Palatine surprises Conant

 
By Bill Esbrook
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/26/2019 12:23 AM

Palatine had been making clutch plays on defense all evening long Friday against visiting Conant.

The Pirates' defense saved its best, however, for the final seconds of the game.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Palatine was clinging to a one-touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter when Conant drove to the Pirates' 21-yard line.

Then on fourth down with just 7 seconds remaining in the game, the Pirates broke up a last-ditch Conant pass at the goal line to seal the 20-13 Mid-Suburban West win.

The Pirates (4-5, 3-2) kept their slim playoff hopes alive with the Senior Night victory.

"This is absolutely amazing," said Palatine senior linebacker Mossimo Vardamaskos. "We put our whole hearts into this, we played for our brothers, and we made sure that we were together through everything, through all four quarters."

Conant was down 13-0 at halftime before rallying after intermission.

"We decided to play football in the second half," said Cougars coach Bryan Stortz. "We sure didn't in the first half. We realized that we weren't playing up to our abilities and decided to raise the bar. We had made some mistakes and knew we had to play better."

Two field goals from Palatine senior kicker Caleb Runge, plus a 1-yard TD run by Ronald Todd staked the Pirates to the 13-point halftime advantage.

Conant put together a 17-play, 10½ minute drive to open the third quarter and scored on a 17-yard sweep by Jeremy Carrell to cut the deficit to 13-7.

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But Palatine scored again a minute later on a slant pass from quarterback Joe Ayala to senior receiver Luka Popovic, who outraced the Cougars' defense to put the Pirates up 20-7.

Conant rallied again (15-yard touchdown run right up the middle by quarterback Matt Botello) to make it 20-13, then Botello led the Cougars on a late drive to the Pirates' 21.

But Botello's attempt at a fourth down game-tying TD pass was batted away by Palatine junior linebacker Tyler Pecson to preserve the Pirates' third-straight win.

"I was able to read (the Conant receiver) who went right down the middle and the quarterback looked right at him," said Pecson. "I had underneath help so I knew to stay over the top, and once he lobbed it up I was able to knock it down.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"This is amazing. I've never been part of a game like this before. So close and we were able to pull out this victory for our seniors -- they're the heart and soul of our team."

Todd finished with 93 yards rushing on 22 carries, while Malik Frederick of Conant had 106 yards on 22 carries.

"As you get further and further into your senior year," said Pirates' offensive lineman Dan Walsh, "everything starts becoming your 'last' -- sometimes it's a fun last, like your last test, things like that. We didn't want this to be our last game though -- we put our hearts into everything we did on the field tonight. We spent 15 minutes in the shed (before the game) just reminiscing about the last four years and that's what fueled our hearts to push us through.

"That last play (the pass breakup at the goal line), that might be the most nervous I've ever been in my life. I was shaking. Our defense has come so far."

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