In Grind We Trust.
It's been the Barrington Broncos mantra this year and it was on full display Thursday night in Palatine when the team dug deep and got past the host Pirates, 26-24, in a colossal MSL West showdown.
Using a combination of ball control and stout defense in the second half, the Broncos turned a 14-14 tie at intermission into a 26-14 advantage with just seconds to go in the game in order to move to 6-0 overall on the year. Palatine dropped to 3-3.
"These guys played with the heart of a champion tonight," said Broncos head coach, Joe Sanchez. "We've had some great games in this rivalry, we've had a lot of guys that have been close, but to get over the hump and win one tonight … it feels good."
The Broncos entered the matchup having dropped the last three contests against their conference foes and 10 of the last 11 meetings in the series overall.
And it appeared that the Pirates, whose only losses on the year were to perennial powers Maine South and Stevenson by a total of 10 points, would make it a fourth straight when they marched down the field on the opening possession and took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard TD run from Jake Moertl.
Barrington countered with a drive of its own. With his team facing a 3rd-and-4 from the Palatine 35, Broncos quarterback Ray Niro wowed the crowd with an electric run to the house to cut the lead to 7-6. Alec Andrea tacked on the 2-point conversion to give the visitors a 8-7 lead at the end of the first.
"He's just a playmaker, " said Sanchez. "I've been coaching for 22 years now and there is no doubt that he's arguably one of the most dynamic players I've ever been around."
Coming into the game, Niro had already racked up 755 yards on the ground to go with 12 TD runs, good for an average of 150 yards rushing per game. He tacked on 150 more on 21 carries Thursday night, rushing for two more TDs and throwing for one.
"Their quarterback is just a phenomenal runner with the football," said Palatine head coach Corey Olson. "He runs with power, he's always moving forward and we could never get him for a loss."
Trailing 8-7 with under four minutes to go in the half, the Pirates rode the momentum of a Johnny O'Shea interception. They parlayed the turnover into a 14-8 lead with 3:11 to go in the half when D.J. Angelaccio connected with Jason Rivera, who hauled in a one-handed TD catch falling backwards.
But three minutes is too much time to leave on the clock for Niro.
Calm and collected, the senior signal caller engineered a drive right down the field, and with just 4.5 seconds left hit Jake Parsons on a fade pattern to tie it at 14-all going into the break. The play gave the Broncos a big confidence boost at the midway point.
They would get even more from their coach at halftime.
"Coach just told us to calm down out there," said Parsons. "He knew we were nervous and excited and to just trust the process … and we did just that and played for our brothers out there tonight."
Palatine received the ball to open the third quarter, but its opening drive, marred with multiple penalties, stalled. The Pirates handed the ball back to the Broncos and Niro, who then orchestrated a 6-minute, 12-second drive that culminated in his second touchdown jaunt of the night, this time from 7 yards out on 4th-and-goal, to put Barrington up 20-14.
The Pirates drove all the way to the Broncos' 3-yard line early in the fourth. However, that's as close as they'd get thanks to a Barrington defense that rose to the occasion and stonewalled the Palatine offense, forcing them to kick a 24-yard field goal that cut the lead to 20-17 with 10:25 to play.
"That was a huge stand by our guys tonight," said Sanchez. "They've been getting better every week. I know our offense gains a lot of attention, but our defense is pretty formidable as well … and we keep finding a way to battle and get it done."
Palatine would get no closer.
On the ensuing drive, Niro once again led the Broncos down the field and with 5:21 to play, Alec Andrea hit Jake Parsons on an 11-yard TD pass on the option that put Barrington up 26-17, a lead it would not relinquish.
"This was a huge win for us tonight," said Parsons. "Especially knowing the types of teams Palatine has been playing (Stevenson, Maine South)…some of the best in the state. It was an amazing team win tonight."
Angelaccio found O'Shea for a 40-yard TD pass with 19.6 seconds to go, but could not recover the onside kick as Parsons covered it up, handing Coach Olson and the Pirates another close loss.
"We played hard tonight," said Olson. "But credit Barrington … they did a great job tonight … they have a good offense and are going to hold onto the ball. We killed ourselves with penalties tonight and when it comes to playing a team like this tonight, the penalties and mistakes are magnified."
Barrington hosts 6-0 Hoffman Estates next Saturday at 1p.m. while Palatine will visit Fremd on Friday at 7:30p.m.