The South Elgin football team's fast start helped it fend off visiting Bartlett's strong finish for a 22-14 victory Saturday.
The Storm outscored Bartlett 14-0 in the first half of the Upstate Eight Valley matchup and took a 20-0 lead with 11:18 left in the fourth quarter when versatile quarterback Nate Gomez scored on a 1-yard keeper, a touchdown he set up 2 plays earlier with a 25-yard punt return to the Bartlett 13.
However, the Hawks broke though and scored on their next possession, and they added another touchdown 2:59 later to give themselves a chance to win.
A Bartlett offense that had been held in check throughout the first half suddenly moved the ball 59 yards in 8 plays, keyed by a 29-yard run up the middle by 6-foot-2 senior Matteo Jones. Quarterback Joey Daum scored on a 2-yard keeper to trim the deficit to 20-7 with 7:49 remaining.
The Hawks went back to work after the rivals traded fumbles. Daum only had completed 3 of 10 pass attempts and had thrown 2 interceptions before he spotted senior receiver Jason Skrodzki behind the secondary. The 6-foot-1 senior connected with his 5-8 target for a 60-yard gain to the South Elgin 1.
Jones scored on the next play to make it a 20-14 ballgame with 4:50 to play.
"For some reason we're a second-half team," said Jones of the Hawks' flat first half. "We always get it going in the second half when it's too late, though. That's our problem. I really thought we fought hard, though."
South Elgin took possession with 4:45 left and picked up one first down before the Bartlett defense forced a punt from Nick Farfan. He bounced a perfect 2-hopper to the 1-yard line, where junior teammate Joey Cipriani downed it.
Needing to go 99 yards into the wind with 1:34 to play, the Hawks instead went nowhere. A penalty and a second-down sack by Storm defensive lineman Sami Aldabbagh kept the Hawks' backed up to the goal line.
On fourth down, lineman Michael Monell tackled Daum in the end zone for a safety. The 2-point play gave South Elgin an 8-point lead with 18 seconds left.
With its second straight win, defending UEC Valley champion South Elgin improves to 2-2 overall, 2-0 in league play.
"I was really proud of the kids and how they were able to deal with adversity," South Elgin coach Pat Pistorio said. "Bartlett was really doing a nice job on defense and we were struggling on offense. It was great to see the other two phases help us out."
The win is South Elgin's third straight against its District U-46 sister school and stakes the Storm to a 5-4 lead in the relatively young series. The loss drops Bartlett to 2-2, 1-1.
"We got outplayed in the first half and we dug ourselves too big of a hole to recover from and that's it," Bartlett coach Eric Ilich said. "We played some decent football in the second half, but whatever it was -- first-half jitters, breaks, the play of our opponents -- it was just too much to come back from. Our kids gave a valiant effort in the last 12 minutes but it wasn't enough because we got outplayed in the first half the way we did."