GENEVA – Geneva football coach Rob Wicinski entered the season saying he had a talented but inexperienced team, forecasting the Vikings could have a strong year if some of their youngsters started to "pop."
To St. Charles North, Geneva's first half ambush Friday night must have sounded like a bag of microwave popcorn in full bloom. The Vikings popped, punctured and pierced the North Stars early before holding on for dear life in a 35-28 Upstate Eight Conference River win at Burgess Field.
"I'd say we popped a little bit," Wicinski said. "That was the game we've kind of been looking for. "We've just been so inconsistent, and it kind of showed again in the second half. That ugly head popped up again, but first half, I'll take it, and we'll just build off of that."
It was a scintillating opening half for Geneva junior quarterback Daniel Santacaterina and his receiving corps. Santacaterina threw for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the first half while running for the Vikings' other score as Geneva led 35-14 by the break.
Two of those first half TDs went to senior Kyle Brown, including a circus, 23-yard TD catch late in the first quarter. After Pace Temple took the snap on a fake extra point and ran in for a two-point conversion, it was 21-0 Vikings.
Brown overcame plenty of contact to make the crowd-pleasing grab.
"He was definitely on my hip the whole time," Brown said of his defender. "I turned around and I was kind of expecting more of a jump ball but it was just a little lower. Somehow, I don't know, I was able to snag it."
Vikings senior defensive end Billy Douds delivered a crunching blow to North quarterback Erik Miller midway through the first quarter, jarring the ball loose on his sack. The Vikings recovered at North’s 7, and three plays later, Santacaterina scored on a 1-yard keeper for a 13-0 lead.
Miller required medical attention in the aftermath of the hit but remained in for the duration.
“I was very surprised,” Douds said of Miller toughing it out. “I was a little hurt myself. I did something to my neck. But he’s a tough kid, and he came back in.”
Geneva led, 28-0, before North (2-3, 1-2 UEC River) finally answered on the first of two Evan Kurtz TD runs. Kurtz’s second TD run in the second quarter came from 72 yards out on the first play of a North drive to help draw the North Stars within 35-14 before the break.
North’s defense regrouped dramatically in the second half to keep Geneva (3-2, 2-1 UEC River) from icing the game.
“We knew that the pass was killing us so we had to give our corners some protection,” North coach Rob Pomazak said of his team’s adjustments. “So that’s what we did, and it looked like it paid off, it’s just 35 points in the first half is hard to come back from, no matter who you are.”
North’s first completion of the night was a 38-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Jon Merriweather early in the third quarter as the visitors got within 35-21 after Kat Stutesman’s PAT.
North’s momentum was temporarily disrupted when Kurtz fumbled on first-and-goal from Geneva’s 7 late in the third quarter, and the Vikings’ James Carroll recovered.
But the North Stars kept hope alive when, on fourth-and-19 from the Geneva 21, Miller lofted a TD pass to tight end Garrett Johnson, and the extra point gave North 21 unanswered points while making it a one-score game with 4:30 to play.
Geneva went three-and-out on the ensuing drive but the North Stars weren’t able to move within striking distance in the final minutes.
Kurtz (23 carries, 196 rushing yards) was sidelined in the late stages with what Pomazak called “a stinger.”
"I thought we were waiting for our wheels to fall off in the second half. … We just didn't finish like a real good team does, so we've got work to do," Wicinski said.
Wicinski drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for chirping at officials during North’s last scoring drive, but his mood did a 180 after the game, especially when informed that his daughter Lauren’s college volleyball team, Michigan State, upended No. 1 Penn State on Friday night.
“That is awesome!” Wicinski said. “That’s better than this game.”
Santacaterina finished 13 for 23 passing for 272 yards with four TD passes and two interceptions while also running for 32 yards, including a fourth-down conversion in the Vikings’ own territory in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
He hooked up with three receivers on the night – Brown (five catches, 111 yards, two TDs), Temple (six catches, 126 yards, TD) and Michael Landi (two catches, 35 yards, TD).
GENEVA 35, ST. CHARLES NORTH 28
North 0 14 7 7 – 28 Geneva 21 14 0 0 – 35
HOW THEY SCORED
First quarter G – Landi 25 pass from Santacaterina (Browere kick), 7:49 G – Santacaterina 1 run (kick failed), 4:38 G – Brown 23 pass from Santacaterina (Temple run), 1:36Second quarter G – Brown 57 pass from Santacaterina (Browere kick), 11:10 STCN – Kurtz 8 run (Stutesman kick), 5:59 G – Temple 12 pass from Santacaterina (Browere kick), 2:19 STCN – Kurtz 72 run (Stutesman kick), 2:05Third quarter STCN – Merriweather 38 pass from Miller (Stutesman kick), 10:40Fourth quarter STCN – Johnson 21 pass from Miller (Stutesman kick), 4:30
RUSHING – St. Charles North: Kurtz 23-196, Conroyd 3-11, Miller 11-34, Edlund 3-8. Totals: 40-249. Geneva: Miller 24-70, Woodworth 7-21, Santacaterina 7-32, Burns 1-22. Totals: 39-145.PASSING – St. Charles North: Miller 6-15-0-100. Geneva: Santacaterina: 13-23-2-272.RECEIVING – St. Charles North: Merriweather 1-38, Johnson 3-38, Hunter 2-24. Totals: 6-100. Geneva: Brown 5-111, Temple 6-126, Landi 2-35. Totals: 13-272.TOTAL OFFENSE – St. Charles North 349, Geneva 417