Maine West, Bellizzi believing
With less than two minutes left in the game, the Highland Park offense took the field trailing by 5 points.
At that point, Maine West linebacker Jake Bellizzi said he was confident his team would hold the Giants and pull through with a win.
Bellizzi was right, intercepting a pass and scoring a touchdown a few plays later to lead his team to a 28-16 victory.
The Warriors claimed at least a share of the Central Suburban North football title for the first time in more than 35 years.
"I knew we were going to win," Bellizzi said. "I know we were going to keep fighting. The guys we have, they don't give up. I knew we were going to win."
Maine West coach Jason Kradman was a 1-year-old in 1979, when Maine West last won a conference title or put together a 7-win season.
With a game to go, the Warriors will look to reach 8 wins and win the conference outright when they face Deerfield in Week 9.
"We are making history," said Maine West quarterback George Markakis. "There is nothing better than this. I don't think there is a better word for what we are doing right now -- making history."
Kradman is in his fourth season at Maine West and each year the team has won a little more.
Prior to his arrival, the Warriors won 10 games in seven years and hadn't made a playoff push since 2002. Now they are putting together one of the best seasons in school history.
"We knew we had a special group when we first got this job and put our staff together," Kradman said. "Just to see their progress over the past few years is a credit to our coaching staff, our administration and our athletic director. These kids just work there butt off, during the season and in the off-season. They just wanted it more than anybody."
It took a great defensive effort and some key second-half adjustments for Maine West to get past a surging Highland Park team, which was coming off four straight wins and seeking a conference title as well.
Giants quarterback John Sakos completed 8 passes for 118 yards and touchdown in the first half.
But in the second half, Maine West held the senior quarterback to 2 completions on 12 attempts.
The defense also came away with 4 turnovers in the game, including interceptions from Bellizzi, Dakota Sampson and Matt Likas along with a fumble recovery from Nick Horcher.
Horcher's recovery couldn't have come at a better time.
Two plays prior, Highland Park took its first lead of the game after a sack and a safety by Kevin Kauffman. Three plays after the fumble, Markakis found receiver Rafael Ynocencio for a 36-yard touchdown.
"Our quarterback was unbelievable," Kradman said. "He made some great throws under duress. Raphael Ynocencio was huge at receiver. Landon Habler had a huge game at receiver. Matt Kentgen made the plays he needed to make. They were doubling him all game. I was excited about what our offense did all game."
Markakis finished 13-of-21 for 229 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 63-yard bomb to Habler in the first quarter. Markakis also had a rushing touchdown.
Highland Park, however, didn't make it easy for Markakis, sacking the quarterback five times, including two sacks each from Kauffman and Landon Morgenstern.
Most of the Giants' offense came early with Kauffman's safety being the only second-half points.
Sakos had a 40-yard touchdown pass to Giancarlo Volpentesta in the first quarter and Ryan Brinks scored on a 21-yard run in the second quarter.
Overall, it was a lack of execution, including committing 9 penalties for 95 yards, that cost the Giants.
"We did not execute up to our abilities," said Highland Park coach Joe Horeni. "I think we have the ability to win that game. I think we are pretty evenly matched."
Despite the historic season, Maine West still has plenty more history to make.
The Warriors will look for their first eight-win season since 1959 next week and the program's first playoff win a week after that.
"We want revenge on Deerfield because last year they beat us in a close game and we really want the conference championship," Bellizzi said. "It is going to be a huge game."