Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling's gritty bunch nearly pulled out another signature win on the 2017 season, as MSL West conference play began Friday with the Saxons playing host to the Palatine Pirates.
Staked to a 14-0 first-half lead, the Cardinal and Gold could not hold on as the visiting Pirates came alive in the second half to complete a thrilling 28-21comeback win. It was the fourth consecutive win over Schaumburg for Palatine, who improved to 3-2 on the season. The Saxons, after winning their last three games, dropped to 3-2.
"(Down 14-0) It takes a lot of character to bounce back from that," said Palatine head coach Corey Olson. "But we have the kids who are able to do that, our leaders stepped up when we needed them to, I'm very proud of them."
The Saxons got on the board quickly to open the contest when Schaumburg signal caller Deontae Arnold found Mark Digioia in the flat and he zipped into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown at the 10:48 mark of the first quarter to make it 7-0.
That lead ballooned to 14-0 in the second with 4:49 remaining when Arnold, following a huge first- down run by wingback Hezekiah Trotter on 4th-and-3, plowed into the end zone from a yard out.
Putting to rest that it was suffering any sort of a hangover from last week's 17-14 loss to defending 8A champion Maine South, Palatine's offense sprung to life with under a minute to play in the half as quarterback D.J. Angelaccio (10-for-16, 196 yds, 2 TDs) hooked up with receiver Johnny O'Shea (4 catches, 62 yards, TD) for a 41-yard touchdown strike that cut it to 14-7.
"We talked all week about adversity and how we would respond," said senior cornerback Jake Moertl. "And we fed off the momentum of that one play and kept our heads up."
That momentum may have never come to fruition if not for an illegal block in the back call on Trotter's 90-yard kickoff return TD during the ensuing kickoff. Despite the Saxons' setback, Schaumburg went into the locker room up 14-7.
"After that play got called back, we knew we needed to capitalize on that in the second half," said O'Shea.
And they did.
After receiving the ball first in the second half, it took the Pirates just three minutes to knot the game at 14-all when Moertl, operating out of the wildcat, galloped straight up the gut from 30 yards out on 4th-and -2.
The Saxons, seemingly unfazed, marched right down the field once again on the Pirates, but its drive stalled at the Palatine 31. Just one play later, running back Marcus Stoudemire, in a hole you could drive a Studebaker through, busted up the field for a 69-yard TD run that gave the visitors a 21-14 advantage in the third.
Clinging to that 21-14 edge in the fourth and on the move, Palatine drove into Schaumburg territory looking for the knockout blow. Instead, the Saxons defense delivered when linebacker Connor Casamento-Barry jarred the ball loose from Moertl on a wildcat read.
With 8:16 left to go in the game, Arnold again hit pay dirt, this time from 4 yards away on 4th-and-1 from the 4, tying it at 21 apiece.
The Pirates responded by marching to the Saxons 33-yard line with under five minutes in regulation, but with his defense needing a big play, as he did all night, Trotter came through and picked off a pass intended for O'Shea.
"He's a heck of a high school football player," Said Saxons head coach Mark Stilling. "He competed his tail off tonight…I think all of our guys competed their tails off tonight."
Schaumburg managed very little with its possession and was forced to punt with 2:38 left.
Moertl needed only about 10 seconds of that to put the Pirates up for good.
On 1st-and-10 from its own 35, the clutch performer took a bubble pass from Angelaccio and then went full Beast Mode, breaking tackles and stiff-arming defenders on his way to a 65-yard TD run that gave the Pirates a 28-21 lead with 2:26 to go, much to the chagrin of Olson.
"Moertl had an unbelievable will to win tonight and he did it on both sides of the ball," said Olson. "You don't do it alone, and the offensive line came up huge, but he played great."
The Saxons had one final shot to send the game into overtime, but any hopes of that were snuffed out by O'Shea when he picked off an errant pass with 1:42 to go in the game as Palatine grinded out a 28-21 win.
"Our intensity and toughness was there all night…this was a tremendous high school football game," Stilling said. "But to fight that hard, for that long, it's tough to take any solace in that.
Palatine will host undefeated Barrington at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday while Schaumburg will host undefeated Hoffman Estates at the same time.