In 1997, when he was teaching at a middle school in Lake Zurich and serving as an assistant coach for Carmel Catholic, Rick Splitt remembers sitting in the stands at Chic Anderson Stadium watching an undefeated Palatine football team in the state playoffs.
On a chilly Friday night, he was at the same stadium as the head coach of the first Palatine team to go undefeated since that 1997 team.
Splitt's Pirates completed a 9-0 regular season, including 6-0 in the Mid-Suburban West, with a 49-21 triumph over Schaumburg (4-5, 1-4), essentially assuring Palatine a top-four seed in the Class 8A state football playoffs.
"It's a great feeling to be a part of this," said junior Jack Orlando, who raced 57 yards for a TD three plays after the Pirates recovered a fumble at their own 40-yard line midway through the third quarter for a 35-7 lead. "We knew we were going to have a good team this season. It was just a matter of playing with heart."
Junior Johnny O'Shea played a key part to the heart of the Pirates' offense on Friday, catching touchdown passes of 20, 6 and 14 yards.
Pirates senior QB Zachary Oles also threw a 43-yard TD strike to Jack Hopper while the hosts' other scores came on Joshua Turner's 3-yard TD run and backup QB Donald Angelaccio's 5-yard run that enforced the running clock with 11:03 left in the game.
"We had a lot of things to build upon for last year," Splitt said of the undefeated regular season. "We've got a great group of seniors leaders.
"I'm just proud of these guys because they just went out and did the job all season."
The offense did the job behind starting linemen Zach Proctor, Basa Balanganayi, Andrew Martino, Carson Walker and Ryan Garner who helped Turner rush for 109 yards and Orlando 98.
"Everyone on the team is just happy to be able to do this for the seniors," Orlando added. "They worked hard all summer and have been great leaders to us. They've done everything for us to make this possible."
Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling was equally proud of his seniors.
"They were a great group who made tremendous sacrifices for us," he said. "I am extremely appreciative of what they've done the past four years."
The Saxons trailed 21-0 when Dakari Ferguson caught a 6-yard TD pass from Justin Perez with 44 seconds left in the first half.
Schaumburg's other two TDs came in the final quarter -- a 3-yard run by Jordan Salgado and a 16-yard pass from Perez to Ferguson with 2:44 left in the game.
"They are one of the best teams in the state," Stilling said 'We really needed to play our best football. I'm really proud of our kids. They put up a fight at the end of the first half.
"We faced some adversity the last few weeks but the kids stayed together.
"Hats off to Rick (Splitt) and Palatine."