Sajenko, Maine South fly past Marist, into Class 8A championship game

  • Maine South's Mike Sajenko, left, celebrates his first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns with Andy Podolski during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday.

    Maine South's Mike Sajenko, left, celebrates his first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns with Andy Podolski during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Maine South's Rowan Keefe (14) and Frank Bartell celebrate their team's 35-33 victory over Marist during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday.

    Maine South's Rowan Keefe (14) and Frank Bartell celebrate their team's 35-33 victory over Marist during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comMaine South's Daniel Drabek celebrates as Marist fails on a 2-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday. Maine South won 35-33.

    Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comMaine South's Daniel Drabek celebrates as Marist fails on a 2-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game late in the fourth quarter during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday. Maine South won 35-33.

  • Maine South's Cole Cichowski celebrates as Marist turns the ball over on downs during the fourth quarter of the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday.

    Maine South's Cole Cichowski celebrates as Marist turns the ball over on downs during the fourth quarter of the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comMaine South's Evan Agosto manages to catch a pass just as he is hit by Marist's John Nestor during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday.

    Joe Lewnard/jlewnard@dailyherald.comMaine South's Evan Agosto manages to catch a pass just as he is hit by Marist's John Nestor during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday.

  • Maine South quarterback Rowan Keefe gets sacked by Marist's Jayson Harris-Woodward during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday.

    Maine South quarterback Rowan Keefe gets sacked by Marist's Jayson Harris-Woodward during the Class 8A football semifinal game in Chicago Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
By Dick Quagliano
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 11/23/2021 2:40 PM

Playoff time is Mike Sajenko time.

The Maine South senior running back scored 5 touchdowns Saturday to bring his playoff total to 14. But it was the last yard he got that made the difference.

 

Sajenko dove over a pile at the line of scrimmage in the final minute on fourth down as Maine South rallied and then held off Marist 35-33 in the Class 8A semifinals in Chicago.

No. 6 seed Maine South (12-1) will meet No. 4 Lockport next Saturday at 7 p.m. at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb for the state championship. Lockport (12-1) upset No. 1 seed Loyola 35-21 in the other semifinal game to advance.

"We said this was going to happen," said Sajenko, who rushed for 99 yards on 17 carries and had 8 catches for 98 yards.

"They stopped all the runs. Except for my touchdowns and the first down. This was a great win for us."

Maine South was without Northwestern-commit Chris Petrucci, who lacerated his spleen last week and was still hospitalized.

"That was the speech at halftime," Maine South coach Dave Inserra said. "He had this game taken away and we had to do it. Those were the last words and the boys reacted to it."

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The first half was wild.

Maine South, which was playing in its 100th playoff football game, jumped to a 14-0 lead.

Sajenko busted off a 46-yard touchdown run on the third play from scrimmage to put Maine South up 7-0. Then after a defensive stop, Maine South drove to the Marist 2, where Sajenko took it over for a 2-touchdown lead.

Marist (8-4) came right back.

The 18th-seeded RedHawks scored 24 unanswered points thanks to some big offensive plays and a Maine South fumble.

Jaylen Johnson scored on a 1-yard run following a long pass. After a field goal, Johnson scored on a 3-yard run after Marist recovered a fumble at the Maine South 2.

Maine South made it 24-14 on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Dontrell Jackson to Ryan Sims with 58 seconds left in the half.

Maine South opted to attack the Marist defense instead of running out the clock and the strategy worked to perfection.

Rowan Keefe drove Maine South down the field, thanks to a pair of key passes over the middle to Sajenko. The pair hooked up again with six seconds left in the half for a 13-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 24-21.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Marist hit a 68-yard pass on the first play from scrimmage in the second half to the Maine South 7. But the Maine South defense held, and Marist settled for a field goal to make it 27-21.

It remained that way until the fourth quarter when Maine South took over at the Marist 42 after a short punt. Following a 23-yard pass to Evan Agosto, Keefe connected with Sajenko on a 19-yard touchdown pass and Sam Taglia's conversion kick put Maine South up 28-27 with 8:26 to play.

"Everyone stepped up and stayed the course," said Keefe, who got banged up late in the first half but came back to play and would finish 20-of-26 for 235 yards.

"Every single kid on our team did that today. Our offensive line gave me time to read the defense and make plays."

Maine South added to its lead on its next possession. Again it was Agosto that came up a key reception.

On fourth-and-6, Agosto found a hole in the Marist secondary and Keefe delivered a perfect strike for an 18-yard gain to the Marist 16.

"I just knew we had to make some plays," said Agosto, who had 5 catches for 84 yards. "I trusted my quarterback that he would get me the ball."

On the very next play, Keefe tossed a swing pass to Sajenko, who powered his way to the end zone and a 35-27 lead with 3:44 to play.

It took Marist less than a minute to score with Jackson throwing a 19-yard strike to Sims. But Jackson (18-of-24, 298 yards) misfired on his pass to Sims for the 2-point conversion and Maine South led 35-33 with 2:48 left.

Maine South recovered the onside kick and moved the ball to the Marist 42. On fourth down and less than a yard, Sajenko went airborne for the first down and the Hawks were making their 10th trip to the state finals.

"Some of his blocks, some of his finishes, he was running guys over," Inserra said of Sajenko. "We just wanted the ball in his hands. He flew like a Hawk."

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