The St. Edward football team's initial disappointment of not being able to play Friday's regular-season finale at home in Elgin was eventually replaced by a feeling of accomplishment after a 34-13 victory over Elmwood Park at Burgess Field in Geneva.
St. Edward hoped to play its Senior Night game on the lush, green sod recently donated and installed on its home field by Scotts Lawn Care in exchange for promotional consideration. Scotts removed the old playing surface -- which was destroyed when a maintenance company accidentally sprayed the grass with weed killer rather than fertilizer -- and had it replaced new sod two weeks ago.
However, it was decided Friday at midday to move the Metro Suburban East game to Geneva's turf field rather than debut the new grass surface prematurely in a steady rain.
"It's a football game. No matter where we play it, we've got to come out and play it with the intensity we know we can," said reigning MSC East defensive player of the year Jake French, who returned to nose guard for the first time in four weeks and notched 3 sacks.
After falling behind desperate Elmwood Park 7-0 and 13-7, the Green Wave rallied to take a 20-13 halftime lead, scored twice more in the second half and shut down the Tigers offensively the rest of the way to seal a postseason spot with their sixth victory.
Elmwood Park (4-5, 3-2) was eliminated from the playoffs after managing just 153 total yards in the loss.
The playoff berth is the fifth in seven seasons for St. Edward (6-3, 4-1), which finished second in the MSC West a year after winning the title with a 10-1 team.
"We want to be consistently a competitive team," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando said. "Making the playoffs, 6-3 almost feels like a bit of a disappointment. That's the bar that last year's team set, and this year's team had a target on their back."
The Tigers scored on their opening drive via sophomore Olsi Rama's 1-yard run, but the Green Wave answered with a 9-play, 52-yard scoring drive, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Dylan Mlinarich to junior receiver Jimmy Harkins on fourth-and-4. "Coach Ro just told me to execute it quickly, get that (play-action) fake and then read that cornerback and see if he bit on the fake or not," Mlinarich said. "And he did."
The Tigers regained the lead on an 43-yard option keeper by quarterback Xavier Vega early in the second quarter.
St. Edward answered 13 seconds later. That's how long it took speedy Caleb Elam to field the ensuing kickoff at his own 18-yard line and return it 82 yards for a touchdown. David Madden's extra point gave St. Edward a 14-13 lead.
"I read (the) block and cut back and it was just wide open," Elam said.
From then on the Green Wave fed the Tigers a heavy dose of running back Dwayne Allen. The senior finished a 10-play, 63-yard drive with a 1-yard run to stake St. Edward to a 20-13 lead with 4:55 left in the first half.
Allen carried 34 times for 155 yards and scored 2 more touchdowns in the second half. Meanwhile, the Green Wave defense limited the Tigers to 34 second-half yards, led by French and safety Saveon Smith, whose second-quarter tackle stopped the Tigers on downs at the St. Edward 24-yard line.
"At this time of year you need your playmakers to step up," Rolando said. "I thought Saveon did that, I thought Caleb did that, I thought Dwayne did that, I thought Dylan did that -- all of the guys. Whenever we needed a play, they stepped up and answered the call."