LINCOLNSHIRE – St. Charles East football coach Mike Fields made what he considered to be a cut-and-dried decision, declining a penalty to give Stevenson a third-and-9 rather than make it second-and-14.
"I don't know a coach in the country that wouldn't take third-and-9, and then they hit it for a first down," Fields said. "That was the story of the game. It just kind of epitomizes the game today.
"We had guys in position to make great plays, and their guys made them, and we didn't, and so they'll move on. I wish them nothing but the best. They're a good football team."
After playing stout defense on most first and second downs, the Saints' defense struggled to finish out series throughout Saturday's 35-7 Stevenson win in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs.
The sixth-seeded Patriots (8-2) seemed to hit another gear when they needed conversions to remain on the field.
"They were very good receivers," East senior cornerback Scott Robak said. "I give my hat's off to them. Could have, would have, should have. They were a very good team."
Patriots quarterback Willie Bourbon made a habit of saving his best moments for third and fourth downs, with plenty of help from a skillful wide receiving corps led by Cameron Green and Matt Morrissey.
"I think they got three fourth-down conversions [in the first half], and I think they probably got another five or six third downs – third-and-6, third-and-8," Fields said. "Those wideouts are pretty darn good, and that quarterback doesn't have to be perfect. He can just throw it up there, and they'll go get it."
East (6-4) trailed, 21-0, late in the second quarter before visiting the red zone twice in the final minutes of the half, coming up empty both times.
On the first occasion, Morrissey – a Michigan State recruit and the son of former Bears linebacker Jim Morrissey – edged in front of Saints receiver Brannon Barry to intercept a Jimmy Mitchell pass at the Patriots' 1-yard line.
"I think it was just a crossing route – a lot of teams run that on the goal line," Morrissey said. "Saw that, read it pretty well, and I made the play on it."
East's defense then held, giving the Saints another possession with prime field position before halftime. The Saints looked like they were going to go three-and-out, but a fake-punt pass from Mitch Dupuis to Mitch Munroe gave the Saints a first down at the Stevenson 13.
The Saints, though, only had time for two plays – both incompletions – before closing the half with a missed 30-yard field goal attempt.
The Patriots' lead eventually swelled to 35-0 before East notched its lone touchdown, a 9-yard Mitchell keeper with 8:41 to play in the game.
Mitchell closed his senior season going 12 for 27 with 253 passing yards and two interceptions. H-back Phil Hopper (three catches, 110 yards), Barry (six catches, 72 yards) and Munroe (three catches, 76 yards) sparked the Saints' offense.
Munroe also scooped up a fourth quarter onside kick for East, while defensive lineman Cullen Cady and linebacker Parker Vidmich – making his first appearance since a Week 2 injury – recovered fumbles for the Saints.
It was an emotional and injury-filled season for the Saints, but Robak thought East carried on impressively.
"Every person that was injured, every person that stepped up – I love them all," Robak said. "Everybody stepped up who we needed to step up. If we would have had our starting defense [throughout the year], we would have been good, but I love every single one on this team, and everyone stepped up."
East began the season 3-0 before struggling against the upper-tier of its schedule.
"We'll continue to build on it, but looking back in memory of these seniors, I think they've got a lot to be proud of, I think they really, truly do," Fields said. "I think they should keep their heads up.
"We play some of the better teams in the state. You look at Batavia, you look at Neuqua, you look at Stevenson. Those are some real good teams in the state that are looking like they're going to make some noise in the playoffs here."
STEVENSON 35, ST. CHARLES EAST 7
STCE 0 0 0 7 – 7
Stevenson 7 14 7 7 – 35
HOW THEY SCORED
S – Green 7 pass from Bourbon (Gambino kick), 2:37
S – Morrissey 28 pass from Bourbon (Gambino kick), 10:11
S – Vestuto 3 run (Gambino kick), 3:36
S – Morrissey 16 pass from Bourbon (Gambino kick), 3:54
S – Vestuto 9 run (Gambino kick), 10:16
STCE – Mitchell 9 run (Anderson kick), 8:41
RUSHING – St. Charles East: Anderson 10-23, Lopez 9-25, Mitchell 8-minus 19, Dupuis 2-minus 10. Totals: 29-19. Stevenson: Bourbon 8-52, Okmin 1-4, Joseph 16-52, Vestuto 10-34, Lejgan-Thomas 3-minus 2. Totals: 38-140.
PASSING – St. Charles East: Mitchell 12-27-2-253, Dupuis 1-4-1-27. Totals: 13-31-3-280. Stevenson: Bourbon 19-30-0-260.
RECEIVING – St. Charles East: Hopper 3-110, Barry 6-72, Munroe 3-76, Washington 1-12. Totals: 13-280. Stevenson: Green 8-103, Morrissey 6-85, Joseph 2-25, Marchese 1-30, Okmin 1-1, Vestuto 1-16. Totals: 19-260.
TOTAL OFFENSE – St. Charles East 299, Stevenson 400