When Brandon New took over as head football coach this year at St. Viator, a state playoff berth was only a distant thought.
But after Friday's 31-21 victory over Marian Catholic Friday at Forest View in Arlington Heights, the Lions appear to be on the cusp of their first playoff appearance in three years.
"I am just happy for these boys," New said. "They have put in so much time and so much work. We went from 2-7 from last year and able to resurrect the program."
The Lions, who upped their overall record to 5-3, currently sit with 36 playoff points.
They will gain at least 2 playoff points next week to give them 38 points, which should be enough to clinch a spot. The Lions hope to move up even higher in the 6A seeding, which is what a win over St. Patrick would do for them.
"It comes down to those points," New said. "Every additional point helps. I think we would rather go in at 6-3. It gives us a better seed and more momentum."
With homecoming and senior day as pregame distractions, the Lions came out with very little momentum. After sputtering offensively early, St. Viator was able to take the lead when Kevin Hammarlund hauled in a 53-yard touchdown pass from Bobby Calmeyn (9-27, 233 yards) to make it 7-0 with 4:25 left in the first quarter.
"Bobby threw me some great balls," said Hammarlund, who had 190 receiving yards on 5 receptions. "We had a good game plan for them."
But Marian Catholic's Troy Nutall ran the ensuing kickoff back 88 yards to tie the game. Then after Harry McCollum kicked a 25-yard field goal to put the Lions up 10-7, Nutall broke off a 59-yard run for the Spartans to make it 14-10 with 7:50 left in the first half.
"We started off slow," St. Viator offensive tackle Hugh Masterson said. "But we got together and began to pick things up. We got a big push up front and clicked well together."
Masterson, along with Jack Brandt, Tommy Madaras, Roy Pettingill, Andrew Hansen and Oge Udeogu began to open up huge holes for Mayo Arongundade and the senior running back took advantage of them. Arongundade blasted up the middle for the final 20 yards of a 8-play, 67 yard drive to put the Lions up for good 17-14.
"The o-line was making those primary blocks," said Arongundade, who rushed for 136 yards on 17 carries. "And I just read what they gave me. I did what my running backs coach said, which was to run up and then make my first cut."
The St. Viator defense, led by Masterson, Zack Niro, Romteen Bahramrid, Marty Cukierski, Conor Kinasz and Ben Dickey, took the adjustments made by defensive coordinator Dan Fitzpatrick, to allow just one first down in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Lions put together another scoring drive with Kinasz capping a 12-play 88-yard march with a 3-yard run to make it 24-14.
The Lions then added an insurance touchdown with 8:40 to play when Calmeyn hooked up with a Dickey on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 8:40 to play to make it 31-14. Marian added a touchdown with 3 seconds to play to close out the scoring.