Last year, Mackenzie Balanganayi and his fellow Palatine defenders felt embarrassed in their loss to crosstown rival Fremd. In that Mid-Suburban West football matchup, the Pirates' defense surrendered 49 points.
Balanganayi and his teammates made sure that would not happen Friday, stiffening when needed as the host Pirates outlasted Fremd 21-14.
The 50th meeting of the "Battle of the Tracks" was the usual hard-fought game. With the win, Palatine (6-0, 2-0) trails the all-time series 30-20. The Pirates have won 5 of the last 9 games, with all but one of those decided by 7 points or less.
"It was entertaining," Palatine coach Rick Splitt said. "Our defense played hard. They were physical and fun to watch."
The Pirates' defense, which came into the season with some questions marks, has answered those concerns all season. And on Friday, they were able to control the line of scrimmage against a bigger Fremd team.
"We like to stick together and play fast as a defense," said Balanganayi, who along with Billy Ilkka, Bryant Smith, Josh Danielson, Jesus Salinas and David Ayorinde made up the defensive front that kept Fremd under wraps. "We knew that they would try to run it down our throats. We just had to toughen up and use our physicality and our speed to overcome their size."
Dylan Tapia said that the Pirates wanted to change the course of recent history.
"After what happened last year, we just had to come out physical," Tapia said. "This whole week of practice we thought about it and it paid off tonight."
Fremd (3-3, 0-2) used that size early in the second quarter to take a 7-0 lead.
The Vikings put together 13-play, 80-yard drive which was finished by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Tom Josten to Nick Cecchin.
Fremd had a chance to open up a bigger lead when Palatine fumbled the ensuing kickoff at its own 26. But that's when the Pirates showed their fortitude, stopping the Vikings.
Palatine's offense, which had been stopped earlier in the red zone thanks to an interception by Fremd's Austin Schwantz, then became re-energized.
Led by quarterback Zach Oles, who threw for 272 yards on 22-of-31 passing, the Pirates moved the ball downfield. Oles capped the 12-play drive to tie the game at 7 on a 1-yard run with 7:18 left in the first half.
Oles wasn't done in the first half.
After the Pirates took over on their own 38 with 1:23 left in the half, Oles moved the ball downfield thanks to pair of circus-like catches by Johnny O'Shea, including a 9-yarder with 32.6 seconds left to put the Pirates up 14-7.
"I like doing the acrobatic catches a lot," said O'Shea, who finished with 10 catches for 143 yards.
"Zach helps me out with great throws and I just like going to get the ball."
After Oles threw for 200 yards in the first half, the Pirates concentrated on their running attack in the second half. Borrowing a page from Fremd, the Pirates were able to move the ball behind an offensive line of Basa Balanganayi, Andrew Martino, Ryan Garner, Carson Walker and Zach Porter.
"The passing was open in the first half," Oles said. "We didn't really make that many adjustments. But the O-line did a great job for us."
Oles scored from 1-yard and the Pirates appeared well on their way to a victory. It seemed even more so when they moved to ball deep into Fremd territory late in the final quarter. But the Vikings' Patryk Ryzcek picked off a pass in the end zone to give Fremd life.
The Vikings drove the field, mixing in runs and passes and moved the ball down to the 1 on a terrific catch by Cecchin, who despite being drilled by Palatine's John Streepy, held on to the ball. Joe Schneider took it over on the next play to make it 21-14 with 1:37 to play.
Fremd failed on the ensuing onside kick, but then stopped Palatine, forcing the Pirates to punt. The Vikings were able to get the ball to the Palatine 48, but time expired before they could get the final play off.
"We just didn't come through as an offense tonight," Fremd coach Lou Sponsel said. "We played scared. It looked like we were afraid to hit at times."
Cecchin was outstanding for Fremd, with 15 catches for 142 yards. Josten finished 21-of-30 passing for 216 yards.