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Geneva coach Rob Wicinski didn't want a high-scoring track meet to unfold when his team went to Metea Valley on Friday night for an Upstate Eight Conference crossover contest.
Forget the track meet. Instead, Wicinski got a thrill ride, one that he thoroughly enjoyed getting off with a 49-45 victory.
"I jinxed myself by saying I didn't want to get into a track meet, and we did," Wicinski said. "I just told the players all we need to do is make one more play than them, and if we win by just one point, it doesn't matter."
Despite piling up 565 yards of total offense, Geneva (6-2) couldn't deliver this one into the win column until linebacker Joe Boenzi sacked scrambling Mustangs quarterback Blaise Bell on a fourth down at the Geneva 45-yard line with 44 seconds left.
It put an end to a highflying affair that left both defensive squads feeling abused, but defied what seemed certain would take place — that the team driving with the ball last would win the game.
Geneva quarterback Daniel Santacaterina threw 5 touchdown passes, while compiling 359 yards through the air on 11-of-19 passing.
All five scoring strikes were for more than 35 yards, with four receivers getting in on the act. Kyle Brown pulled down a 36-yarder in the second quarter and followed it up with a slant-pass reception that a resulted in a 70-yard score to open the second half.
"I feel like through the season our offense has had so much balance and we've had a lot of kids really step up, especially on the offensive line," Brown said. "The offensive line is young and they came up big for us, and that's what won this game."
Liam Burns raced 57 yards with a screen pass for Geneva's first score, and he also ran for a 38-yard second-quarter score.
But when the game was hanging in the balance late in the third quarter, Michael Landi snatched a 45-yard bomb away from a Metea defender for a TD to trim Metea's lead to 38-35. Early in the final quarter, Maxwell Woodworth snatched a critical 41-yard touchdown pass in the middle of the field that gave Geneva a momentary 42-38 lead.
"The whole offense was making plays and the line was giving me time," Santacaterina said. "The defense made stops when it had to, and we scored when we had to. They gave us some openings and we took them."
But Metea Valley also kept pouring it on Geneva all night, rushing for 355 yards while grinding out 471 yards of total offense.
Bell threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nick Dodson and ran 19 yards on a quarterback keeper for a score, while Jay Parker ran 32 yards for TD that gave Metea a 24-20 lead at the half.
Wilcox had a 61-yard scoring run and Dodson pulled in a 10-yard TD pass in the third quarter to offset Brown's and Landi's TD receptions.
The Mustangs were in good shape to pull out a homecoming night victory after Chris Wilcox had scored on a 16-yard scamper for a 45-42 lead with just over four minutes left.
But Santacaterina hit Pace Temple with two key receptions, one a 42-yarder, as TJ Miller eventually barreled into the end zone from a yard out with 1:32 left in the game to cap off a 65-yard Geneva drive.
On Metea's final possession, Parker picked up a Bell fumble and bolted 19 yards to the Geneva 43-yard line with just more than a minute left. After another first down, it appeared the Mustangs might pull out the back-and-forth contest. But the Geneva defense held, tipping a Bell pass at the line of scrimmage before finishing off the game with Boenzi's sack.
The game featured high drama from the start and left no doubt that the Vikings are headed back to the state playoffs after a one-year hiatus, but left Metea Valley (4-4) deeply disappointed and facing a significant task in having to defeat Waubonsie Valley next Friday to have a chance to qualify for postseason play.
"The kids did what I asked them to do and when we walk off this field we know we have nothing left and we gave everything we had," Metea Valley coach Ben Kleinhans said.
"They made a couple more plays than we did, they are big and physical, so we credit them," Kleinhans said.
Kleinhans said he was proud of his team, but admitted, "this one hurt because the kids wanted this one bad."