A colossal showdown between two Class 8A heavyweights lived up to its billing Friday night when Palatine hosted Maine South in a Mid-Suburban/Central Suburban crossover contest.
In the end, the visiting 3rd-ranked Hawks managed to outlast the 14th-ranked Pirates in hostile territory, coming away with a 17-14 road win to move to 3-1 on the season. Palatine drops to 2-2.
"I told the guys coming in that you've got to win on the road, you've got to win on the road in the playoffs and you've got to win on the road against great teams," said Maine South coach David Inserra. "We played 48 minutes of football tonight … we knew it was going to be tough."
The Hawks matriculated right down the field on the opening drive of the game, as NIU-bound running back Fotis Kokosioulis (165 yards on 32 carries) churned out 49 yards on the ground to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by signal caller John O'Sullivan to give the visitors a 7-0 lead.
Early in the second, the defending 8A champs were looking to add to that lead, but on 3rd-and-goal at the Palatine 5 yard line Pirates defensive linemen Bryant Smith and Josh Danielson sacked O'Sullivan to force a field goal attempt the Hawks would miss.
Palatine parlayed that momentum swing into a game-tying drive capped off by a highlight reel, 28-yard touchdown pass from quarterback D.J. Angelaccio to wide receiver Johnny O'Shea with 6:07 remaining in the half.
Though the game was deadlocked at 7-7, the Pirates appeared to be in the driver's seat as they mounted another drive and faced a 3rd-and-7 on the Hawks' 25.
But in a game chock full of swings, Maine South cornerback Bobby Inserra picked off an errant pass and returned it to the Hawks' 17.
"That was a proud (father) moment," said Inserra Sr. "I gave him a chest bump on the sideline after that one and said 'That's my boy!'"
Palatine's stout defense rose to the occasion once again as it bottled up Kokosioulis on 3rd-and-goal, forcing another field goal try.
However, Maine South had no intentions of settling for the trey, and ran a fake that worked to perfection. Brian Barry took a shovel pass from holder Jimmy Bartell and broke the plain for a 14-7 lead with 21 seconds left in the half.
In the third stanza, the Hawks were driving once again and at the Pirates' 17 until Jake Moertl picked off a pass, one of four interceptions the Palatine defense registered on the evening, and returned it to the Maine South 42.
At the 5:50 mark, Moertl powered into the end from four yards out to knot it at 14-14, sending a jam-packed homecoming crowd into a frenzy.
The score remained tied until just under nine minutes remaining until Hawks kicker Aiden Carolan, after yet another impressive goal line stand by the Palatine defense, booted a 24-yard field goal to put Maine South up 17-14.
The Pirates were quickly forced to punt on its next possession, but on the Hawks' ensuing drive it was Johnny O'Shea's turn to play hero as he picked off a pass in Palatine territory to give his team once last chance.
"Guys like Moertl, Smith and O'Shea … they're the glue that holds this defense together and they gave it to us tonight," said Palatine coach Corey Olson. "We just weren't able to put enough points up and execute."
Pinned at their own 2, the Pirates fought to reach midfield, but on 2nd-and-14, Inserra collected his second interception of the night, plucking a pass out of thin air intended for Jason Rivera.
From there, Kokosioulius and O'Sullivan salted away the clock on the ground for the 17-14 victory.
"When you play a top football team like this, you are able to see what you need to get better at," said Olson.
The Pirates defense held the Hawks to their lowest point total of the season, all without the services of NIU-bound linebacker Cortez Hogans due to injury.
Hogans may be able to return as early as Monday and it is scary to think how good the Pirates defense can be once he returns.
"We've got Cortez coming back soon," said Moertl. "He's a D1 player right there, our senior leader, I can't wait to have him back."
Palatine will try and ruin Schaumburg's homecoming party next Friday at 7:30p.m as MSL conference play begins. Maine South will host Evanston in CSL action.