Stilling impressed with Schaumburg's defense

  • Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling was impressed with his team's defense in last week's 10-7 win over previously unbeaten Conant.

      Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling was impressed with his team's defense in last week's 10-7 win over previously unbeaten Conant. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/16/2019 7:44 PM

It was a defensive struggle in Schaumburg's 10-7 upset win of previously undefeated Conant last week.

The Saxons got star-studded games from three of their top defenders -- Jeremy Serio, Blake Buchanan and Mike DiGioia.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We've been good on defense all year," Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said. "But we were really good against Conant. Malik Frederick for Conant is an incredible running back and he had one big run for them, but after that, I thought we did a really good job on him. We were physical with him and we just made some big plays."

DiGioia came up with a game-changing play when he snuffed out a dangerous reverse play by Conant that stopped a drive. He was the last line of defense for the Saxons.

Meanwhile, Stilling says that Buchanan had his best game of the year and Serio, a lineman, never came off the field and played with high energy from start to finish He also had a key fumble recovery.

"The thing about Jeremy is that he might be the smallest lineman on either side of the ball in our league," Stilling said. "He's just 5-foot-8, about 208 pounds. But he is tough and disciplined and he just shows up and does his job."

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Getting his kicks: First-time football player Roberto Sanchez came up big for Schaumburg last week.

Sanchez hit a 42-yard field goal that wound up being the difference in the Saxons' 10-7 upset win over previously undefeated Conant.

"That field goal was no gimme," Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said. "And Roberto also had three kickoffs and all three were touchbacks. He has a really strong leg and we are really grateful that he gave football a shot this year."

Do or die: To have a chance at the playoffs this year, 3-4 Schaumburg will need to win out over the next two weeks to reach the 5-win mark to be eligible on points.

Last year, the Saxons didn't quite complete that task.

They needed to win out to get to the 5-win mark but lost to Fremd in Week 9 to finish 4-5 and out of the playoff picture.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"I think that has been a huge motivation for us this year," Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling said. "When you just miss the year before, you have an added appetite the next year, especially for the seniors. That's provided some extra energy for us this year."

The Saxons finish the regular season with games at home Friday against Palatine and then at Barrington for Week 9.

Healthy Hawks: Getting healthy has gotten the Maine South football team some wins. Five in a row, to be exact.

The 5-2 Hawks started out the season with back-to-back losses, and that wasn't even the biggest sting. Starting quarterback Luke Leongas went down with a knee injury in Week 1. Meanwhile, starting running backs Johnny Palumbo and Mike Sajenko both were hurt in that game as well, with a hip and shoulder injury respectively.

All three were lost for multiple games.

"We are a little more healthy now," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "And that makes a big difference."

Over the last four weeks, Leongas, Palumbo and Sajenko have each slowly but surely made their way back into the lineup and the Hawks have benefited from their presence.

Leongas, who was cleared to play in Week 4 against Palatine, played as if he didn't miss a beat in his return. He lit up the Pirates for 300 passing yards. Two weeks later against Evanston, he passed for 210 yards in the first half alone.

"Luke has ignited us," Inserra said. "We are a throwing team and he makes us the kind of team we want to be. He's a tough and gritty kid and he wants to do all he can for his teammates. I'm a little surprised he was able to get back so quickly. But I am proud of him and happy that he is back.

"It was a tough time having those kids out, but we just had to get the rest of our kids focused. As coaches, we had to coach and teach better. We had to make sure all the players upped their focus and practice habits. We just had to keep on trying to get better."

And tougher.

Inserra thinks there could be an upside to the team's struggles with injuries, and its 0-2 start.

"I'm hoping that the difficulties we've been through this season with all the injuries will help make us mentally tougher as we approach the playoffs," Inserra said. "All those little things will spark us."

Lazic sharp: While starting quarterback Luke Leongas was out a few weeks with an injury, Maine South gave the keys to the offense to a quarterback who had never played quarterback before.

Senior Dan Lazic, normally a wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner for the Hawks, was suddenly the Hawks' quarterback.

He helped Maine South to a Week 3 win over Fremd and did so well in his new spot that, even with Leongas back, the coaches have kept a Wildcat package in the offense for him to rotate in occasionally at quarterback.

"Dan is a gamer. He's kind of in that Swiss Army knife category where he can do a little bit of everything," Inserra said. "He did such a great job at quarterback for us. He had never played quarterback in his life and then he gets his first start after four days of practice. And then against Fremd the next week, he throws for 180 yards and rushes for 130 yards on just eight total days of practice at quarterback.

"Dan gives us a different look and that's why we like the Wildcat package. With Luke back, Luke is going to be playing quarterback 85 percent of the time. But we also want to get Dan the ball in his hands as much as possible."

D getting tough: After allowing an average of 28.5 points per game over the first four weeks, the Maine South defense has clamped down over the last three weeks and has allowed only 10 total points (3.3 points per game), which includes shutouts against Niles West (28-0) and Evanston (41-0).

"Our kids on defense are growing up on the job," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "We had only two returning starters back on defense so we had a lot of new guys who were learning early on."

One of those newbies is middle linebacker Liam Barry. The senior is the signal caller for the defense and had a lot on his shoulders as he was also adjusting to the nuances of his own position.

"Liam is really important for us and he's just understanding the game so much better," Inserra said. "The game was fast for him at the beginning of the season and it has really slowed down for him now."

Skoronski jersey: It will be a special pregame for Maine South lineman Peter Skoronski before the Hawks take on Glenbrook South on Friday night.

Skoronski, who has committed to Northwestern, was awarded a spot in the all-American Bowl game in San Antonio in January. He will be presented his jersey for that game before kickoff against Glenbrook South.

Skoronski is regarded as one of the best two-way lineman in the country. Last week in a win over Glenbrook North, Skoronski had one of the best moments of his career.

"We forced a fumble and the ball bounced and Peter, who was being triple-teamed at the time, broke free and scooped it up and ran 40 yards, even outrunning the other team's quarterback, to the end zone," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "It was the very first touchdown of his career, and that goes back to youth football. We were all so excited for him."

Playing for tradition: If Maine South defeats Glenbrook South on Friday, the Hawks will get at least a tie of the Central Suburban League South title, which would give them 18 of the last 19 conference championships.

"We have a record (of all the conference championships) in the locker room, so the guys know the history," Maine South coach David Inserra said. "It's right there for them to see."

But even if Maine South doesn't win a conference championship this year, there might not be too much distress in the locker room.

"The one time we didn't win the conference championship in the last 18 years was in 2016," Inserra said. "And that year, we went on to win the state championship. I think that one loss (to New Trier) in the conference fueled our entire team in the playoffs."

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