SOUTH ELGIN – The St. Charles North football team figured out how to win a close game too late to save the North Stars' playoff hopes.
The North Stars held off South Elgin on Saturday, 27-25, in their season finale, finding out a little more than an hour later that they were among a minority of 5-4 teams statewide to miss the playoffs based on too few playoff points.
Still, first-year North coach Rob Pomazak called the program's first winning season since 2009 – also North's last year in the playoffs – a "stepping stone."
"We talk about controlling the controllables, and winning this football game was a controllable," Pomazak said.
North started its season by dropping two overtime games in its first three weeks, and yet another OT game became a distinct possibility when South Elgin (3-6) scored a touchdown on quarterback Rob Cuda's fourth TD pass of the afternoon with 1:16 to play in the fourth quarter, drawing within 27-25.
But on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Cuda, rolling to his left, didn't find an open receiver to his liking, and made a dash for the end zone. He was stopped just short by North's defense, initially by junior cornerback Tyler Bell.
"He tried to jump up, and I grabbed his leg, then one of the other players came over to [help stop him]," Bell said.
Although the Storm's passing game had its moments – junior Nick Menken hauled in three TD grabs – the late two-point stop was among a handful of marquee plays by North's defense.
Junior Jordan Bergren was in the middle of several of them. He had two fumble recoveries on the day, including one for a touchdown on a bad South Elgin snap from the Storm's own 4-yard line.
"I just saw that it was starting to roll out of bounds, so I did the only thing I thought I would be able to do, and that was dive on it," Bergren said.
Bergren moved from his usual outside linebacker spot to defensive end Saturday as the North Stars sought to beef up their pass rush. Bergren notched a big sack on third down to force a punt early in the fourth quarter.
"Jordan took it in stride," Pomazak said of the position switch. "He's a smart, heady football player, and obviously, he was the player of the game for us on defense."
Bergren's defensive touchdown was North's lone TD in the first half, after which North led, 7-6.
But North's ground game-driven offense perked up in the second half, including a 17-yard touchdown pass from senior Erik Miller to tight end Garrett Johnson for one of only four North completions on the day. Kat Stutesman's point after made it 27-13 with 5:14 to play in the fourth quarter.
Mostly, it was a steady dose of senior running back Evan Kurtz, who broke a 53-yard TD run on an inside handoff in the final seconds of the third quarter. Kurtz (31 carries, 162 yards), who has battled shoulder problems this season, carried the load before exiting the game in the fourth quarter.
Pomazak was gratified to see North's plus-sized offensive line seemingly wear down South Elgin in the second half.
"When you have 280 pounds, 260 pounds, 250 pounds, constantly beating on you for four quarters, that's what the game plan is," Pomazak said. "Eventually a little crack turns into a big hole, and then all the sudden, you go. We know that's part of our M.O., and we're not going to get away from it."
North won the turnover battle, 3-1, with senior Nick Drawant grabbing an interception to supplement Bergren's fumble recoveries.
The win followed last week's North victory at Larkin, giving the North Stars consecutive wins for the first time this season.
South Elgin donned camouflage jerseys for the season finale, which head coach Pat Pistorio said was partially a nod to volunteer coach Nate VanMetre, who Pistorio said is heading off to duty with the Marines soon.
"That's something that from the Arena League, that's something we've come in contact with throughout the years is the camouflage jerseys," said Pistorio, like Pomazak in his first season as a high school head coach. "Throughout the year I kind of dangled it in front of the kids to see if they were interested in it, and this final game I surprised them here prior to the game. We did a little jersey switch."
ST. CHARLES NORTH 27, SOUTH ELGIN 25
STCN 0 7 13 7 – 27
SE 0 6 7 12 – 25
HOW THEY SCORED
STCN – Bergren fumble recovery (Stutesman kick), 11:45
SE – Menken 17 pass from Cuda (kick failed), 8:33
STCN – Conroyd 14 run (Stutesman kick), 7:29
SE – Menken 20 pass from Cuda (Bree kick), 2:47
STCN – Kurtz 53 run (kick failed), 0:01
STCN – Johnson 17 pass from Miller (Stutesman kick), 5:14
SE – Menken 27 pass from Cuda (kick failed), 4:40
SE – Cruz 9 pass from Cuda (run failed), 1:16
RUSHING – St. Charles North: Kurtz 31-162, Miller 6-5, Sidari 10-27, Conroyd 2-16. Totals: 49-210. South Elgin: Griffin 10-14, Cuda 13-25. Totals: 23-39.
PASSING – St. Charles North: Miller 4-8-0-54. South Elgin: Cuda 14-22-1-271.
RECEIVING – St. Charles North: Kurtz 1-4, Johnson 3-50. Totals: 4-54. South Elgin: Cruz 2-31, Christensen 4-90, Kamienski 1-21, Menken 6-118, Griffin 1-11. Totals: 14-271.
TOTAL OFFENSE – St. Charles North 264, South Elgin 310
SOPHOMORE GAME – St. Charles North 14, South Elgin 13