“I just love football and contact,” said Mizuhata. “I love to get my pads low and just try to run through people. I give all the credit to our offensive line. I just told them that if you give me a crack to get three yards, I’ll get you nine.”
Nowhere was Mizuhata’s importance more evident than on Glencoe-Silver Lake’s game-winning fourth-quarter drive.
Following a long drive by Delano that ended with the Tigers’ tying the game 28-28, Mizuhata wasn’t about to let the Panthers lose their edge. Starting from their own 33-yard-line with 2:59 left in the game, they drove 67 yards in 8 plays, all on the ground, with Mizuhata lugging the ball six times for 31 yards. He scored the final touchdown on a typical run for him, a two-yard dive in which he dipped his shoulders and sliced through two Delano defenders converging on him at the goal line.
“Tony,” said Glencoe-Silver Lake coach Scott Tschimperle, pausing to smile and chuckle. “He’s a third-year starter for us, so I expect big things from him. With Kuester out, it changed what we could do on offense. He stepped us for us where we needed him.”
Mizuhata was the last player to leave the Stevens Seminary Stadium field Friday after lingering to give interviews and simply enjoy the moment. Walking off while talking to a reporter, he stopped a looked around.
“I knew we could come back and win this game,” he said. “We just had to play our game and run the ball like we can. I just love playing smash-mouth football.”