Playing on a mud-caked field better suited for livestock, St. Charles East's football team seemed like pigs in the slop Friday night.
The Saints (6-3, 5-1) slipped and slid their way to a playoff-clinching 26-0 victory over Upstate Eight Conference River Division opponent Larkin (2-7, 1-5) at Norris Stadium.
Scoring on their first 3 possessions, the Saints jumped on top early and let their defense take care of the rest as they held the Royals to 61 yards of total offense while recording their first shutout of the season.
"That was something we talked about early," Saints coach Mike Fields said of his team's fast start. "It was all about field position on a night like this."
A steady downpour occurred during the sophomore game, turning the middle of the playing field into a muddy mess by the time the varsity game kicked off.
After forcing a 3-and-out series on Larkin's opening possession, the Saints marched 50 yards in 6 plays to grab an early lead.
Junior receiver Brannon Barry tip-toed the corner of the end zone on a 4-yard fade toss from junior quarterback Jimmy Mitchell to put the Saints on top 6-0 (PAT try failed) with 7:33 left in the first quarter.
It took just 6 plays for the Saints to pad the lead on their next possession, as senior fullback Joe Hoscheit scored the first of his 2 touchdowns on a 32-yard run that included a nimble cut to the right sideline.
"There was green grass out there so I ran it outside," said Hoscheit, who finished with 102 yards on 9 carries. "It (muddy field) was an advantage because it was tough tackling on defense. Guys were slipping off."
The Saints made it 18-0 early in the second quarter, as Mitchell connected with Matt Allen on a 9-yard TD pass to a cap a 5-play, 61-yard drive that was set up by Mitchell's 38-yard completion to Mitch Munroe.
"I thought Jimmy had a real nice game," Fields said of Mitchell, who completed 4-of-9 passes for 60 yards -- all in the first half.
Senior cornerback Andrew Badowski's interception and 53-yard return led to the Saints' final score -- Hoscheit's 12-yard TD run and 2-point pass reception with 8:14 remaining in the third quarter.
St. Charles East's defense -- and Larkin's inability to hang onto the ball (13 fumbles, 2 lost) contributed to an unusual type of game that featured 18 fumbles in all.
"You try to do as much as you can on a field like this," said Fields. "It was something else."
Not that the Saints were complaining.
"This was a blast," said Hoscheit, whose jersey number was completely covered with mud afterward. "It could have gone either way with the way the field was. Everyone was slipping and sliding. Luckily, we came out on top."
Hoscheit admitted that extra incentive was on his team's side.
"We knew this could possibly be our last home game so we just wanted to come out here and make memories for the seniors," said Hoscheit. "This is definitely one to remember."
A year ago, Larkin's Luka Bogicevic returned a blocked field goal attempt 83 yards for a touchdown with 13 seconds left to snap a 20-20 tie and hand the Saints a devastating 26-20 Week 4 defeat.
"We all knew what happened last year," said Hoscheit. "It was heartbreaking on our homecoming. We wanted to come out here and show them what an improved team we are."
Mo Jackson gained 80 yards on 17 carries for Larkin, which suffered its fifth straight loss.
"We just couldn't get the center snap," said Royals coach Mike Scianna. "I've only got six seniors left at the end of the season and bless them. They kept it intact for the rest of us. We had fun these last few weeks."