Special teams play such a big role in the game.
John Carroll appeared to have the game wrapped up with a block on a 46-yard field goal attempt with just over a minute remaining. Wheaton's Sam Cote earned a second chance when the Blue Streaks were flagged for being offside.
After Cote's 41-yard attempt sailed wide left John Carroll ran out the clock to win 14-12 on Saturday afternoon inside McCully Stadium in Wheaton, Ill.
"I'm incredibly proud of our players," said head coach Tom Arth. "I'm incredibly proud of our team. Their determination, the fight that they have in them is just something incredibly special. I'm so proud of them and their effort. I'm proud of everything that they've accomplished.
"That's a good team we just played," continued Arth. "They fought for everything. They earned it. They earned every yard that they gained. That's a credit to Wheaton and a credit to our guys on defense."
With the win John Carroll advances to a rematch with Mount Union next Saturday, Nov. 29. The site will be announced later tonight or on Sunday. John Carroll will be making its second-ever appearance in the quarterfinals and first since 2002, Arth's senior year.
"These types of games in the playoffs, you want to see people making plays and playing at their best," said Arth." These guys have so much heart and belief in them. We're blessed to be here and come out with a win."
Arth has said numerous times his defensive line is the heart and soul of his team. That was evident on Saturday.
Frank Pines and David Porter combined to stop Thunder quarterback Johnny Peltz on second down which would lead to a punt on the first Wheaton drive.
Pines was at it again staying home on a screen pass on the next drive to stop Wheaton short on a third-and-2 play.
Said Arth, "All of those guys get in there. When you can knock a team back at the line of scrimmage, it creates so much stress on the offense, on the quarterback and on the running back to initially get back to the line. That's something that our defensive line has done a great job of all year, in knocking people back and rushing the passer. They effect the quarterback, that's a big thing for our defense, to see the game from the quarterback's perspective and try to affect him in as many ways as we can."
Not to be outdone were John Carroll's linebackers.
Senior Jimmy King kept Wheaton off the scoreboard intercepting a deflected pass at the Thunder 5-yard line. King teamed with Kevin Cope to stop Peltz short of the goal line on third down with less than a minute remaining in the half.
Said Arth, "Jimmy's been such a force on our defense. He's been our most productive player on defense for the last three years. You can't even explain or put into words how valuable he is to our program and what he means to our team. I'm so proud of those guys and the way they fought."
Andy Bryan thwarted a fourth quarter fourth-and-1 play stopping Keegan Kemp short of the marker.
John Carroll jumped on the board first with Tommy Michals darting in from 1 yard out near the end of the first quarter. The drive was kept alive with 18- and 38-yard receptions by Marshall Howell.
For the game, Michals would finish with 81 yards on 22 carries. He broke the 40-year-old single-season record with 1,413 yards. Tim Barrett held the old mark set in 1974 at 1,409 yards.
"Tommy's a special player," said Arth. "We know that. We have so much confidence in him. At the end of the game, that third-and-1, there was no doubt in our mind. It doesn't matter what they play is, just put the ball in his hands and he's going to find a way to get it.
Wheaton broke through just before the half with a 1-yardage run of their own. Danny Puknaitis took the counter in on fourth down. The Blue and Gold special teams kept JCU ahead with Michael Hollins blocking the extra point attempt.
John Carroll wasted no time in the second half with a 4-play, 68-yard drive. Mark Myers capped the drive finding Zach Strippy in the corner of the end zone from 22 yards out.
Wheaton would respond with a 3-yard strike from Peltz to Zach Linquist. Attempting to tie the score, Hollins broke up his second conversion attempt of the day.
Myers would finish 19 of 29 for 229 yards and a touchdown. Howell led the receivers with five catches for 85 yards to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
King led the defense with 12 tackles and an interception. Brody Zangaro, Pines and Cope all finished with eight stops.
"I think that really we grew so much as a group, as a team and as a program last year," said Arth. "All of these guys were significant contributors last year for us in our playoff year. We learned a lot from that experience and this year there was a sense that it was just the way it was going to be.
"We were going to get back to the playoffs and we were going to do something, make some noise when we get into it. These guys have an incredible belief. I just think that playing in games like that, we've been in a few of them (close games) now this year, there's nothing better for you. There's nothing better for these guys to know that when the game is on the line that we have people on the field that are going to make the play to win it. It provides so much confidence to us and this continues to build momentum for this program. We can't wait to get back at it next Saturday."