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St. Charles North earned football playoff eligibility despite being pushed to the brink by South Elgin.
Unfortunately it wasn't enough.
St. Charles North entered the Upstate Eight Conference crossover game against the Storm with 30 playoff points — the combined victories of its opponents — a low number after eight weeks. Despite beating South Elgin 27-25 on Saturday the North Stars' final tally was 34, 2 points shy of the cutoff, making them one of ten 5-4 teams not to reach the postseason.
"We did what we needed to do," St. Charles North coach Rob Pomazak said on the Storm field, at the time still hoping his team would crack the 256-team playoff field.
"We can't control anything else but what happens here for four quarters. Our goal was to win and end 5-4 and get this program back on to winning ways and we did. That's a great thing for us."
North Stars like quarterback Erik Miller, whose 17-yard play-action touchdown pass to Garrett Johnson at 5:14 of the fourth quarter was the game winner, left South Elgin hopeful.
"We needed three teams to lose (Friday) and they all lost and we won," Miller said. "So as of now we have a pretty good shot."
"This school hasn't been able to go to the playoffs in a little while (2009), and it's definitely a big win for the seniors," said tailback-linebacker Evan Kurtz, who ran the ball 37 times for 169 yards including a 53-yard touchdown run for a 20-13 lead after three quarters.
"We're feeling very happy for the organization and our team," he said. "Big win today. Close game, nail-biter all the way to the end, but we worked hard for all four quarters and it really paid off."
South Elgin (3-6) did all it could to block St. Charles North from the playoffs the old-fashioned way, with 5 losses.
The red-and-gray camouflage-clad Storm pulled within 27-25 with 1:16 left to play on a 9-yard strike to Jordyn Cruz from quarterback Rob Cuda. Going for the tying 2-point conversion Cuda curled left, sprinted for the left corner of the end zone and tried to dive in. St. Charles North junior cornerback Tyler Bell came up for the stop.
"I just had to react," Bell said. "Our team together, we just stepped up and fought all the way to the end."
As did Cuda and South Elgin.
"I was just trying to get it on my own," said Cuda, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 262 yards with touchdown passes to Nick Menken of 17, 20 and 27 yards, and 90 yards to Tyler Christensen. Cuda went 7-of-7 passing for 124 yards in the fourth quarter.
"I saw a little opening, I thought I could make it," Cuda said. "I've got to give it everything I've got so I tried jumping."
St. Charles North, which never trailed to achieve the goal of a 5-4 finish for the first time since 2009, opened the scoring when Jordan Bergren covered a high punt snap into the Storm end zone for a touchdown at 11:45 of the second quarter.
Menken's first touchdown catch pulled South Elgin within 7-6 at halftime, but St. Charles North again opened a slight gap after Carson Schmitt recovered a Storm fumble on a punt return. Reese Conroyd, St. Charles North's career tackles leader, lined up at fullback and blasted 14 yards into the end zone midway through the second quarter for his first score of the year.
Conroyd also sealed off a Storm linebacker which allowed Kurtz his 53-yard touchdown scamper with 1.6 seconds left in the third quarter.
"It's all about the team," Conroyd said. "I love both of them (blocking and running), but if I had to choose I would choose to block for my brothers because they're the running backs, they're doing their job."
First-year South Elgin coach Pat Pistorio's job was made easier this season as Cuda and his receivers, and the Storm as a whole, gelled as the weeks went by.
"It's something that throughout this season took a little bit to develop our timing, but it's all our kids," said Pistorio, a former Storm receiver himself. "They're willing to put in the hard work, and our practices are pretty grueling on the receivers ... Our offensive line did a good job throughout the year, too, adjusting and being able to pick up things. So we grew as a football team."