Palatine senior Kurt Becker said his team knew how important Friday night's game against visiting Conant was.
"We were excited to come out and play tonight," said Becker. "We knew that the Cougars were guaranteed to be in the playoffs, so this would be a good test for us to see how we matched up against a playoff team."
And judging from the results, the Pirates match up pretty well indeed after defeating Conant 28-7 at Chic Anderson Stadium to win the Mid-Suburban West title outright.
Junior running back John Serio scored 2 rushing touchdowns for Palatine while classmate Cam Kuksa carried much of the offensive load.
Kuksa rushed for 122 yards and caught 5 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
"We were fired up," said junior linebacker Kevin Riggs, who along with defensive back Jesse Bobbit and Dan Riddle led an outstanding defensive effort. "We knew with a win we would win the conference outright (for the first time since 1997) instead of sharing it, and that was enough motivation for us."
The Pirates struck in the first quarter when, after a Bobbit interception, quarterback Ethan Olles ran 7 yards for the game's first score.
Palatine (8-1, 5-0) extended the lead to 14-0 before halftime. A 5-yard touchdown pass from Olles to Kuksa was called back due to penalty, but perserverance paid off for the duo when Olles hit the junior receiver for a 15-yard score on the next play.
Serio went up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown after a long third-quarter drive.
Then Conant (6-3, 2-3) closed the gap.
Cougars receiver Tim Manczko made an acrobatic fourth-down catch on a fade from senior quarterback Matt Cullen to cut the deficit to 21-7 but another short TD run from Serio put the game away.
Manczko finished with 7 catches for 42 yards, while Serio, playing mostly in the second half, gained 43 yards on 10 carries.
"This was a great team win," said Palatine senior Andrew Pecson. "Our offense and our defense have been meshing well together and our specal teams are coming together at the right time. We're going to be a team to contend with in the playoffs."