Just one more game.
That's what Palatine quarterback Zach Oles and his teammates were looking for in November of last year. But that did not come to pass as the Pirates fell to Loyola 24-22 in the Class 8A semifinals in a cold and snowy night.
This season brings even more anticipation for Palatine and its supporters as the Pirates enter the 2016 season as one of the favorites. It is a spot that coach Rick Splitt would rather not have.
"We like being the team everyone overlooks," Splitt said. "I think the expecations are within the kids. They want to compete and do well. They showed it every day this past summer."
Palatine is coming off a 10-3 season and its deepest playoff run since 1996, which also ended with a loss in the state semifinals. And with a team laden with skill players, the Pirates are hoping to make their first state final appearance since they finished second in 1994.
"Overall, we have 62 kids and they are excited to be here," Splitt said. "And as a coach, that makes it very easy on me and the staff."
Palatine rode the talents of Oles last season, and the Daily Herald's all-area team captain did not disappoint. As a junior he threw for 2,269 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,267 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has drawn interest from Ivy League schools along with Butler, Jacksonville and Dayton.
"Zach is a very good quarterback," Splitt said. "We are excited to see what he will do his senior year. He really understands what we do offensively and really does a good job of doing that."
Palatine graduated a pair of all-area wide receivers in Matt Lamm and Jovone Stricker. As significant as those losses are, the Pirates may be even better at wide receiver this season.
Jack Grochowski, who is 6-foot-5, and missed the first half of last season with an injury. Combined with 6-3 Johnny O'Shea, a junior and is coming off a great season last year, Oles has a pair of huge targets. Courtland Cornelius, who saw the field last season a bit along with Jack Orlando, should make the Pirates passing game deadly.
And for teams that want to focus in stopping Oles from running the ball, they will need to contend with Josh Turner. Now a senior, Turner showed that he can be counted on when needed.
The Palatine offensive line will have all-area junior Carson Walker (6-2, 250) along with Andrew Martino (6-1, 245) back to anchor the offensive line. Splitt is very high on sophomore David Balanganayi, who will find a starting role. Zach Proctor, Manny Juarez and Ryan Garner should also be in the mix to see significant playing time.
While the offense is stellar, it is the Palatine defense that comes in with some questions. The Pirates return just four starters from a defensive unit that stymied high-flying offenses like Sandburg, Oak Park, Brother Rice and Loyola in the state playoffs.
"We play fast," Splitt said. "We lost a few players, but we have a lot of kids ready to step in."
McKenzie Balanganayi (6-3, 210), who has begun to draw some attention from colleges, will be a key factor on the defensive line in Splitt's 4-3 cover 2 scheme. Bryant Smith, Josh Danielson and Jesus Salinas are all juniors, and Billy Ilkka is a senior who will be part of the defensive line rotation.
All-area linebackers Mike Williams and Dillon McHugh are gone, but Brody Muck, who saw time last year, Scott Elter, who is returning from a knee injury and junior Cortez Hogans should fill the void nicely.
Dylan Tapia anchors a secondary that includes Jake Moertl, Matt Garner, JT Streepy.