The Lake Forest High School football season abrubtly came to an end and left the Spartans shaking their heads at what could have been this season.

After three frustrating quarters, Lake Forest High School was ready to explode. The Spartans were one point away from tying a game after being down by two touchdowns, with momentum and history on their side as they prepared to force overtime in their playoff game against Archmere.

Then, in a split second, all the air went out of James H. Blades Stadium.

With less than a minute left, the extra-point kick that would have tied the game at 21 fell just right of the uprights, leaving No. 3 Lake one point shy of tying the No. 6 Auks and ending their 2010 season with a 21-20 loss on Friday, Nov. 19.

“It’s tough,” Head Coach Freddie Johnson said. “Our kicker slipped on that, and we came up a little short.”

The miss ended what would have been a huge fourth-quarter comeback. The Spartans started the fourth down 14-0, and then quarterback Joshua Webb, receiver Shymer Hanzer and finally running back Quadir Bryant each scored touchdowns in the fourth — Webb and Bryant after the defense forced big fumbles, and Hanzer on the play of the game, an 80-plus-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“Our kids played with a lot of heart, and they didn’t give up,” Johnson said. “They tried their hardest to come back. I’m just proud of the way they played and the way they came back.”

It was an especially tough game for Bryant, who was playing with a hurt leg and a cast on his wrist. He was the one who punched in what would have been the game-tying touchdown, but he also ran for less than 100 yards in a game for the first time in a long while.

“They had a good game plan,” Johnson said. “Their kids were coming after us in the first half, and we weren’t matching their intensity.”

The Auks jumped out to that 14-point lead in the first few minutes of the game. It was thanks to two costly miscues on Lake Forest punts — first when the snap sailed high and landed at the 15-yard-line, and then just minutes later when an Archmere special-teamer got his hands in front of the ball and knocked it just inches shy of the goal line. Both times, the Auks quickly scored a touchdown.

“That hurt,” Johnson said. “Not only did we get down, it gave them a lot of confidence.”

That was another product of Bryant’s injuries — he’s the Spartans’ usual punter, but he couldn’t kick on Friday night. So they went with two new punters against a very good punt-blocking squad.

“Quadir has a very quick release,” Johnson said. “If we’d had him back there, I don’t think that kick would have been blocked.”

But until the fourth quarter, those errors were the only way Archmere could score points. The Spartans’ defense stopped the Auks from putting together scoring drives, which was key to keeping Lake in the game for their last-minute near comeback.

It had been 19 years since the Spartans won a division crown, and 15 years since they earned a spot in the state tournament. Both of those streaks ended this year, but Johnson said that wasn’t enough for him or his players.

“This group wanted so much more,” Johnson said. “They worked hard, and I thought they deserved so much more. I’m happy for the kids because they did achieve one of our goals, but we fell short of our second goal, winning the state championship.”

LaRoss is a staff writer for the Milford Beacon, a sister paper to the Dover Post.