There was no way Matt Cullen was going to sit out an opportunity he had been waiting four years for Friday night.
There were times where Cullen was sidelined for the rivalry matchup with Schaumburg that carried heavy playoff implications. But it was by design as Conant used junior Tim Manczko as a running threat in its Wildcat formation.
A high ankle sprain suffered last week wasn't going to derail Cullen. And when he took the final snap and dropped to a knee, the celebration of the end of a five-year playoff drought was on at Feutz Field as Conant held on for a 21-14 victory.
"We're back in," Conant coach Bill Modelski shouted with a smile as he was congratulated by athletic director John Kane and retired head coach John Ayres and his wife Lana.
Five wins would have had the Cougars on a tenuous bubble with their playoff points. The sixth win will have them eagerly waiting next Saturday to see who they face in Week 10.
And it's a long way from a year ago when Cullen, middle linebacker John Maevski and their senior teammates endured a season-ending seven-game losing streak.
"It feels awesome absolutely great," Cullen said after throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown to Tom Zidek.
"The past few years weren't that great," Maevski said after fueling another solid defensive effort. "When we came in as freshmen we had a bunch of great skill players and we knew we could turn this around.
"If we stuck together we knew we had the skills to get this done."
They did after a heartbreaking 1-point loss at Barrington last week.
They did after Schaumburg quarterback Stacey Smith made two spectacular plays for 20-yard touchdowns. The first came on a run at the end of the half and the second was on a fourth-down scramble and throw to Brandon Kibby with 7:19 to play.
None of it could break the Cougars.
"It's just team chemistry," Cullen said. "We have faith in each other on offense and defense.
"There is no offense and defense. It's just team. And one thing we do have as a team is heart."
Cullen and Manczko combined to eat up more than four minutes after the Saxons got within 21-14. When Danny Lampert made a diving interception, the Cougars were just 2:24 from a return to their glory days.
"I've been playing with all these guys from Schaumburg since the third grade so I knew there was no way possible I wouldn't play in this game," Cullen said. "I had to be a part of it. There's no way I would miss it for anything."