The South Elgin football team gave its doubters something to chew on and gave visiting Cary-Grove plenty to think about moving forward with Sunday's 21-6 nonconference victory at Streamwood's Millennium Field.
Nine days after slugging it out with undefeated Batavia in a 10-7 loss, Class 8A South Elgin (7-1) again played well defensively. The Storm limited the third-ranked team in Class 6A to 243 total yards and a third-quarter touchdown. Cary-Grove (5-3) had been averaging 38 ppg.
"It's crazy, man. I'm at a loss for words. It feels great," South Elgin senior cornerback Anthony Zabran said. "We had assignment defense. We had people on pitch, quarterback, dive all game and just shut them down. Just more physical, got to the ball. Lots of hats around the ball."
Cary-Grove junior fullback Max Buss returned from injury to carry 30 times for 150 yards and a touchdown. Likewise, junior back Danny Daigle returned from injury to gain 23 yards on 8 carries.
However, the Trojans didn't maximize their offensive opportunities. In 6 possessions they scored one touchdown, punted twice, turned the ball over on downs twice after long drives and fumbled once.
Defensively, the Trojans limited the Storm to 273 yards but yielded 3 touchdowns in 6 South Elgin possessions.
"We got beat in a lot of facets today," Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg said. "Like I told the guys, it starts and ends with me. We got out-coached, we got outplayed, we got out-physicaled. We've got a lot of work to do this week."
Cary-Grove came up empty on a mammoth first-quarter drive, which began at its own 1-yard line and ended 78 yards and 17 plays later. On fourth-and-6 at the South Elgin 21, Zabran felled Daigle for a 3-yard loss before he could get outside.
Quarterback Nate Gomez subsequently drove the Storm 76 yards the other way in 11 plays, capped by a 5-yard flip on third down to senior receiver Kyle Pollert. The drive's big play was a 40-yard pass from Gomez to Pollert to the Cary-Grove 29.
"They had no one over the top," said Pollert, who made 5 catches for 60 yards. "We worked on it all week. We knew it was going to be there."
The game's only turnover loomed large. Cary-Grove got the ball to begin the second half but on the first play from scrimmage quarterback Quinn Priester lost control after the center exchange and South Elgin's Colt Doherty recovered the fumble at the 30-yard line.
Gomez capitalized 10 plays later on third-and-goal from the 5 when he connected with senior receiver Jauron Wells on a slant for a touchdown. Andrew Bucaro's extra point made it 14-0 with 7:57 left in the third quarter.
Cary-Grove answered with a 16-play, 90-yard scoring drive. Buss carried 9 times for 43 yards, including a 1-yard plunge with 1:19 left in the third quarter. However, the extra point kick sailed left of the goal post, leaving the score 14-6.
After the teams traded fourth-quarter punts, the Storm offense put the game away by driving 64 yards in 10 plays. Senior running back Pierre Toussaint finished it off by taking a pitch 11 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown with 3:40 to play.
It was sweet redemption for South Elgin's seniors, who coach Pat Pistorio said "tapped out" last year when Cary-Grove ripped the Storm 50-6 in Cary.
"It was a statement game," Pollert said. "We knew all week that we had to come back. We had to show them that we're better than last year and that we needed to win this game."
Gomez carried 20 times for 64 yards and efficiently completed 15 of 18 attempts for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns, mostly on bubble screens and short routes.
"They were (leaving) a backside receiver one on one all day," Gomez said of the Cary-Grove defense. "I took advantage of that. As well as on the perimeter they were giving a lot of cushion to those quick screens. Get 7 or 8 yards every time and that'll get the job done."
Cary-Grove completes the regular season with a Fox Valley Conference game at Crystal Lake Central (4-3) next Friday.
South Elgin can seal the Upstate Eight Valley outright title next Saturday with a home victory against winless East Aurora. A win would give the Storm an 8-1 record, thereby tying them with the 2015 team for best regular-season record in the program's 12-year history.
"Everyone was doubting us this whole year," Gomez said. "People were saying we were going 5-4 and maybe not even make playoffs. We proved them wrong. We play with a lot of heart and we're very physical and very fast."