The St. Charles East Saints racked up 35 unanswered points in the third quarter to defeat the winless, yet hungry, Streamwood Sabres for a 42-27 Upstate Eight River victory Friday night.
On a night celebrating the Saints seniors, it was a junior who might have made the biggest difference offensively, defensively, and on special teams for St. Charles East. Ramon Lopez caught a touchdown pass and ran for another modest 62 yards. He also caught and returned a blocked punt for 23 yards to set up another Saints touchdown, and made an acrobatic interception in the fourth quarter to thwart the Sabres comeback attempt.
"I saw the ball go into the air, so I saw it like it was a punt return," Lopez said of the blocked punt return. "I tried to be aggressive all night. I saw my chance and I took it."
With 57.9 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Streamwood (0-7, 0-4) scored the first points of the night on an 8-play drive that covered 67 yards when quarterback Mason Polich hit Cole Segar for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
St. Charles East (5-2, 3-1) tied the game 40 seconds later, matching the Sabres score with a 65-yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Mitchell to Brannon Barry.
Streamwood took a 14-7 lead on its next possession when Polich's 3-yard touchdown pass to Collin Tatone capped a 67-yard drive that began to quiet the stunned Saints crowd.
All of the momentum gained by the Sabres in their hard fought first half soon dissipated, however, when Saints senior Mitch Munroe returned the second half kickoff 90 yards to tie the game once again.
After forcing the resurgent Sabres to punt on their first possession of the second half, the Saints took a 21-14 lead when Mitchell found Lopez for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 9:09 remaining in the third quarter.
After recovering a successful onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, the Saints scored again with 6:46 remaining in the third on a 29-yard pass from Mitchell to Erik Anderson.
Leading 28-14, the Saints still were not finished. Forcing the Sabres to punt from their own 17-yard line, the Saints blocked the punt, which was caught on the 26-yard line by Lopez, who then returned it to the 3-yard line to set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Mitch Dupuis.
Dupuis scored again from 4 yards out with just over two minutes to play in the third quarter to give the Saints a seemingly commanding 42-14 lead.
The Sabres showed that there was no quit in the team. Polich scored from 13 yards out just as the fourth quarter began to close the gap to 42-21. Less than five minutes later, Polich hooked up with Segar again from 29 yards out to bring Streamwood back to 42-27.
With just over five minutes to play, Streamwood was driving again after just completing a 17-yard pass for a first down at the Saints 43-yard line. Lopez appeared to have intercepted the pass, but officials ruled that the offensive player had control for the catch. However, the next pass thrown was deflected and a diving Lopez intercepted it just before it hit the ground.
"It got me pretty fired up that they didn't call it (the first interception attempt)," Lopez said. "But I knew I had to come back and I saw the ball bounce up in the air and I just took off for it."
Saints head coach Mike Fields credited the Sabres, but feels his team can still improve.
"I certainly don't want to take anything away from Streamwood," Fields said. "Those kids played so hard and played their hearts out, but we just didn't execute as well as we could have. Again, no slight to our opponent, but we try to get better every week and look in the mirror and ask ourselves 'can we get better?' I just want to look at the film tomorrow and tell the kids they got better this week. I saw glimpses of it tonight, especially in the third quarter, but we just have to give credit to our opponent and look for ways we can get better."
Sabres head coach Mark Orszula lamented the loss, but sees progress in his team.
"The only thing I could say is I just tried to reinforce to them that they're a good football team," Orszula said about his talk to his team after the game. "I've been telling them that all year and our record doesn't show what kind of a football team we are. We just didn't come out tonight and play four quarters. That third quarter just got away from us. Overall, this was one of our best performances, but unfortunately, it wasn't a win."