Saturday night in Wheaton, St. Francis was alive.
Students piled out of the Kuhn Memorial Stadium stands to swarm the Spartans, saluting their first victory of the football season, 35-28 over Chicago Catholic League crossover foe Lake Forest Academy.
"It means the world to us," said Spartans senior Nolan Pechan. "We go through so much, ever since summer practicing," he said. "Didn't want to go through all we did on the start, but the win means everything to us. We fought for each other, we're brothers, just a great win for us."
In his first game back from a Week 1 injury, Pechan ran 28 times for 2 touchdowns and 164 of St. Francis' 416 yards rushing. Sam Sidari gained 106 yards out of the double-wing set with 2 touchdown runs, including the 32-yard game-winner with 22.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
"It feels awesome," St. Francis' Joe Lepsche said after his first win as coach. "Get that off our back and we've got two games left in the season, and keep going and fighting, playing hard against our next two opponents."
St. Francis (1-6) racked up 27 first downs to 8 for the visiting Caxys. The Spartans needed every one since Lake Forest Academy (1-6) was always one play away from a touchdown whenever Kenan Clarke carried the football.
A senior receiver entertaining football offers from Colgate and Brown, Clarke was thrust into the quarterback spot when the Caxys' starter went down two weeks ago. In the first half Saturday Clarke gained 226 yards on 12 carries with touchdown runs of 15, 19, 60 and 65 yards.
Late in the first half Clarke outran pursuit for an apparent 66-yard touchdown run. Brought back by a penalty, on the next snap he hurdled one defender and deked two others while tightroping the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown run that gave the Caxys a 28-22 halftime lead.
"I know my guys need me at all times so I give them all I've got," Clarke said. "Same thing to the relationship that we have. They give me all they've got, I give them all I've got. What we try to focus on is leaving it all out there on the field. I think in the first half we did that well."
With nine players going both ways -- "and special teams," Lake Forest Academy coach Robin Bowkett noted -- the Caxys slowed in the second half, Clarke finishing with 244 yards on 23 carries as St. Francis defensive coordinator Dan Page also adjusted pursuit angles.
Meanwhile, St. Francis picked it up. Offensive linemen Ian McLoud, Bryan Murray, Dan Skold, Gabe Meyer, Anthony De Feo and Jesse Gonzalez paced consecutive third-quarter scoring drives of 69 and 51 yards with Pechan scoring the tying touchdown and Sidari the winner. Cornerback Joe Lang's 2 interceptions thwarted any comeback.
"Really just the mentality changed," said St. Francis fullback-linebacker Greg Bogdanski. "When we walked in at halftime we really got together as a team, talked about playing as one, playing for each other."