It's been the Schaumburg Saxons' calling card all season long, and they exemplified that to a T Friday night on the road at Fremd.
Needing a victory to become playoff eligible, the Saxons slipped past the Vikings, 24-20, moving to 5-4 overall and 4-0 on the road.
"We see what we are capable of in a do-or-die moment with our backs against the wall," said Jordan Salgado. "Our practices were perfect this week and we talked on Thursday about having each other's backs, being gritty and being a family."
Salgado (23 carries, 137 yards, TD) set the tone early on the Saxons first possession of the contest. He carried the ball 7 times for 34 yards that set up quarterback Marcus Ross' 6-yard TD toss to quarterback-turned-receiver Deontae Arnold for a 7-0 lead at 6:56 of the first.
Schaumburg added to its lead with 46 seconds remaining in the period when Ross hooked up with Hezekiah Trotter from 17 yards out. The play put the visitors up 14-0, and it looked as if they would coast the rest of the way.
But as Fremd has exhibited all year long, they still had a lot of fight left in the tank.
Midway through the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Andrew Saxe led the Vikings on a scoring drive that culminated in a 4-yard TD strike to Fremd's leading receiver, senior Ben Konopka that cut the deficit to 14-7.
"Down 14-0, 21-0, it doesn't matter, I knew these guys would fight and be aggressive tonight, " said Konopka. " Throughout the whole season, I know the record isn't where we want it to be at 1-8, but it's been the same speed at practice since Game 1…I'm proud of my guys tonight."
They sure didn't look like a 1-8 football team Friday night.
On the Saxons' ensuing drive, Schaumburg looked to pad its lead and reached midfield before cornerback Nick Rattin plucked an errant pass to set the Vikings up in great field position with 5:19 left in the half.
Three minutes later, Rasheed Amos chugged into the end zone from 2 yards out to deadlock the game at 14-14 at intermission.
With Schaumburg set to receive the second-half kickoff, Fremd head coach Lou Sponsel stuck with the team's aggressive mantra, and called an onside kick that the Vikings recovered at the Saxons' 49.
"We had to pull it all out tonight, " said Sponsel. "But as has been the story with us all season, we made too many mistakes, our opponents capitalize on some mismatches and we come up a little short…but these kids fight and play hard out there."
The Vikings could not parlay the excellent field position into points, as the Saxons defense forced them into a 3-and-out. From there they went on the offensive.
Ross engineered a 5-minute scoring drive that was capped off by the workhorse himself, Salgado. He barreled his way in for the go-ahead score from 2 yards out with 5:50 remaining in the third to put Schaumburg up for good at 21-14.
"We talk about making next Friday night your best game," said Saxons head coach Mark Stilling. "And Jordan just competed his butt off tonight…and our offensive line had a couple kids go down tonight and we really had to grind out that fourth quarter, but I really liked our O-Line play in the 4th."
Schaumburg extended its lead to 24-14 on a Jon Mueller 20-yard field goal with 9:45 left to go in the game, but Fremd rallied once again when backup quarterback, Zac Garnmeister, filling in for an injured Saxe, crossed the plain from a yard out with 5:25 to go. The Vikings missed the extra point, but narrowed the lead to 24-20.
They would not see the ball again.
Answering the bell as they had all night, the offensive line kept the chains moving the final 5:25 as Ross' final run of the night, a 10-yarder, put the finishing touches on the victory and quite possibly hoisted the Saxons into the postseason.
For Fremd, a frustrating season came to a close.
"With all the distractions, injuries and sicknesses we faced this season, this team never wavered," said Sponsel. "A lot of guys in our world today would have quit, but not these guys, I'm proud of this senior group. And they left a strong legacy of fight and character and resiliency that's going to echo for years."