Cooper breaks NIC-10 passing record as Harlem completes thrilling comeback to edge Hononegah

High School Football

MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) — It was a rainy and sloppy day, but that didn’t stop the Harlem Huskies from hosting the Hononegah Indians. Coming into this matchup, this current senior class at Harlem had never beaten the Indians on the gridiron. The closest they got was losing 33-30 in 2019.

Things weren’t looking good for Harlem early on as the Indians were to first to find the end zone giving them a 10-0 lead. Harlem’s next possession looked promising as senior quarterback James Cooper Jr. led them into the red zone, but Hononegah junior Dylan Sayles picked Cooper off taking it all the way back for a touchdown. That put Hononegah up 17-0.

An unusual end to the first half allowed the Huskies one last possession before the end of the first half. Hononegah had some costly penalties on that drive. The first half ended with a defensive penalty, so Harlem was awarded an untimed down from the seven yard-line.

At that point, Cooper rifled a pass to the corner of the end zone where senior wide receiver Dominic McCarron made a sensational grab getting both feet in bounds. After a successful two-point conversion, Hononegah led 17-8 going into halftime.

In the second half Harlem rode that momentum forcing the Indians to go three-and-out on their opening possession. On the second play of Harlem’s first offensive possession, Cooper found his other sure-handed receiver Dezzion Jordan on the slant. A well-thrown ball and a broken tackle and Jordan got in for 6. Harlem trailed 17-14.

Hononegah wasn’t completely quiet in the second half as quarterback Isaac Whisenand found a wide open Stuart Hale on the wheel route out of the backfield for a touchdown to make it 24-14.

As Cooper and the Harlem offense has done all season long, they continued to battle working another drive into the red zone. Rolling left this time, Cooper threw across his body over the middle to McCarron in the end zone hanging on for the score while being sandwiched by two tacklers. Harlem cut the lead to four on an unsuccessful two-point conversion, trailing 24-20.

After a defensive stop in the third quarter, Harlem eventually took the lead 26-24 on a one-yard quarterback sneak from Cooper. That would be the final from Clyde F. Peterson stadium as the Huskies defeat the Indians, 26-24.

With his performance on Saturday, James Cooper Jr. became the NIC-10 conference’s all-time leader in passing yards. The Iowa Western commit said he does his best to give it everything he’s got.

“I just want to be the best quarterback that’s ever played quarterback,” said Cooper. “That’s my goal at the end of the day. No matter if it’s the state, country, NIC-10, I just want to be the best I can be.”

For this senior class that had never beaten Hononegah until Saturday’s game, Head Coach Bob Moynihan said this is all about leaving their legacy with the program. Moynihan said finishing with a perfect record was something they talked about all throughout the offseason.

“I don’t believe Harlem’s ever gone 9-0, or 6-0, so this is their legacy,” said Moynihan. “They could be the first team to try and go undefeated. That was the goal from when we found out we were able to play and that’s still our goal.”

With the loss Hononegah falls to 2-2 and will face Guilford in their season finale next week. With the win, Harlem improves to 4-0 and will wrap it up next week when they host the last remaining undefeated team in the conference, the Boylan Titans.

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