Bartlett storms back to knock off South Elgin
The winner of the annual football game between Bartlett and South Elgin receives a traveling trophy called the Rivalry Bell.
First awarded in 2017, it's a handsome trophy with a square base and a metal bell on top.
Well, it used to have a metal bell on top anyway.
At some point during the frenzied celebration of Bartlett's 30-25, come-from-behind road victory -- which snapped South Elgin's five-game series winning streak -- the bell snapped off.
"We broke the streak and we broke the bell," smiling Bartlett receiver Nick Mansk said in the postgame locker room. "It got very chaotic out there."
Mansk broke South Elgin's back. His 6-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jonah O'Brien with 52 seconds remaining capped the Bartlett comeback.
Trailing 19-12 since halftime, the Hawks scored 3 fourth-quarter touchdowns and took the lead for good on the O'Brien-Mansk connection, which was lethal all game long. Mansk finished with 13 receptions for 160 yards and 3 touchdowns.
"He just stepped up," O'Brien said of the 6-foot-3 senior receiver. "The corners were off so we said, 'You know what? We're going to throw him the ball and get him in a rhythm.' He's a helluva player so get him the ball."
South Elgin (6-2, 6-2 Upstate Eight) was pinned at its 2-yard line on the ensuing kickoff when the returner's knee touched the ground. The Storm ran four plays but could only reach their own 39-yard line before the clock ran out and the Bartlett sideline erupted in celebration.
"Every kid, every one in the program, was all in," first-year Bartlett coach Matt Erlenbaugh said after his team improved to 6-2 and clinched the program's first playoff berth since 2015. "They were fighting. There was a lot of adversity throughout the game. Every single one of them -- I don't care if they didn't play a snap -- they were in that game and it was all the kids."
South Elgin held a 19-6 lead late in the second quarter but a series of mistakes doomed the Storm. They allowed a 55-yard touchdown reception by Mansk with 8 seconds left in the half while playing Cover-2 man defense. That trimmed the South Elgin lead to 19-12.
The Storm offense stumbled repeatedly after halftime, committing turnovers on 4 of 6 second-half possessions. They lost the turnover battle 5-2 and the third of 4 lost fumbles allowed Bartlett to drive to the 7-yard line.
The good news? The South Elgin defense held in that instance to maintain a 1-point lead, turning Bartlett away on downs with a fourth-and-1 stop at the 7-yard line.
The bad news for the Storm came 3 plays later when Jakob Johnson was intercepted by Bartlett's Jack Wallace at the 12-yard line. The senior outside linebacker returned the pick for a touchdown that gave the Hawks their first lead, 24-19, with 3:21 left in the game.
"I didn't even know what was happening but I caught it," Wallace said of his first career interception. "It was just so amazing. It hit my hands and I just took off."
South Elgin wasted little time regaining the lead. Quarterback Azxavier Salinas hit Patrick Noworol with a 34-yard pass. That set up a 36-yard touchdown throw to Shiking Marshall, a two-way standout who in the first quarter returned an interception 97 yards for a touchdown. The scoring reception gave South Elgin a 25-24 lead, though the 2-point conversion pass failed.
"I knew I could beat their safety one on one," Marshall said. "I just told my quarterback he had to watch me. He made a great read on it so I just made a play."
O'Brien got the ball back with 2:01 remaining and led the Hawks down the field for the winning score. The Bartlett offense covered 72 yards in 7 plays, highlighted by a 22-yard reception by junior Matt Young and a 20-yard run from O'Brien, who found Mansk inside the goal-line pylon for the go-ahead touchdown.
"We just trust each other," Mansk said of his mojo with O'Brien.
The Storm gained 347 yards to Bartlett's 348, but losing the turnover battle was too much to overcome. That wasn't the only issue.
"We couldn't tackle, we didn't play well on special teams, we didn't play well on defense, we didn't play well on offense," first-year South Elgin coach Dragan Teonic said. "They beat us. They deserved to win the game.
"I'm really disappointed. I thought we prepared well. I thought we did a good job of keeping the kids focused on the game and not reading into the moment too much, but we just did everything we could to give them this game. Everything we could."