A missed extra point left Stevenson needing one score to take control. Huntley's defense and hard-nosed quarterback had other plans.
An end-zone interception from sophomore Michael Talesky and two fourth-down stops, combined with shifty ball control from junior quarterback Eric Mooney, delivered an Class 8A first-round upset as the 24th-seeded Red Raiders held off No. 9 Stevenson 21-20 in Lincolnshire on Friday night.
"They were getting the ball downfield," said Huntley coach Matt Zimolzak, whose team improves to 7-3 on the year. "We had some guys stepping up. Michael Talesky, a sophomore, coming up with the big pick in the end zone -- that's what happens when our team plays like that, they play like brothers. They come in, step in when someone's down, pick up the slack and are ready to go."
Stevenson's Aidan O'Connell moved the ball efficiently through the air for the Patriots with a 21-for-31 night for 327 yards and a pair of scores.
His 66-yard touchdown strike to Henry Marchese on the second play of the third quarter to break a 14-14 tie was a momentum shifter. But a missed extra point would come back to bite the home team.
Mooney guided Huntley down the field on the very next drive with a series of runs and delivered a third-down strike to Daniel Frederick for a 4-yard score. The point after was good and the Red Raiders spent the final 18:55 playing with nothing to lose.
"We went into halftime and knew we had a shot," said Mooney, who tallied 156 yards and 2 touchdowns on 22 carries, while throwing for 121 yards and a score on a 9-for-13 night. "It was a tie game and we had to come out strong. We scored a touchdown and the defense buckled down and played well. That's all we needed."
Each team followed the scores with drives deep into opposing territory, only to turn it over after fourth-down stops.
Stevenson caught a break on the ground game with some key runs from Anthony Sibo and Lucas Wax placing the team at the 11. A holding penalty pushed the team backward and, one play later, O'Connell went to the end zone where a leaping Talesky robbed Stevenson of the score.
Huntley punted the football back to the Patriots to find O'Connell fire back with consecutive first down throws to Henry Marchese to place the football at the Red Raiders' 37.
At that point, the wheels came off.
A backfield fumble cost 6 yards. Then Caleb Jones reeled off a sack and helped force a fourth- and-11. O'Connell went backward and was chased to the ground by Olalere Oladipo for a 12-yard loss that gave Huntley the ball at the 50 with three minutes to win.
Mooney took over with runs of 7 and 12 to move the chains and force timeouts. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the home team moved the chains an additional time and the win was in the books.
"Our offense did a great job controlling the clock and driving the ball down the field," said Zimolzak. "That's how you win games. If you hold onto the ball, don't turn it over -- that's good football."
In the opening half, it was a back-and-forth game.
After the home defense held serve to open play, the Patriot offense used a balanced offensive effort on its first possession. Sibo moved the chains three times, including a pair of grabs from O'Connell, to place the Patriots in Huntley territory and set up an 8-yard Matt Korinek score.
The Red Raiders responded.
Following a fourth-and-1 conversion, Mooney went to the pass with a 49-yard strike to Alex Coss.
The Patriots were able to stuff the run on three consecutive plays inside the five, but Mooney found a gap on fourth down to knot the game with 1:04 remaining in the opening quarter.
Stevenson's offense had a quick answer.
O'Connell touched Sibo for a 23-yard grab, and then hit Mike Marchese for a 10-yarder to move the chains. One play later, the signalcaller went deep with a perfect strike to Marchese for a 34-yard score.
The next Stevenson drive saw O'Connell find tight end Alex Capstick with a deep ball covering 45 yards to turn the field. The Patriots were unable to move the chains over the next four downs, however, and Huntley's signalcaller made them pay.
Mooney collected the first snap and burst through a pile of Patriots before breaking away down the right sideline for a 74-yard trip to pay dirt for the lone points of the second quarter and give his team enough momentum going into the half.
"They had five guys in the box and what we did was a run-pass option," Mooney added. "Their linebacker went to our running back and my initial read was I'm supposed to run. I ran and my receiver came up with a huge block. I made a guy miss and we scored."
Huntley finished with 349 yards of total offense to a 405-yard night from Stevenson.
Aside from O'Connell, Henry Marchese made 6 grabs for 129 yards and a score for the Patriots, while Anthony Sibo reeled in 10 catches for 90 yards and 39 yards rushing. Mike Marchese made four grabs for 63 yards including a 34-yard touchdown.
Carter Beaudette tallied 72 yards on the ground to aid the Red Raiders.
Stevenson ends its campaign with an 8-2 mark. Huntley returns to action next week at home against the winner of Saturday's game between No. 25 Fremd vs. No. 8 Brother Rice.