I have covered high school football games for 50 years, from Champaign to St. Louis to Chicago, and I have witnessed some outstanding individual performances...Billy Marek, Ryan Clifford, Eric Kumerow, Dempsey Norman, Howard Jones, Kevin King, Roy Parker, Rocky Harvey, Sean Price, Jon Beutjer, Jordan Tassio and others.
But I have never seen a better single-game performance than Matt Perez' 341-yard, four-touchdown, two-sack spellbinder in Maine South's dramatic 45-34 victory over Glenbrook South last Saturday in Park Ridge.
As a retired sportswriter, I no longer have a vote. But if Perez isn't the Sun-Times Player of the Year, then God didn't make little green apples and it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime.
There are other worthy candidates. The short list includes Hinsdale Central's John Whitelaw, Prospect's Miles Osei, Fremd's Christian Lombard, St. Rita's Jahwon Akui, Lake Forest's Tommy Rees and Proviso West's Kyle Prater.
But if you saw Perez on Saturday, in person or on the Comcast telecast, you have to admit you haven't seen anything like it...unless you were in Memorial Stadium in Champaign in 1924 to see Red Grange run into immortality. Yes, Perez was that good.
In a quick recap, the 5-11, 205-pound senior rushed 23 times for 341 yards and scored on runs of 69, 24, 28 and 26 yards. His 69-yarder came on the third play from scrimmage. He also recorded two important sacks from his defensive end position. He also caught one pass for eight yards and returned one kickoff 35 yards.
With his team trailing 34-24 with 2:28 left in the third quarter and Glenbrook South dominating the tempo of the game--the Titans ran 45 plays in the second half to Maine South's 14--Perez put his team on his back.
He ran 30 yards to trigger an 80-yard drive, then scored on a 24-yard sweep to cut the deficit to 34-31. The drive consumed only 37 seconds. After a Glenbrook South field goal attempt fell short, Perez sparked another 80-yard drive by carrying the ball on six of seven plays--on rushes of 9, 4, 8, 10, 22 and 28--to grab a 38-34 lead with 4:57 left.
Finally, he sacked the Glenbrook South quarterback and the Titans failed on fourth-and-eight at Maine South's 26. Perez scored on the next play to seal the victory with 2:39 remaining.
For the season, running in Charlie Bliss' four-wide-and-let-it-fly passing offense, Perez has rushed 102 times for 1,204 yards (11.8 per carry) and 20 touchdowns. He has caught 22 passes for 290 yards (15.2 per reception) and two touchdowns. And he has returned 10 kicks for 297 yards (29.7 per return) and two touchdowns.
On defense, he is Maine South's No. 2 tackler. He has recorded seven sacks.
It figures. Perez has good bloodlines. His father Dave was a Sun-Times All-Chicago Area running back at Glenbard North in 1976 and 1977.
If Perez is selected as the Player of the Year, he would be fifth representative from Maine South, following Tom Spotts in 1967, Jason Loerzel in 1994, Sean Price in 2003 and Charlie Goro in 2008. Dave Butz, perhaps the greatest player in school history, lost out to Evanston's Carlos Matthews in 1968. No other school has won the prize as many times since it was first awarded in 1951.