St. Charles East senior Nicholas Garlisch literally snatched Geneva's upset bid right out of the Vikings hands Friday night at Burgess Field.
Garlisch hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass with 2:42 remaining, breaking a 16-16 tie and giving the Saints a hard-fought 23-16 victory.
Facing a 3rd-and-17, the Saints ran four verticals, and Garlisch ran down the inside seam. Quarterback Clayton Isbell lofted a high pass into the end zone that was initially intercepted by Geneva -- until Garlisch took the ball away and gained possession as he fell to the ground.
"I just ran a streak," Garlisch said. "I saw the safety on Geneva come down with it and I just kind of ripped it out of his arms. It came down to who wanted it more."
Isbell did most of his damage on the ground, rushing for 217 yards and a score on 29 carries.
"I saw Garlisch open so I just gave him a shot at it," Isbell said. "I knew he's a playmaker so he did what he had to do."
The Saints were flagged for a celebration penalty after the touchdown, and the 15-yard penalty helped Geneva start its final drive in great field position at the Saints' 48-yard line.
But the Vikings went 4-and-out, Austin Klose knocking away quarterback Bobby Murray's fourth down pass.
"We're not happy with the process to get there and some of the things that led up to it but our kids did a great job of overcoming at the end and staying confident," Saints coach Bryce Farquhar said.
"He (Garlisch) works so hard all the time. It was great to see that will and that desire. He's been playing offense and defense and for him to have the energy to do that at the end of the game, big players make the big time plays."
It was a heartbreaking finish for Geneva, who nearly had a statement win it hasn't had in awhile. The Vikings played well, coming from behind to tie the game 3 times -- at 3-3, 10-10 and 16-16.
"Their kid made a play, ours didn't," Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said. "When you are riding the wave, good stuff happens to you. We haven't been riding the wave in awhile."
The defending Upstate Eight Conference River champion Saints (3-0, 1-0) got all they wanted all night from the Vikings (1-2, 0-1). St. Charles East got the scoring started on its opening drive, though Geneva held at its 31-yard line. Matthew Burns entered and booted a 48-yard field goal.
Geneva kicker Reilly Waldoch answered with a 40-yard field goal, tying the game at 3 early in the second quarter.
On the Saints' next possession, Isbell called his own number and found the end zone from 19 yards out for a 10-3 lead. Again Geneva had the answer, with Murray racing 22 yards to score late in the first half.
Isbell hadn't attempted a pass to that point but completed three in a two-minute drill. That put the Saints in position for a Burns 40-yard field goal attempt, but it missed just right, and the game stayed tied 10-10 at halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, Justin Jett's 3-yard touchdown for the Saints was matched by a Waldoch 1-yard run for the Vikings, setting the stage for the Saints' game-winning drive and Garlisch's clutch catch.
"I have to give it to Geneva, they definitely played a good game," Garlisch said. "We didn't expect the score to be this close. We battled through it and came out in the second half with a totally different attitude."
While the Saints did outgain Geneva 376-275, Murray kept several Geneva drives alive going 8-for-11 for 167 yards and rushing for 56 more. Garret Sneed caught 3 passes for 101 yards.
"Bobby is playing well," Wicinski said. "This is the third time Bobby has come out and done some nice things.
"They fought. It's fun to be in this environment. It's fun to be in a game like this."