It's hard for first-year coach Pat Pistorio not to smile when looking ahead to the next couple of football seasons for South Elgin.
The Storm (2-5, 2-3) took a 63-20 Upstate Eight Valley Division victory at West Chicago on Friday night.
While the Storm has suffered its share of hard knocks this fall in losses to Benet and Waubonsie Valley, Pistorio's squad has also come tantalizingly close to pulling off upsets over likely playoff-bound teams such as St. Charles East, Upstate Eight Valley leader Neuqua Valley and Metea Valley.
As one of the youngest squads in the Upstate Eight, South Elgin has an array of talented sophomores and juniors playing key roles on both sides of the ball who will form the core of a potentially dangerous team in 2014 and 2015.
Sophomore tailback Shawn Griffin was one of the most electrifying performers, rushing for 67 first-quarter yards and rambling for a 54-yard touchdown run to give South Elgin a 36-13 edge on the first play of the second half.
Sophomore wide receiver Andrew Kamienski hauled in touchdown catches of 30 and 17 yards that propelled South Elgin to a 21-6 second-quarter lead, and junior wideout Nick Menken caught touchdown passes of 62 and 32 yards while racking up 151 receiving yards.
"We're loaded with quality sophomores and juniors who are doing a good job and making an impact on both offense and defense," Pistorio said. "And to their credit, our senior leadership has embraced them and supported them. We're getting better as a team each week.
"Early this season, it was a tough start for us. We faced a difficult early schedule with St. Charles East, Benet and Neuqua Valley. But the guys are picking up the new system we've brought in, and as a young team we're just starting to get down our timing to where it needs to be."
Youthful team or not, South Elgin's senior leaders delivered significant contributions of their own. Quarterback Rob Cuda threw for 332 yards, firing 4 touchdowns and running for 2 more, including an 11-yard scamper midway through the first quarter that pushed the Storm in front 6-0. Cuda has passed for 300-plus yards in consecutive weeks.
Throw in a stout performance from the defensive front seven in limiting West Chicago to 9 rushing yards in the first half, plus a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown by senior linebacker Pat McKay, and the Storm savored a much-needed win after losing back-to-back games to Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley.
The Wildcats (0-7, 0-4) put up a strong fight offensively in the second quarter, taking advantage of South Elgin's defensive blitzes to strike with some deep throws against 1-on-1 coverage. A 49-yard pass from Jordan Lelito to Colin Lelito set up a 3-yard touchdown run by tailback Danny Lazzerini that shaved the Storm's early lead to 14-6 10 seconds into the second quarter.
Lelito then uncorked a 42-yard bomb that he followed up with a 23-yard quarterback scramble across the goal line that kept West Chicago in striking distance at 21-13 with 8:14 remaining in the first half. But South Elgin scored the next 42 points before the Wildcats' Parrish Benton closed the game with a 48-yard touchdown burst with 2:29 to play.
After compiling 387 yards of offense and 164 rushing yards last week against Bartlett, West Chicago struggled to run the football on Friday. South Elgin's defense loaded the box against Lazzerini, limiting the feisty junior to 12 yards on 12 carries before he left the game with an injury in the third quarter.
"We weren't able to establish the run tonight, and then we fell so far behind that it's difficult to come back when you dig yourself that kind of a hole," West Chicago coach Bill Bicker said. "Plus we got nicked up with some injuries. Every team deals with injuries this time of year, but when you have a thin roster like we do, it makes it tough."