It may have taken until mid-October, and Friday the 13th of all days, but the Palatine Pirates finally notched their first home win of the season by defeating the Conant Cougars 27-14, at Chic Anderson Stadium.
In doing so, the Pirates moved to 5-3 overall and qualified for the playoffs with a game yet to play in the regular season.
"It's a great feeling, we have a great tradition here at Palatine," said Pirates quarterback and birthday boy, D.J.Angelaccio. "The offensive and defensive lines, those guys out there in the trenches, I give them all the credit tonight."
Angelaccio (10 carries, 77 yards, 2 TDs) celebrated his 18th birthday by putting the Pirates on his back the final 5:04 of the contest, scoring twice. He helped his team get past a tough Cougars (1-7) squad who just can't seem to catch a break, and has now lost seven in a row.
But things were anything but rosy for the Pirates in the first three quarters of this one.
After both teams played to a 0-0 tie in the first quarter, Conant's battering ram, Jack Reiger, put the visitors on the board with 9:23 of the second when he hit pay dirt from one yard out.
Palatine played without Angelaccio's favorite target, receiver Johnny O'Shea, who was sidelined with an injury, and struggled to move the chains throughout the first half. However, they managed to scratch together a drive late in the second quarter.
And on a day thought to be unlucky, the Pirates had the good fortune of an alert offensive lineman named Manny Juarez on their side.
With the Pirates knocking on the door for the tie, Jake Moertl barreled into the end zone from two yards out, but the ball was jarred loose. That's when Jaurez pounced on it to earn the TD and put the Pirates on the board with 3:18 to go in the half.
"You need a little luck right there," said Palatine head coach, Corey Olson. "And we had it right there, he was in the right place at the right time. He's a great kid so it couldn't have happened to a better boy."
Both teams went into the locker room deadlocked at 7-7, and after the Pirates defense forced the Cougars to punt after a quick 3-and-out to start the second half, it appeared Palatine was ready to forge ahead.
However, Conant recovered the punt after it touched a Palatine player at the 10:56 mark.
The Cougars wasted no time in regaining the lead on the very next play. Quarterback Kevin Polaski threw a rope to an open Cole Aldrich for a 37-yard TD strike and a 14-7 lead just six seconds later, taking the air out of the home crowd.
"We came out a little sluggish tonight," said Palatine's Jake Moertl. "But then we picked it up … coach said it was up to us seniors, and then D.J. and Marcus (Stoudemire) started making big runs with the o-line blocking well."
Did they ever.
Hobbled by a nagging ankle injury that periodically forced him out of the game, Stoudemire was as gutsy as it gets, churning out big gains and moving the chains for the home team. And at 11:02 of the fourth, the senior running back busted into the end zone to help the Pirates knot things up at 14-all.
"He's just a super-tough kid and he had a gritty performance out there tonight," said Angelaccio of his battery mate. "We love having him here at Palatine."
A mere seven seconds later, Palatine nearly delivered the knockout blow when defensive stalwart Bryant Smith deflected a pass and almost hauled it in for the Pick-6.
"These gloves are a little bit old and it just slipped out of my grasp," said Smith with a chuckle.
Still, the defense managed to stand tall and on a pivotal 3rd-and-2. With just over 9 minutes remaining in regulation, the Pirates held the Cougars to a 1-yard gain to get the ball back.
That's when Angelaccio took over.
At 5:04, he burst into the zone for the go-ahead score to put the Pirates up 21-14. Then, following an interception by junior defensive back Tyler Perryman with 3:53 to go, Angelaccio scampered for a 26-yard TD jaunt on 2nd-and-16 with 46 ticks remaining to put the nail in the coffin for a 27-14 win.
"Credit our QB, he played well tonight," said Olson. "He dug deep, ran the ball well and stepped into some throws in the second half…obviously, you can't do those things without the offensive line, but he played well tonight. "