Maine South holds off Plainfield North to reach Class 8A quarterfinals
The winds of change nearly caught Maine South Saturday in the Class 8A football playoffs in Park Ridge.
But thanks to the running of Mike Sajenko, a huge pass reception by Will Guzaldo and an incredible interception by Frank Bartell, the Hawks are flying on. The trio came up with some big plays to help sixth-seeded Maine South rally past No. 11 seed Plainfield North 21-18.
Maine South (10-1) will play at Neuqua Valley next weekend in the quarterfinals. The official day and time will be announced on Monday.
"The wind definitely was the difference," Maine South coach Dave Inserra said. "We can work on all our little mistakes and rough patches because we have another week."
With the wind at its back, Maine South jumped to a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter on its first two possessions.
Mike Sajenko powered Maine South to the early lead on a 6-yard touchdown run and a 45-yard burst for another touchdown. Sam Taglia booted both conversions and the Hawks appeared to be on their way.
Plainfield North (8-2) then took advantage of a switch of end zones to change the momentum.
After a fumble recovery by Jason O'Boye late in the second quarter at the Maine South 37, the Tigers were able to go to work. Harrison Klein (13-of-21, 143 yards) threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Grant Zack, who fought his way into the end zone. But the conversion kick hit the upright to keep the score 14-6.
Maine South opted to kick into the wind to begin the third quarter and Dominic Muscarnero made the Hawks pay. The senior took the kick back 91 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-12. It remained that way when the Klein's conversion pass was incomplete.
The Tigers took the lead on their next possession. After a short punt, John St. Clair took a swing pass from Klein and turned it into a 32-yard touchdown and an 18-14 lead for Plainfield North.
Maine South tried to get things going in the fourth quarter. But the Hawks faced a third-and-20 at their own 25 when the wind turned back in their direction.
Quarterback Rowan Keefe (12-of-14, 157 yards) dropped back to pass, was flushed to his right and then fired a long pass down the field to a wide open Guzaldo for a 52-yard play to the Plainfield 23.
"I didn't think he was going to throw it at first," Guzaldo said. "I saw him scramble. I didn't know where it was going. He threw the ball straight up into the sun. It was a perfect throw, right into my hands."
Six plays later, Sajenko powered over from the 2 to cap a 12-play, 83-yard drive. Taglia's kick made it 21-18 with 4:55 to play.
Maine South needed a defensive stop and Bartell provided the Hawks with it. The senior made a spectacular interception, first knocking the ball into the air and then diving for the catch at the Tiger 36 with just over four minutes to play.
"It came though my hands and I tipped it," Bartell said. "I didn't know where it was. It went back up, I jumped up, dove for it, got up and then started celebrating with my team."
Sajenko (31 carries, 186 yards) and Maine South were able to run the clock out to preserve the victory.
"It was a rough one," said Sajenko, who has scored 9 touchdowns and rushed for 455 yards in two playoff games.
"Wind was a big factor because we couldn't throw the ball until we got on this side. And we had that back-to-back quarters."
Plainfield North coach Anthony Imbordino said he was proud of his team, which won the Southwest Prairie for the second consecutive season.
"We came in wanting to win and that's how we played," Imbordino said. "We kept fighting, unfortunately it was not enough."