St. Charles North and Plainfield Central know how to keep the fans on the edge of their seats all the way until the clock hits 0:00.
For the second straight year the teams headed to the final minute of their nonconference matchup with the outcome in doubt, and for the second straight year the North Stars left on the short end of the score, this time 14-7 Friday night in Plainfield.
After losing on a blocked punt on the final play last year, this time St. Charles North (0-2) nearly rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit.
Junior quarterback Erik Miller marched the North Stars from their own 5-yard-line to a first down at Plainfield Central's 41 with 1:02 remaining. But the Wildcats (2-0) got a sack and three incompletions to deny St. Charles North's comeback.
The North Stars forced two turnovers in the opening quarter but couldn't capitalize on either. Rich Mix ended the Wildcats' second possession by recovering a fumble, and Nick McCullough started his own big individual night by intercepting a pass on the Wildcats' third possession.
But St. Charles North's offense, shut out last week at Hinsdale Central, couldn't convert the turnovers into points. By the fourth time the Wildcats had the ball they began to break tackles on a 9-play, 61-yard drive that ended with Jordan Ellingwood scoring from 1 yard out by following 6-foot-2, 320-pound Illinois recruit Bryce Douglas who had lined up in the backfield on their goal-line formation.
The Wildcats scored again with 29 seconds left before halftime on another short run, this one a 2-yard plunge by Gino Giarratano again following Douglas.
By halftime the North Stars had allowed 13 first downs while getting only 3 themselves and being outgained 201 yards to 53. That changed in the second half.
"We didn't come out with a toughness," St. Charles North coach Mark Gould said. "You could see that in the first half. We challenged them at halftime and pull out some inner stuff they might not even know is there and to win the second half. We were pleased for the most part how we played the second half."
The North Stars offense finally got on the scoreboard in the seventh quarter of their season. They opened the second half taking over six minutes off the clock while driving 73 yards on 14 plays. A pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-19 play kept the chains moving, and Miller connected on a 4th-and-9 play to Zach Kirby lofting the ball just over corner Akwasi Aikins for a 31-yard touchdown.
Within 14-7 with 18 minutes left, the North Stars wound up getting the ball back four times with a chance to tie.
McCullough made another key play to keep the North Stars within 7 points when he blocked a 32-yard field goal attempt midway through the fourth quarter.
"I kind of jumped a little early and lost a little balance and I was coming in and saw the guy bobble it and I said 'oh man, I've got this,' and luckily it hit my hand and it gave us a little momentum coming in on offense," McCullough said.
Douglas was a thorn in the North Stars' side not only on the defensive line but also punting. He boomed a 56-yarder with four minutes left in the game and then hit a coffin corner that died at the North Stars' 5-yard-line with two minutes remaining.
"That was a big punt of Bryce's," Plainfield Central coach John Jackson said. "We definitely have the biggest punter in the state of Illinois.
"I thought our defense played exceptional. I think we lost a little of our intensity (in the third quarter) but let's give credit where credit is due, St. Charles North is a good football team. They don't quit."
The North Stars gained three first downs on their last possession, Miller finding Ben Kaplan on a 26-yard strike to get into Wildcats territory in the final minute before the drive stalled. Miller finished 12 of 33 for 157 yards while George Edlund and Matt Prestemon combined for 56 rushing yards that were hard to get.
"The idea was always to double team him (Douglas) and wear the kid out," Gould said. "He still made some plays. It was tough running up the middle. He plugs up the middle. Our line is young and inexperienced but we're starting to see some glimpses of it."