Palatine's hopes for a trip to the football state title game blew away Saturday in Park Ridge.
The Pirates, playing in gusty wind, just couldn't fly high enough and fell to Maine South 28-14 in the Class 8A semifinals.
Maine South (10-3) will play Loyola, a 42-13 winner over Glenbard West, in the championship game at 7 p.m. next Saturday in Champaign.
It wasn't the ending that coach Rick Splitt, his team and the three busloads of students that made the trip had hoped for.
"It was a fantastic year," Splitt said. "I am proud of the seniors, I am proud of this program and I am proud of our coaches. It is just tough."
Palatine (12-1) advanced to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year. Key injuries, especially the broken collarbone to starting quarterback Zach Oles, who was named to the Class 8A all-state team this week, may have helped to derail the Pirates' chances.
"The playoff run was great," said Splitt, who lost Oles in the first quarter of the Pirates' first playoff game. "We score a touchdown against Notre Dame on the first series. On the second series, Zach gets hurt. For us to make a good run after that is outstanding."
DJ Angelaccio had stepped in for Oles and did a terrific job for the Pirates, directing them to 3 playoff wins. The junior managed the Palatine offense quite well again on Saturday, but ran into some situations that the young quarterback was not used to.
Maine South stacked the line, taking away any opportunity for the Pirates to run the ball. Palatine finished with 45 rushing yards. And with the wind as an extra defender, Palatine and Angelaccio were forced to shorter routes.
Angelaccio did well, completing 25-of-43 passes for 199 yards. But an opportunistic Maine South defense was able to pick off passes, two of which came in the fourth quarter, giving the Hawks short fields to work with.
"We had some bad breaks," Splitt said. "It was 14-7 and they get a couple of picks and then short fields. We just couldn't get a break. That's the way it goes."
A short field led to Maine South's first touchdown.
After Palatine punted after its first series into the wind, the Hawks took over on the Pirates' 45-yard line. Three plays later, Nick Leongas (7-of-15, 115 yards) hooked up with Matt Holbrook on a seam route for a 41-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
Palatine had a chance to tie the game early in the second quarter when it drove to the Maine South 1. On fourth down, Josh Turner was stopped on the goal line on a play the Pirates wanted to change. Palatine signaled and called for a timeout, but the official on the Palatine sideline said that he never heard them ask for one.
Palatine's defense held and forced a short punt, giving the Pirates the ball at the Maine South 26. On second and goal from the 4, Angelaccio rolled out and fired to Johnny O'Shea, who made one of his patented circus catches in the end zone to tie the game at 7 with 5:21 left in the first half.
"DJ was putting them out there and I was just trying to make a play," said O'Shea, who finished with 11 catches for 86 yards.
Maine South responded by driving 80 yards into the wind. The Hawks scored when 6-foot-6 wide receiver Luke Hinkamp outleaped a pair of Palatine defenders in the end zone to score on a 22-yard pass from Leongas, making it 14-7 with just under a minute left in the half.
The score remained that way until Maine South was able to pull away thanks to a pair of interceptions. With the Hawks taking over at the Palatine 41- and 8-yard lines, Fotis Kokosioulis scored on runs of 5 and 6 yards just 54 seconds apart as Maine South opened up a 28-7 lead with 6:01 to play.
Still, Palatine showed the tenacity that had helped it remain unbeaten through 12 games. Taking over at their their own 29, the Pirates drove 14 plays, scoring on another acrobatic catch by O'Shea on 14-yard pass from Angelaccio.
"We had a good game here," Splitt said. "It was a football game until the last six minutes of the game."
Linebacker Scotty Elter said that his miss his teammates and the bond they created.
"This is the most fun I ever had," Elter said. "Every single guy here is the best and I love every one of them. It is just tough that it is over and that we won't be practicing on Monday."
Offensive lineman Andrew Martino said the fact that the Pirates had advanced to the semifinals for two straight years will be something to be proud of.
"This is the last time we get to play football with so many friends," Martino said. "We have been together for so long. After all this over, the success we have had will sink in."
Ryan Garner, who at 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds starts at offensive line, typifies what the Pirates have done this season.
"I am proud of what we have accomplished," Garner said. "No one expected us to be here. We are a group of small guys and with what we had, we did great."
Mac Balanganayi said that he and his teammates gave everything they had out there in Saturday.
"We left it all out there and that is all we could do," Balanganayi said. "We just came up short. It was great crowd and a great atmosphere. It was a lot of fun."