For Hoffman Estates coach Tim Heyse, one of the most important things he and his staff consistently preach is the importance of doing the little things right.
Those details can make all the difference to a squad ending up as a contender or pretender, which was on display Thursday.
The Hawks erased a pair of 17-point first-half deficits en route to a 28-24 victory over host Schaumburg.
The win clinched the eight postseason berth in school history for Hoffman Estates (6-0, 2-0). It's the earliest the Hawks have ever wrapped up a postseason spot, even besting the 1988 squad which accomplished the feat in Week 7.
"It all goes back to crossing our T's and dotting our I's," a relieved Heyse said. "We had to adjust to having a short week, mentally as well as physically, and I think we struggled with that a little bit. As a result we got ourselves in a horrible situation early on."
The Saxons defense put Hoffman Estates in that situation in the opening 12 minutes.
After a 28-yard Jon Mueller field goal put Schaumburg up 3-0 with 3:37 left in the first, junior DB Jamari McIntyre had the first of his 2 interceptions. McIntyre picked off Hoffman QB Austin Coalson at the Schaumburg 47 and returned it for a TD, giving Schaumburg a 10-0 edge with 2:00 left in period 1.
Fellow DB Logan Knox repeated the feat 65 seconds later when he also intercepted Coalson for a second 53-yard Pick-6 and a 17-0 Saxons advantage after the first quarter.
The visitors began their comeback by gettting in the end zone twice in quarter number two to pull within 24-14 at halftime. Their first score came when senior running back Jaylin Johnson (16 carries, 95 yards) took it in from the 3 to cap a 7-play, 64-yard drive.
After Schaumburg opened the lead back up to 24-7 on a 19-yard Deontae Arnold TD run with 1:18 left, it took just one play for Hoffman to respond as Coalson connected with Jayvon Blissett on a 62-yard pass play just 55 seconds before halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Coalson-Blissett connection worked once again on a 13-yard scoring completion that put Hoffman Estates within 3 (24-21) with 8:15 to play.
"I give total credit to both Austin and our O-line," said Blissett (8 catches, 172 yards). "We just had to settle down and play our game."
After forcing Schaumburg (3-3, 0-2) into a three and out, the Hawks needed only 3 plays to grab its only lead. Senior Mike Eppenbaugh's 2-yard run with 5:33 to play was set up by a 39-yard pass from Coalson (15-for-29, 247 yards) to Jaylan Alexander and a 20-yard run by Eppenbaugh on the previous play.
Like Blissett, Eppenbaugh gave the Hawks' offensive line -- Brandon Sheppard, Javi Hurtado, Angel Fernandez, Ryan Edwards, and Baily Hurd -- all the credit.
"They were so huge, especially in the second half," said Eppenbaugh, who finished with 67 yards rushing and receiving. "One of the things that's allowed us to grow up a lot over the last couple of years. It's enabled us to get wins like this when you have to grind it out."
Heyse also gives his defense credit for limiting Schaumburg's spread offense to just 56 yards total offense in the second half, and 175 total.
"Our guys played lights out," Heyse said. "They were solid and set a tone for us that made coming back possible for us tonight."
Schaumburg saw its second straight defeat at home in a game where a double-digit lead went by the wayside. Coach Mark Stilling says the deeper you go in the season, the more games like this hurt.
"First of all, hats off to Hoffman," Stilling said. "We did pin them on their heels in the first half, but as they came back we were unable to give our defense that played so tough the rest it needed in the second half. We couldn't get anything going offensively in half number two."
Heyse and Co. will look to take advantage of a nine-day break between games as the Hawks travel to Barrington next Saturday for the Broncos' homecoming game.
"We'll take the next couple of days to rest up and heal those bumps and bruises," he said. "Barrington is such a tough team at home, and especially at their homecoming. They play very smart football."
Schaumburg travels to Conant next Friday night for the Cougars' homecoming.