Late score sends St. Edward to first round win
Only 63 ticks mattered in the football game.
For Elgin St. Edward, that time was the last seconds of the Class 2A state football first-round playoffs Saturday afternoon.
In a game of misfortune and quick reversals, the Green Wave survived, posting a 24-18 victory over Chicago Orr. It was only the third playoff win in the school's history.
Choosing a defining moment in the game was difficult.
Ralph Scumacci and Max Kauffman turned up huge for the Green Wave, now 7-3. Scumacci made a kickoff TD-saving smash on Orr's final drive while Kauffman dropped Orr's running back for a loss late in the contest.
"Everyone was doing their job on the kickoff," Scumacci said. "I was just in the right spot at the right time."
"I saw an opportunity to make a move," Kauffman said. "I just pushed off the defender. The guy missed his block."
For St. Edward starters, Clem McCullough threw a block that released Joe Sacco on a fourth quarter punt, a 17-yard return and the ball at their 40-yard line. Then Luke Sauceda's protection delivered Sacco on a 11-yard first down run in the march. Sacco, who rushed for 260 yards on 34 attempts, ran for two seven yard carries to the two-yard line.
"We just had to keep running the trap because they (Orr) didn't have an answer," Saco said.
With 1:06 remaining, St. Edward quarterback Anthony Holte pushed over the goal-line for the touchdown following behind teammate Luke Brier. While Liam Pomeroy held his hand up for the two-point conversion pass, McCullough was left wide open on the distraction.
"The line up front was there all game," Holte said. "It didn't matter who was bigger in size. I think it matters who has more heart. We had more heart."
However, the game wasn't over.
On the game's first play, Chicago Orr's quarterback Maqael Henderson lofted a 54-yard TD pass to William Thomas, who split two defenders on a deep curl route. On a first quarter kickoff, Orr's Diamante Paxton escaped one St. Edward grab and raced the sideline for a 80-yard score. An interception set up Orr's third touchdown, then a 10-point lead, when Paxton ripped the pass away and sprinted 62 yards.
Those were warnings for the Green Wave defense that still remained fresh in their minds with time running out and clinging to a 6-point lead.
McCullough, playing tight on Thomas, slowed him down on a pass route for an overthrown ball. On the next play, the backfield became crowded when St. Edward's Dave Kenny, Ryan Sauceda and Alex Walser surrounded Henderson, forcing a hurried too-far blind pass. On fourth-and-30, Anthony Kirkwood tackled an open running Henderson to seal the Green Wave win.
"My job is to contain the quarterback and make sure no one gets around me on the edge," Kenny said. "When I saw the quarterback drop five yards deep, I know I've got to beat my man (defensive line) and get into the backfield to make that tackle with my teammates."
Two different perspectives were given about the game's seesaw nervousness.
"We were getting stops after stops on defense, it was just about time before we'd score," Sacco said.
"Absolutely," St. Edward coach Mike Rolando admitted about the nervous condition of the game. "We could never finish a drive (two second half scoring opportunities). We had some penalties and lost some yards on a play, then we're second or third (down) and long, all of a sudden, you have to try a pass and Orr knew we were passing."
In the second-half battle, the Green Wave's Liam Pomeroy came to the rescue with two near interceptions, one leaping to poke the ball away, and on three tackles.
"Soon as you read runs, you've got to fly to the ball," Pomeroy, a safety, said.
St. Edward overcame two interceptions by Henderson and two fumbles.
"The game could have went either way," said Orr Coach Earnest Williams. "Sacco wasn't an issue. The issue was trying to make sure the defense knew what to do. Today we didn't fundamentally tackle. We should have been tackling Sacco and others. Too many penalties set us back on key drives."
"We went through adversity; a lot of things to get our heads down about," said Rolando. "My players were resilient and kept fighting until the end. We stepped up and made plays when we needed it. Fantastic drive at the end. Everyone was needed."
Next Saturday St. Edward (7-3) will face central Illinois squad Minonk Fieldcrest (10-0), the No. 2 seed which won its first-round game 20-8 over West Carroll.