In a defensive battle that saw each team score one offensive touchdown, special teams wound up deciding the Mid-Suburban East football game between Hersey and host Elk Grove on Friday night.
The Grenadiers' special teams unit had a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown by Luc Dimaso, blocked a field goal, recorded a safety, picked up a key first down with a fake punt, and recovered a muffed Hersey punt.
All of which helped add up to a 16-7 victory for the Grenadiers to clinch at least a share of their first MSL East title since 2004.
"Special teams killed us," Hersey coach Dragan Teonic said. "They usually don't. We're usually pretty good. We weren't tonight."
Elk Grove had a poor week on special teams last week, and put some extra attention to it in practice this week according to coach Brian Doll. It wound up paying off in a big way.
"Coach said special teams were going to make or break this game, and they did," Elk Grove's Jeff Miceli said.
Miceli tackled Hersey punter Joey Mailloux in the end zone for a safety. Also in on that play was Stefan Skoneczka for Elk Grove (7-1, 4-0).
"The snap was bad, and he (Mailloux) tried to pick it up and run with it," Miceli said of the safety. "Stefan took care of it, and I finished it up."
Dimaso's kick return touchdown came off a reverse, something he said the Grens had been working on for about four weeks but hadn't used in a game until Friday night.
At first it looked like the play wasn't going to work because of a deep kick by Hersey's Justin Jobski that wasn't fielded cleanly. But the trick play wound up coming off without any error.
"The whole momentum changed right there," Dimaso said. "Our special teams stepped up today. That's the reason we won."
Besides the stellar special teams play, Elk Grove's defense was outstanding.
After giving up a 60-yard touchdown pass from Brad Zaucha (19-of-36, 278 yards) to Jim Olsen (5 catches, 107 yards) on Hersey's first drive, the Grenadier defense led by defensive lineman Dan Egan and defensive back Kishan Patel allowed 220 yards for the remainder of the game, and held Hersey (4-4, 2-2) to minus-6 rushing yards with several sacks of Zaucha.
"We've got a lockdown second-half defense," Doll said. "The adjustments my defensive coordinator Rob Pomazak and his staff are doing are excellent. We've gone six games in a row now without allowing a point in the second half. You're going to win a lot of games if you do that."
The win assures Elk Grove of at least a share of the MSL East title, but the team does not want to lose focus in its final game of the season.
"We don't want to share it," Dimaso said. "Heck no. It's all ours."
One more win and that's exactly what it will be for Elk