It had the makings of a last-team-with-the-football-wins epic. Then St. Patrick stepped up again to deny Geneva that glory.
In Friday's Class 7A playoff opener at Burgess Field, the hosts let St. Patrick running back Jeremy Molina score his third and final touchdown for an 8-point Shamrocks lead with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter, allowing Geneva time for one last drive.
Quarterback Daniel Santacaterina at the helm, the Vikings gained three first downs to reach the Shamrocks' 29-yard line with little over a minute left.
A miscommunication on a pass route and St. Patrick linebacker Cesar Almeida found himself alone in the left flat for an interception, one of 4 turnovers that ultimately doomed No. 7 seed Geneva in No. 10 seed St. Patrick's 31-23 victory.
"We played against two teams," said Geneva defensive end Billy Douds. "You can't do that. We had four turnovers. You play against two teams, it's not going to come out good."
Geneva (7-3), returning to the playoffs after one-year away, lost the ball on a first-quarter interception inside St. Patrick's 25-yard line and again on a second-quarter fumble inside its 30, Shamrocks lineman Joe Haniacek coming up with both.
The killer came after Douds tied the score 17-17 on a 31-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the third quarter. The Vikings forced a three-and-out to regain possession but St. Patrick's Quentin Voce answered by recovering a fumble and returning it 41 yards for a touchdown.
"I had a feeling this thing might go into overtime because that's how competitive and evenly matched it was. It's playoff football," said St. Patrick coach Dan Galante, whose Shamrocks (7-3) advance to play Schaumburg, a 49-3 winner over Schurz.
"In playoff football, it comes down to who's going to not turn the ball over and make mistakes."
Geneva sucked it up yet again. Chris Barger returned the subsequent kickoff 42 yards and two plays later Pace Temple leapt to catch a pass then cut toward the home sideline and scored from 49 yards out. Geneva's kick went wide, St. Patrick ahead 24-23 with 11:50 left to play.
Temple caught 3 passes for 100 yards, adding a 12-yard touchdown grab that tied the score 14-14 at halftime.
"All that work just comes down to a couple plays and then it's over. It's unreal," he said.
In the last five minutes Geneva's Wyatt Shodeen and Matt Loberg stopped St. Patrick in its tracks, but ill-timed Vikings penalties allowed the Shamrocks into Viking territory.
Finally, when St. Patrick was at the 15-yard line with 2:39 to play the Geneva defense let Molina cruise for a 31-23 lead. The 195-pound back totaled 172 yards on 38 carries, adding first-half touchdown runs of 7 and 1 yards.
"We let them score because we know how great our offense is," Douds said. "We're down by eight, we knew we were going to score a touchdown, go for 2 and get it. We had no more timeouts, so we knew we could do it."
While players like Temple and Santacaterina return for Geneva others do not, such as tailback T.J. Miller, who ran 20 times for 137 yards.
"I'm so proud," he said. "Sixteen seniors going out like that. I love these guys. It was a fun year."
Geneva coach Rob Wicinski knew the odds of winning a playoff game making 4 turnovers. He was encouraged by his team's courage, regardless.
"This is going to build well for us," Wicinski said. "These youngsters saw what it is to be in the fight and how they behave and how they handle their business. I was just really proud."