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Playoff win slips away from Geneva football

T.J. Miller of Geneva carries the ball Friday during the Vikings’ 31-23 loss to St. Patrick in the first round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs.
T.J. Miller of Geneva carries the ball Friday during the Vikings’ 31-23 loss to St. Patrick in the first round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs.

GENEVA – The Geneva football team expected St. Patrick to be a formidable playoff opponent, and the Shamrocks certainly were.

But the Vikings’ 31-23, season-ending loss in the first round of the IHSA Class 7A playoffs Friday at Burgess Field also had plenty to do with Geneva’s self-inflicted woes, which made the defeat harder to stomach.

“If you play against two teams, it’s not going to come out good,” Geneva senior defensive lineman Billy Douds said.

The Vikings committed four turnovers, including a fumbled snap late in the third quarter that created a huge momentum shift.

With the score tied at 17, Geneva’s defense had just forced a rare Shamrocks punt to give the Vikings possession. But Geneva quarterback Daniel Santacaterina couldn’t corral a poor snap, and St. Pat’s defensive end Quentin Voce returned the fumble 27 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 24-17 Shamrocks with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.

Geneva coach Rob Wicinski said bad snaps hadn’t been much of a bugaboo for the Vikings before Friday.

“The funny thing was, the rain was gone. It wasn’t raining anymore,” Wicinski said of the critical fumble. “A touchdown like that … but [the Vikings] kept fighting. They took a deep breath, they kept fighting, they didn’t roll over. We had the ball in our hands with [a chance to win]. We just didn’t finish.”

The Vikings (7-3) regrouped swiftly, as Santacaterina connected with Pace Temple for a 49-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to come within 24-23. The PAT failed, which altered the Vikings’ late-game strategy.

After Temple’s TD reception, the Vikings got the ball back when senior Ryan Navigato recovered a St. Pat fumble at the Geneva 16 with 8:20 to go. The Vikings moved into St. Pat territory but the drive stalled at the Shamrocks’ 32 with 5:37 to play.

The Shamrocks then did what they do best offensively – move the chains and chew clock – and steadily drove deep into Geneva territory as the Vikings burned their timeouts. Wicinski then opted to allow Shamrocks running back Jeremy Molina to score on a 15-yard touchdown run with 2:35 to play rather than let St. Pat continue draining clock.

“We let them score. It might have looked like the same play we had all season, but no,” Wicinski joked. “We tossed the coin. I had to score anyways.”

Geneva took over at its own 31 with 2:29 to go and no timeouts, needing a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie. A Santacaterina rush eventually brought the Vikings to the Shamrocks’ 29-yard line with 1:10 to go, but the junior quarterback threw a game-sealing interception on the next play due to what Wicinski said was a miscommunication on the route.

“That happens with kids,” Wicinski said. “Time’s flying and everybody’s going crazy. They’ve executed that route (a skinny post) all year. They needed it one more time.”

Santacaterina went 11 for 21 for 206 passing yards with a pair of touchdown passes to Temple and another to senior Kyle Brown. He also threw two interceptions and rushed for 81 yards.

The game was tied at 14 at halftime before the teams traded field goals, making it 17-all until the key Vikings turnover at the end of the third quarter. 

Geneva senior running back T.J. Miller rushed for 131 yards on 20 carries, and credited the Vikings’ relatively small senior class for returning the team to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year.

“Sixteen seniors, going 7-2 [in the regular season], that’s unheard of,” Miller said. “The juniors stepped up. I couldn’t be prouder.”

St. Pat (7-3) advances to host Schaumburg in Round 2 of the playoffs next week.

Geneva had won six straight games after falling to Batavia in Week 3. 

“It’s a tribute to those guys and what they decided to do [after] last year,” Wicinski said. “They weren’t going to have it. This group will be remembered, maybe as a group that got us back going again. So now the climb begins back up the mountain. 

“It was sure easier to go down, I’ll tell you that. It’s a lot harder to get back up.”

St. Pat    7    7    10    7    –    31
Geneva    7    7    3    6    –    23

First quarter
G – Brown 24 pass from Santacaterina (Browere kick), 8:58
SP – Molina 8 run (Mulkerrins kick), 7:25
Second quarter
SP – Molina 1 run (Mulkerrins kick), 11:57
G – Temple 12 pass from Santacaterina (Browere kick), 1:22
Third quarter
SP – Mulkerrins 30 field goal, 6:35
G – Douds 31 field goal, 2:45
SP – Voce 27 fumble recovery (Mulkerrins kick), 0:31
Fourth quarter
G – Temple 49 pass from Santacaterina (kick fails), 11:50
SP – Molina 15 run (Mulkerrins kick), 2:35

St. Patrick: Molina 35-164, Heinlein 6-28, Fuller 1-3. Totals: 42-195. Geneva: Miller 20-131, Santacaterina 8-81, Burns 5-7, Woodworth 2-10. Totals: 35-229
PASSING – St. Patrick: Fuller 7-15-0-138. Santacaterina 11-21-2-206.
RECEIVING – St. Patrick: Warner 3-77, Olijnyk 1-11, Molina 1-11, Heinlein 2-39. Totals: 7-138. Geneva: Perry 1-20, Brown 2-38, Landi 3-26, Temple 3-100, Woodworth 1-10, Miller 1-12. Totals: 11-206.
TOTAL OFFENSE – St. Patrick 333, Geneva 435

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