O'Connell, Stevenson answer the challenge at Palatine
Aidan O'Connell answered the bell for Stevenson and helped the Patriots rally for a 26-24 victory over host Palatine in the teams' football season opener Friday.
O'Connell, who is the backup quarterback for Stevenson, got an early call when Patriots starter Jack Sorenson was injured early.
Sorenson was sacked by Jake Falduto and appeared to bang his head on turf. He left the game with some assistance and did not return.
O'Connell, who had his own injury issues this last season when he injured each of his knees, didn't flinch when he got called into the game.
"That was definitely was not my plan this morning when I was thinking about the game," O'Connell said. "Not on the third play of the game.
"It was a crazy situation. All you can do is rely on your teammates to pick you up."
Stevenson coach Bill McNamara had complete confidence in O'Connell.
"We practice our guys," McNamara said. "First team or second team, they all get their reps.
"We have a lot of faith in Aidan McConnell. He has great skills. He put the ball there and made some great plays. He showed a lot of character coming off the bench and playing like that."
O'Connell was nearly perfect, completing his first 11 passes and finishing 17-of-20 for 222 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"Aidan come in and hasn't played a varsity down and 'boom', " said Henry Marchese, who had 2 touchdown receptions. "He is one of my great friends and I am proud of him."
Palatine dominated play in the first half to take a 17-12 lead into the break.
Palatine junior quarterback Zach Oles was impressive in his first start. He threw for 273 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed for another 115 yards and a touchdown in his first start.
Oles looked like a seasoned veteran on his first series as a varsity quarterback, gaining 23 yards on the ground and throwing for another 33.
He drove the Pirates 66 yards on 8 plays, capping the drive on a 1-yard run to make it 7-0.
Stevenson took advantage of a bad snap on a punt to get back in the game late in the first quarter.
The Patriots took over at the Palatine 14 and scored on a 1-yard run by Tyler Vincent. But after the conversion kick was originally good, a penalty was called on Stevenson for an illegal formation. The ensuing re-kick was wide and Palatine still led 7-6.
After a Palatine drive stalled early in the second quarter, Michael Hilmer kicked a 34-yard field goal to make it 10-6.
Stevenson regained the lead midway through the second quarter to lead 12-10. Sorenson flipped a screen pass to Vincent who took it 46 yards to put the Patriots up for the first time.
Palatine responded by scoring with just 8 seconds left in the first half. Oles eluded a couple of tacklers and threw the ball to Jovone Stricker, who made a flying catch in the corner of the end zone as the Pirates regained the lead.
"I though our kids came out of adversity quick enough to keep us I the game in the first half," McNamara said. "The second half was different."
It was way different for Stevenson, which wanted to show what a defending state champion looked like.
With O'Connell passing, the running of Tyler (19 carries, 92 yards) an inspired offensive line and a defense that began to gain maturity, Stevenson forged ahead.
"I knew I needed to run hard to take some pressure off of Aidan," Tyler said. "So I ran harder and the line did a great job of opening holes for me."
With the defense focusing on Tyler, O'Connell opened it up. He connected on touchdown passes to Marchese of 48 and 11 yards as the Patriots opened up a 26-17 lead late in the fourth quarter.
But Oles and Palatine weren't quite done. With the ball at their own 9 with just over four minutes to play, Oles drove his team downfield. He connected with Courtland Cornelius on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 2:35 to close the gap to 26-24.
The Pirates attempted an onside kick to follow the score, and Palatine's Dillon McHugh appeared to come up with the ball. But the officials ruled the ball was touched before it had reached the 50, giving it back to the Patriots.
After a defensive stop, Palatine had one more chance. Oles drove the Pirates to their own 45 yard line. But an interception on fourth down ended the threat.
"We made some mistakes that hurt us," Palatine coach Rick Splitt said. "It was a great football game and I am proud of how our kids competed."