ST. CHARLES – Mark Gould doesn’t begrudge his St. Charles North football players the tears and heartache.
He just doesn’t want the sadness to be felt so acutely on his account.
North lost to South Elgin on Friday, 14-6, in a game that could have put the North Stars in the playoffs if they had won. Instead, the season is over, as is Gould’s coaching tenure.
Gould embraced sobbing players on North’s muddy field after the North Stars capped the season with a 4-5 record.
“I said, don’t feel bad or sorry for me. I’ve got 40 years of football under my belt,” Gould said, the last 12 as the only varsity coach in North Stars history. “They’re the ones, the seniors, many of these guys aren’t going to play next year, so you feel bad for them.
“But they worked hard, put themselves in a position. They’re going to be successful.”
As much as senior receiver Zach Kirby respects his coach, he couldn’t abide by Gould’s wish to feel the sting only on a personal level.
“I love that guy,” Kirby said. “I’ve known him since I’ve been coming to middle school camps. He’s one of the most influential men in my life, and I know [for] hundreds of others, he’s always been.
“It’s tough to send him out on that note. He’ll be the first one to say it wasn’t for him this year, but that was our goal – to get it for him.”
Kirby breathed life into the North Stars by returning the opening kickoff of the second half for a 76-yard touchdown, notching the first points of the night for either team.
“It was a pooch, they hit it right to me, and we scooted up a little bit because we saw in the sophomore game that they pooched it,” Kirby said. “Evan Kurtz and George [Edlund] and Nick McCullough laid people out and gave me a crease, and I only had to beat the kicker.”
North missed the extra point and had few highlights the rest of the way – at least offensively.
South Elgin’s passing game began to find its rhythm in the second half. Quarterback Robert Cuda tossed a pair of touchdowns, including an 18-yarder to senior Christopher Bingham with 6:44 left in the third quarter that, after the extra point, gave South Elgin (4-5) the lead for good in the Upstate Eight Conference crossover.
North’s offense struggled all night, but especially in the second half as penalties, turnovers and failed fourth-down conversions proved a damaging mix. North had four turnovers, including a late interception thrown by junior quarterback Erik Miller that allowed the Storm to run out the clock.
The North Stars were hoping to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
“This team has a lot of heart,” said North senior defensive back Conor Lee, who joined McCullough in intercepting Cuda. “We bounced back from [an 0-3 start], and then to come back with a 4-5 record was incredible for us.”
The teams headed to the locker room at halftime in a scoreless tie, but the North Stars shouldered most of the frustration. North played superb defense, limiting South Elgin to 24 yards of net offense in the first half, but repeatedly squandered excellent field position.
That included being stopped on fourth-and-goal from the South Elgin 1-yard line midway through the second quarter. After Lee’s interception gave the North Stars possession at the South Elgin 25, Miller threw a pick of his own in the end zone on the next play. The North Stars also turned it over on downs at the Storm 16-yard line in the closing minute of the half.
“You kind of worry that those opportunities went away, but you try to stay positive and say we’re going to have more,” Gould said.
Gould capped his 12-year run at North with a 63-56 record. The North Stars made the postseason eight straight years from 2002 to 2009, when they advanced to the Class 7A state quarterfinals.
SOUTH ELGIN 14, ST. CHARLES NORTH 6
SE 0 0 7 7 – 14
STCN 0 0 6 0 – 6
HOW THEY SCORED
STCN – Kirby 76 kick return (kick failed), 11:48
SE – Bingham 18 pass from Cuda (Bree kick), 6:44
SE – Crivolio 14 pass from Cuda (Bree kick), 10:30
RUSHING – South Elgin: Bingham 7-26, Cager 11-15, Cuda 3-19. Totals: 21-60. St. Charles North: Kurtz 14-62, Edlund 21-56, Miller 5-37. Totals: 40-155.
PASSING – South Elgin: Cuda 11-26-2-134. St. Charles North: Miller 5-14-2-62.
RECEIVING – South Elgin: Bingham 2-24, Crivolio 5-82, Stanko 4-28. Totals: 11-134. St. Charles North: Kaplan 1-12, Kurtz 2-29, Kirby 1-2, Johnson 1-19. Totals: 5-62.
TOTAL OFFENSE – South Elgin 194, St. Charles North 217
SOPHOMORE SCORE – St. Charles North 12, South Elgin 0