It was a game filled with tough-nosed defense, some wild special team plays and a few what-if coaching decisions.
In the end, nobody could fault the effort or question the determination displayed by St. Charles East's football team during Saturday's 15-14 loss to Lincoln-Way East (11-0) in Class 8A second-round playoff action at Norris Stadium.
Playing on a rain-drenched, mud-filled natural turf, the Saints (8-3) gave the state's top-ranked Griffins a mighty scare before sophomore Dominic Dzioban's game-winning 25-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining.
"Everyone thought that we were going to come in here and get blown out," said Saints senior linebacker Abe Swanson, who recorded 12 tackles, including a sack. "They're the number one team in the state and 21st in the country.
"Nobody thought we were going to come out here and play the game we did."
After the Griffins were whistled for an offside penalty on the opening kickoff, the 17th-seeded Saints struck first when Nick Garlisch returned the ensuing kick 97 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead just 13 seconds into the contest.
"He was unbelievable on offense and defense," Griffins coach Rob Zvonar said of Garlisch.
Forced to punt on its first series, Lincoln-Way East capitalized on a costly Saints turnover for its first points.
Faced with a 4th-and-9 play from the Saints' 10, holder Matt Judd fielded a high snap, aborted Dzioban's short field goal attempt and took off for the corner of the end zone on a 28-yard TD run.
Dzioban's PAT try sailed wide left, leaving the Saints on top 7-6 with 5:44 left in the first quarter.
The defenses dominated throughout the rest of the first half as the teams combined for just 6 first downs and 114 total yards of offense.
"Our defense was unbelievable all day long," said Saints coach Bryce Farquhar.
The standoff continued during a scoreless third quarter that included 5 punts and a pair of first downs.
However, the complexion of the game changed early in the fourth quarter when the Saints were stopped on a 4th-and-1 play from their own 35.
"I was trying to be aggressive and keep our defense off the field," said Farquhar.
Eight plays later the Griffins, who will take on Oswego in next week's quarterfinals, took a 12-7 lead on quarterback Brendan Morrissey's 14-yard TD toss to tight end Turner Pallissard with 6:07 remaining.
Limited to 22 yards on their first 3 second-half offensive possessions, the Saints put together an 11-play, 65-yard drive capped by junior Ronan Macaluso's sliding 25-yard TD catch of a Clayton Isbell pass to give the home team a 13-12 lead with 1:17 left.
"The ball was up in the air for a long time," said Macaluso. "I just tried for complete focus and concentration all the way through."
The drive included a clutch 16-yard catch by Matt Goetsch on 4th-and-7 from the Griffins' 39.
However, the Saints opted not to try the 2-point conversion and Matt Burns' PAT kick made it 14-12.
"We should have gone for two on that," said Farquhar. "The hype kind of got us. Somebody carried me off and the next thing I knew we were kicking it."
A.J. Henning's 50-yard kickoff return and Morrissey's 34-yard pass to Mason Keenan set up Dzioban's clutch field goal.
"This game is on me today," said Farquhar. "These kids played unbelievable. They did nothing to lose the game today."
"What we did today was amazing," said Swanson.