Palatine's football team netted a 35-12 victory over host Evanston on Friday, and it can thank senior receiver Johnny O'Shea for much of the result.
O'Shea made his presence felt early and often, tallying 2 touchdowns.
If the ball was in the air, it usually ended up cradled in the hands of O'Shea, who finished with 8 catches for 116 yards.
"We knew we had to score pretty much every possession," O'Shea said. "We had a great week in practice. We know what we're capable of on offense, we just have execute and stay focused."
Palatine suffered a total of seven injuries in the win over the Wildkits, but according to Pirates coach Corey Olson, the injuries were not very significant.
They did, however, give some younger Pirates an opportunity to shine. Junior tailback Darryl Garner had 139 yards on the ground, including Palatine's first touchdown.
"We were trying to control the clock, "Garner said. "It all starts in the weight room. We just have to keep putting our pedal to the metal. We got to enjoy this win, regroup and practice hard next week."
Although the Pirates controlled most of the first half's time of possession and found the end zone twice, they were nursing a 14-6 lead going into the locker room.
Late in the second quarter, Evanston marched down the field for an 84-yard drive ending with Wildkit seniors Drew Dawkins (1 rushing and passing touchdown) punching the ball into the end zone from 5 yards out.
Palatine returned from halftime with a steady rushing attack. Seven different Pirates rushed the ball in the second half as Olson's game plan included a variety of misdirections, option and power running.
On Palatine's first third-quarter possession, senior quarterback DJ Angelaccio (151 pass yards and a rushing touchdown) connected with O'Shea for a 17-yard pass and catch for a second time, capping an 80-yard, rush-heavy drive.
"Me and DJ (Angelaccio) have a special connection," O'Shea said. "We're best friends on and off the field and we can trust one another."
"We had a steady mix in our game plan," Olson said. "We really started to get our ground game going, and so we were able to take advantage of the (pass) coverage. DJ threw great balls. Darryl was phenomenal. (Marcus) Stoudemire had a shin bruise, and Darryl carried the heavy load for the team. The offensive line played their butts off."
Following an Evanston three and out, Palatine was back in the end zone after another long drive, and on this occasion, the Pirates' scorer was senior running back Charlie Canty.
Wildkits junior return man Malik Ross bobbed and weaved his way for a 55-yard return on the very next posession. The short field gave the opportunity Evanston needed as Dawkins tossed a screamer between three Pirates defenders to junior wide out Michael Axlerood (72 receiving yards) for 27 yards. This cut the lead to 28-12.
On the ensuing kickoff, Evanston senior gunner Fletcher Brown recovered an onside kick midway through the fourth quarter. Evanston decided to air out a pass from the Pirates' 41 to a seemingly wide open Wildkit receiver. However, there was a collision between the receiver and the back judge and Evanston would never recover.
Evanston was flagged for 95 yards, and some of those infractions were on pivotal defensive third downs.
"You got to give Palatine credit, they are a semifinal team," said Evanston coach Mike Burzawa. "We knew it'd be a tough challenge coming in, and they got the W. We were limited in possessions and they were able to run the ball.
"Our effort was good, but we've got to improve on our technique."
Evanston travels to Fremd in next week's MSL-CSL crossover matchup.
Palatine gets a 2016 Class 8A semifinal rematch with Maine South. The Pirates were a game away from going to the state championship as they faltered to Maine South 28-14 last season.
Maine South ultimately was crowned the state champs after defeating Loyola 27-17 in the title game.
"We have to enjoy this and move on," Olson said. "We're excited to have the opportunity to play Maine South again. It will be a big test."