OSWEGO – A handful of frantic Oswego football fans shouted "PICK UP THE PACE!" at Panthers coaches as Saturday's game against Geneva wound down.
It's highly doubtful Vikings senior Pace Temple heard any of them, but he seemed to follow a warbled, broken-telephone command moments later.
"Pick it up, Pace" proved Temple's mantra throughout a 29-27 win, namely when he snagged a game-sealing interception – his second pick of the night – with 1:52 to play. Before that, Temple collected seven receptions for 168 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Vikings turn their season opener into what they later called a statement.
"Just all our team. We come out here, we fight together. It gets me. I feed off that, man," Temple said. "All our leaders out there. Everybody out here. This is fantastic. This vibe. Our fans. You know, Geneva is back, and it just feels great."
During the preseason and game week, veteran coach Rob Wicinski reiterated the need to gather "data" on a Vikings team that has only 14 seniors back from a 4-5 team. He learned about the group's resiliency many times over.
Other than Temple's second interception, the display that most inspired a well-traveled Geneva crowd came with 4:19 to go. One play after surrendering the lead for the first time all night, the Vikings responded with a bang – junior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina's 80-yard touchdown pass to senior Kyle Brown that provided the final margin.
On play action, Santacaterina rainbowed a pass about 40 yards down the left sideline. Brown leapt over Panthers defensive back Charlie Jakubowski and raced the last 40 yards untouched.
"It wasn't the greatest throw, but it was an unbelievable catch and run," said Santacaterina, who threw for 344 yards and four TDs in his first start in nearly a year. "I trust him. I trust all my guys. I trusted him to make a play, and he made it."
Back in the lineup after suffering a season-ending broken clavicle during Week 3 last fall, Santacaterina absorbed a sack on the first play from scrimmage. Geneva was hardly fazed, however, as a jelling offensive line kept things moving and allowed Santacaterina to find Temple for a 5-yard touchdown 4:05 into the game.
Santacaterina connected with Temple six times in the first half for 153 yards and two touchdowns. Temple's final grab before halftime came off an Oswego deflection, illustrating the senior's conditioning and concentration. Moments earlier, Temple intercepted Panthers sophomore quarterback Steven Frank near midfield with Oswego attempting to drive for a potential tying score after facing an early 20-0 deficit.
"It's living in the moment, you know," Temple said. "You're tired, but you've just got to keep going for your teammates."
The deflection catch set up another eye-opening play for the Vikings: A 42-yard Billy Douds field goal that snuck just over the crossbar as time expired on the half.
"Forty-two yards and a couple of feet is what it was," Douds said. "The kickoffs were a little sketchy, but that was a big one."
Douds is listed as a defensive end, and is taking up kicking again following the graduation of all-conference kicker Kevin Dunlop. He and a defensive unit that's loaded with new starters – including sophomores Stephen Kemp (linebacker) and Sean Chambers (defensive back) – stood especially tall down the stretch.
Geneva intercepted Frank three times and was getting pressure during the drive that eventually saw Oswego's Tyler Walsh run for a go-ahead, 11-yard TD with 4:38 to go.
"We sucked it up at the end," Douds said. "They made plays, we made plays, but we came out on top. The whole defense came together."
The whole team, too.
"We kept telling these guys, 'Don't let anybody define you,' because, really, we weren't getting much happiness, much at all about anybody. Don't even have a player in the area that was cited [in preseason publications] that was worth a [darn]," said Wicinski, whose team is coming off an uncharacteristic sub-.500 season. "So we're kind of feeding off that a little bit. Starting to believe in ourselves."
Some are taking it a step further. They're the ones who already believe Geneva is back.
GENEVA 29, OSWEGO 27
Geneva 13 10 0 6
Oswego 0 13 7 7
HOW THEY SCORED
G – Temple 5 pass from Santacaterina (Douds kick), 7:55
G – Miller 27 pass from Santacaterina (kick failed): 4:04
G – Temple 53 pass from Santacaterina (Douds kick), 10:51
O – Walsh 4 run (kick blocked), 9:43
O – Walsh 4 pass from Frank (Kaney kick), 4:51
G – Douds 42 field goal, 0:00
O – Jakubowski 31 pass from Frank (Kaney kick), 7:38
O – Walsh 11 run (Kaney kick), 4:38
G – Brown 80 pass from Santacaterina (4:19)
RUSHING – Geneva: Miller 20-63, Woodworth 5-30, Douds 1-(-16), Santacaterina 6-(-11). Totals: 33-66. Oswego: Walsh 18-108, Holm 15-52, Frank 4-32, Weddington 1-6, Wagner 1-(-4). Totals: 39-194.
PASSING – Geneva: Santacaterina 16-30-344-1. Oswego: Frank 6-12-112-3.
RECEIVING – Geneva: Temple 7-168, Brown 6-137, Miller 3-29. Oswego: Walsh 3-74, Wagner 2-19, Holm 1-19.
TOTAL YARDS – Geneva 410, Oswego 306
SOPHOMORE GAME – Oswego 20, Geneva 0