ROCKFORD -- St. Charles North's football season came down to a last-minute drive.
While the potential go-ahead possession, from its own 1-yard line with 3:04 remaining and trailing Rockford Auburn 27-21, ultimately ended with an interception in the Knights' end zone, it epitomized the North Stars' never-say-die attitude displayed throughout the 2016 campaign.
"The kids just kept fighting," said North Stars coach Rob Pomazak following his team's 27-21 loss to Rockford Auburn during Saturday's second round of the Class 7A playoffs.
"I really thought we were going to go in and finish the game off the way that we've been doing," said Pomazak.
One week after outlasting Carmel in a memorable 31-24 double-overtime triumph, St. Charles North (9-2) appeared to have run out of chances against Rockford Auburn (10-1) late in the fourth quarter.
Elijah White's interception of a tipped pass by teammate Antoine Butler and 12-yard return set up the Knights at the North Stars' 1-yard line with 3:55 remaining.
Trying to run precious seconds off the clock two plays later, Rockford Auburn quarterback Nathan Jarrett fumbled the shotgun snap while looking for instructions from his bench and St. Charles North senior Eric Lins recovered the loose ball at the 1-yard line.
"I sat on the bench and told myself that I wasn't going to watch," said North Stars senior quarterback Zach Mettetal, who completed 30 of 45 passes for 386 yards and 3 touchdowns. "I knew we still had a chance though."
The turnover left the North Stars needing a 99-yard drive in the final 3:04.
They came close to pulling it off.
A 7-yard completion to sophomore Tyler Nubin (6 catches, 41 yards) and 12-yard pass from Mettetal to Adam Durocher (3 catches, 64 yards) gave the North Stars some breathing room.
Faced with a 4th-and-8 play near midfield with a little more than a minute left, Mettetal found Griffin Hammer for an 11-yard sideline completion at the Knights' 41.
An 8-yard pass to Hammer and 7-yard toss to Nubin moved the North Stars within striking range at the Knights' 26.
Rockford Auburn's Yahmir Muhammad then collected his second interception of the game in the end zone with 33 seconds left to seal the decision.
"We took one deep (shot) and it didn't work out so well," said Hammer, who caught 12 passes for a season-high 206 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"We tried our best," said Mettetal.
The interception was the sixth turnover of the day for the North Stars, who outgained the Knights 490-311 but lost the turnover battle, 6-3.
"No fault to anybody, we just didn't protect the ball well enough," said Pomazak.
St. Charles North grabbed a 7-0 first-quarter lead on Hammer's 18-yard TD reception but turned the ball over on its next two possessions.
Jarrett's 1-yard TD run tied the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter, and the senior signal-caller connected with Kavacieah Jones on a 54-yard TD pass as the Knights led 14-7 at the half.
Mettetal tossed a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to Lins (6 yards) and Hammer (55 yards) to help the North Stars retake a 21-14 lead before Rockford Auburn answered with 13- and 14-yard TD runs by Drequan Friar and Daquawn Bell (18 carries, 101 yards) -- the latter coming with 5:01 left.
"It was a fun game to watch, I'm sure," said Pomazak. "I think if we had played cleaner, we would've had a better opportunity than we did.
"I'm just thankful that I had an opportunity to coach these seniors. This was my freshman group. They won the most games in school history (9). They're character kids and I'm really proud of them."