South Elgin's offense wasn't a mystery through the first four weeks of the football season, but the Storm hit West Aurora with a more varied attack in Saturday's 40-14 home win.
South Elgin senior running back Pierre Toussaint was limited the first four weeks by a hamstring injury suffered in a scrimmage one week before the season began. His absence translated to more option keepers for athletic quarterback Nate Gomez, who ran the ball 25 times per game in the meantime.
The return of a veteran backfield threat combined with more down-the-field play calling allowed Gomez to find his receivers for more big plays against West Aurora. The senior quarterback still rushed 19 times for 106 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he also completed 9 of 16 passes for 190 yards, including touchdowns to senior Kyle Pollert and junior Azxavier Salinas.
Meanwhile, Toussaint finished off the defending Upstate Eight Valley champs with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs to give South Elgin (5-0, 3-0) sole possession of first place in the UEC Valley with league games remaining against West Chicago (2-3, 2-1) and East Aurora (0-5, 0-2).
"Oh my gosh, it's huge," Toussaint said of the win. "It's a huge confidence booster. Coming out here, my guys, we were disciplined all day, all week. We knew they were going to be bigger, they were going to be tough, they were going to come out thinking they were going to smash us. But my boys, they know how to overcome."
Short-handed West Aurora (4-1, 2-1) saw its 13-game regular-season winning streak end. Missing injured wide receivers Camron Donatlan and Dylan Bernal and guard Eddie Fowler, the Blackhawks still gained 298 total yards but they fumbled once and turned the ball over on downs four times, twice in the red zone.
"I mean, I'm a believer we should be able to line up and run our stuff and get 3 yards," said West Aurora coach Nate Eimer, whose team couldn't convert 4 of 6 fourth downs. "We got stuffed on those all day. Even the ones that were close, I thought they beat us up physically.
"Offensively, it seems like they got Toussaint back and that makes a big difference. They're pretty tough to stop when you do that."
Gomez's 37-yard touchdown run and Kyle Pollert's 18-yard scoring reception staked the Storm a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
The Blackhawks struck back just before halftime. Junior running back Hezekiah Salter (11 carries, 66 yards) scored on an 18-yard run up the middle with 17.7 seconds left and added the 2-point conversion run. His touchdown capped a 12-play, 70-yard drive.
However, the Storm scored touchdowns on each of their four second-half possessions. They took a 20-8 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter when Salinas extended fully for a diving 29-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-3.
"Gomez just threw it in the perfect spot where the defenders couldn't even get it and I just had to make a play," said Salinas, who had 3 receptions for 86 yards. "It's all a team effort. My team just stepped forward and we did it together."
South Elgin gained 347 total yards, scored touchdowns on 6 of 8 possessions and did not turn the ball over.
"Our receivers made some big plays in some critical moments," Storm coach Pat Pistorio said.
"There were a lot of double moves we were able to execute. I think it's been building up and we just got a little more aggressive with the play-calling. More importantly, the kids stepped up and took advantage of some blitz-type scenarios where we were able to get behind them in the coverage so it was good."