It didn't look pretty early on for the Schaumburg Saxons.
For nearly three quarters Friday night against the Conant Cougars, the Saxons looked like a shell of a team that had gone toe-to-toe with, and had held double-digit leads against, perennial MSL West powers Hoffman Estates and Palatine the past two weeks.
But somehow, some way, the resilient squad erased a late two-touchdown deficit to walk away with a 24-21 overtime victory in Hoffman Estates, ruining the Cougars' homecoming party.
"Our core, keystone value is grit," said Saxons coach Mark Stilling." "When things are not going the way you had envisioned, you either need to find resolve or resign and we talk about that all the time."
Despite an unrelenting downpour that gained steam as the first half wore on, Conant seemed unfazed by the elements. It took them just two plays and 45 seconds to get on the board.
Jack Reiger got things going on the first play from scrimmage on a 57-yard run, taking it down to the Saxon 10-yard line. On the ensuing play, Brendan Spates did took care of the rest as he glided into the end zone for a lightning-fast 7-0 edge at 11:15.
With the Cougars' vastly-improved defense clicking on all cylinders, the Saxons struggled to get anything going on offense for the entire half.
Conant bolstered its lead to 14-0 with 3:29 remaining in the second quarter when sophomore quarterback Ross Pedro connected with a wide-open Anthony Wachal on a 42-yard strike that sent the Cougar Crazies into a frenzy.
The Saxons mounted one last drive before intermission and appeared to have sliced into its deficit when Deontae Arnold hooked up with Shamaree Brown on a 29-yard pitch and catch, but an illegal forward pass penalty negated that.
The rains gave way at halftime, but the Cougars did not give up their relentless attack on both sides of the ball. And with just seconds remaining in the third quarter and still holding on to a 14-0 advantage, Conant looked ready to deliver the knockout blow until Saxons cornerback Jamari McIntyre made a spectacular leaping interception at the 6-yard line that kickstarted the Schaumburg offense.
Hezekiah Trotter's 88-yard run on the last play of the third set the Saxons up with first-and-goal from the Conant 6 to start the fourth quarter. Jordan Salgado then scampered in from that distance to make it 14-7 with 11:55 to go in the contest.
"We started out slow in the first half, but I'm proud of my boys tonight," said Trotter. "They could have thrown in the towel, but didn't … they're my brothers."
Reiger (26 carries, 188 yards) and the Cougars would answer four minutes later when, calling his own number, the bruising running back/quarterback ran it in from a yard out to put the home team up 21-7 with 7:53 left.
"Jack played his tail off tonight," said Cougars head coach Bryan Stortz.
But there was no quit in the resilient Saxons.
After an intentional grounding call buried Schaumburg deep in its own territory and facing a 3rd-and-24 from the 10, junior quarterback Marcus Ross spelled Arnold under center for the Saxons and hit Trotter on an 89-yard touchdown pass at 6:57 to cut it to 21-14.
"We wouldn't be where we are right now without Deontae Arnold," said Stilling. "But he was struggling a bit and we're fortunate enough that quarterback is a position of depth for us. Marcus came in and did what we expected him to do."
Did he ever.
After Schaumburg's defense made one last stand to get the offense the ball back with 3:26 left in regulation, the savvy signal caller drove the Saxons down the field and with just 4.7 seconds left, hit Trotter for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Jon Mueller tacked on the extra point to force overtime.
"I've got to thank my O-line first for giving me the protection I needed the whole fourth quarter," said Ross. "Once we scored that first touchdown, there was no doubt in my mind that we would win this game…we are gritty and have the mentality that we're going to win every game … we know we can hang with the best teams in the state."
In the extra frame, Conant missed its field goal try, setting up Mueller's 26-yard boot to give the visitors the 24-21 victory.
For Conant, it must have felt like deja vu, as the squad suffered its third overtime loss of the season, falling to 1-6. The Saxons improved to 4-3.