Just about every Stevenson football player from the last decade has a Maine South story.
Heading into Saturday's Class 8A second-round playoff game against the Hawks, they were all stories of frustration and aggravation and disappointment.
Quarterback Matt Micucci's story dates back all the way to 2003. That year, he was a fifth grader and he and his dad traveled to Park Ridge to watch a playoff game between Stevenson and Maine South.
They left extremely disappointed.
Maine South had crushed Stevenson in the second round by 18 points. It was the second time in three years that Maine South had eliminated Stevenson from the postseason.
"As we were walking away from that game, my dad put his arm around my shoulder and was like, 'Matt, one day you're going to beat Maine South,'" Micucci said. "It's kind of amazing how life comes in a circle sometimes."
Micucci's full-circle moment on Saturday was a long time in the making not only for him, but for all of Stevenson Nation. A long, long time.
It came in Lincolnshire on a chilly, sun-splashed afternoon as Micucci led Stevenson to a spectacular 24-22 upset victory over Maine South, the three-time defending Class 8A state champion.
The win not only sends Stevenson into the quarterfinals for the second straight year, it also finally breaks the stunning stranglehold that Maine South has had over Stevenson for the last 10 years.
Stevenson's loss to Maine South that Micucci witnessed in 2003 was just the beginning.
Prior to this season, Stevenson had faced Maine South in the playoffs six times from 2001 to 2010. And the Patriots had lost all six games, including a quarterfinal loss last year.
The Maine South conundrum had become a 500-pound monkey on the backs of the Patriots, the hump that they just could not get over.
Until now, that is.
"It's over, it's over," Stevenson senior wide receiver and defensive back Troy Radtke screamed as he and his teammates celebrated their liberation from Maine South in their postgame huddle.
The Patriots shot out to a 14-0 lead, went into the halftime locker room up 17-7 and then held on as Maine South predictably cut into its deficit. The Patriots ended the game by controlling the clock with a nice mix of short Micucci passes and runs up the middle by senior fullback Kevin Foley.
"We did it. That streak is over, that monkey is off our back," continued Radtke, who caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Micucci in the third quarter and made an interception in the end zone that stopped a Maine South drive deep in Stevenson territory midway through the second quarter. "It was 51 weeks ago that we lost to (Maine South) in the playoffs last year and ever since then, everyone on this team has put every ounce of themselves into getting back to have another shot at them and beating them.
"This week, I got probably 10 to 15 texts from kids who played here in the past and they told me how big this game was for us, for them and for the entire community. We're so happy we could get this win for everyone."
The Stevenson defense set the tone early, forcing Maine South into punts on its first three possessions. The Patriots then recovered a fumble on Maine South's fourth possession.
Highly touted Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti completed just 2-of-5 passes for 26 yards in the first quarter. And top running back Paul Preston was kept relatively in check with just 33 yards.
"Those guys won state championships," Stevenson coach Bill McNamara said of Alviti and Preston. "We tried to keep a very close eye on them and take our chances with everyone else."
Meanwhile, the Stevenson offense was humming once Micucci returned to the lineup. He took a helmet to the elbow on the Patriots' first play of the game and missed the next two series while he regained the feeling in it. But when he returned with 3:11 left in the first quarter, it took just five plays before he hit Matt Morrissey for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
The Patriots scored the next time they got the ball as well, on an 11-yard run by Kevin Foley (24 carries, 88 yards). That gave them a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Maine South finally answered when Alviti hit Jimmy Frankos with a 35-yard touchdown pass with 2:12 left before halftime, but then Micucci, also Stevenson's kicker, knocked in a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give the Patriots a bit more breathing room (17-7) at the break.
"We weren't ready," said Alviti, who completed 16-of-25 passes for 215 yards. "Offensively, we had no rhythm. We didn't get anything in the first half, except for that one touchdown."
Stevenson got another touchdown four minutes into the third quarter when Micucci hooked up with Radtke. That gave the Patriots a 24-7 lead.
Maine South scored back-to-back touchdowns in three minutes spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, but the Stevenson defense didn't budge after that.
Meanwhile, Micucci directed a ball-control series spanning the final four minutes to ice the victory.
Micucci wound up completing 20-of-33 passes for 248 yards. He spread the wealth between five receivers, including Morrissey, Radtke, Cameron Green, Jon Way and Anthony Bozin.
"I think my receiving corps is the best in the state," Micucci said.
Morrissey led the way with 7 receptions for 106 yards while Radtke finished with 5 receptions for 70 yards. Green, a freshman, added 5 receptions for 65 yards.
"We have a lot of dynamic wideouts. But it was a great team effort by everyone on our team today: wideouts, Matt (Micucci), the offensive line, the defense," Morrissey summed. "It was a great win for everyone and it's just great to finally beat Maine South. We've been wanting this for a long time.
"This win right here … it changes our program. We've always been a good team but we've never gotten over this hump and we finally did. It's so great."