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Timing, chemistry make the difference for passing combos

St. Charles North quarterback Nathan Didier looks for a receiver during the first day of practice Aug. 11 at the school in St. Charles.
St. Charles North quarterback Nathan Didier looks for a receiver during the first day of practice Aug. 11 at the school in St. Charles.

Geneva quarterback Daniel Santacaterina and receiver Pace Temple enjoy plenty of smooth connections that showcase crisp route-running and airtight timing.

Yet it’s the plays when all heck breaks loose that Temple said best demonstrates the pair’s quarterback/receiver chemistry. Temple takes pride in the senior tandem’s knack for resuscitating busted plays by reading each other’s minds on the fly.

“We will do drills with that but really you see somebody scrambling around, really you just have to come off your route and find green grass,” Temple said. “Honestly, in a game situation, the drills and everything are going to help but you have to be able to just go out there and make a play and feel it and understand ‘OK, our initial plan didn’t work, that’s OK, good job by the defense,’ but alright, now let’s go make something happen.”

Santacaterina and Temple enter the season as the area’s most decorated passing/receiving combination with all the coveted qualities – a long history of refining the rhythm of their routes together so plays unfold just right, and an unflappable response when, despite those efforts, improvisation is needed.

The starting point for virtually any great QB/receiver pairing is logging extra hours together outside of practice.

Temple said he and Santacaterina “got in trouble a couple times” for hopping the fence at Burgess Field during the offseason to hone their timing, but wherever they set up shop – often with defensive teammates and other receivers joining in – they worked through the route tree, running plays on both sides of the field, aiming to complete their sessions without the ball hitting the ground.

But not all QBs and receivers have the luxury of the extensive history shared by Santacaterina and Temple, longtime teammates and best friends. 

St. Charles East senior receiver Morgan Flanigan will be working with a new QB this season after Jimmy Mitchell’s graduation. Flanigan said he and senior Kyle Cook made progress as the offseason unfolded, but the speedy wideout acknowledged learning on the fly will be tricky.

“Early in the summer and early into season I would say that, because really going into the season, you haven’t necessarily played with each other in game situations or scrimmage situations, so that timing is very hard, actually, because you don’t know how fast it’s going to come out, and for the quarterbacks … each receivers have different tendencies,” Flanigan said.

East coach Bryce Farquhar said it becomes apparent which quarterbacks and receivers have forged a connection that can withstand the adversity of game night.

“When that trust goes away, that quarterback’s less likely to throw to that receiver,” Farquhar said. “It’s just a rapport built through the years, through summer and fall. Once I’m a quarterback and I trust that receiver’s going to be in that spot, I’m more comfortable throwing to him.”

It can take a compulsive streak to reach that point.

New St. Francis coach Mike Fitzgerald said the most accomplished passing combinations he’s been around were relentless in troubleshooting mixups.

“I was at Marist the last six years, and we had guys that had 104 receptions, 91 receptions, and I think the special ones are the ones who stayed after practice to do some extra stuff, work on their timing or if there was something in practice that just didn’t feel right, they bring [teammates] back out and then go above and beyond,” Fitzgerald said.

Santacaterina, a Northern Illinois recruit, and Temple, also receiving D-I recruiting attention, think they’re ready for a blockbuster season, building off their junior years during which Santacaterina threw for 2,266 yards and 27 touchdowns and Temple notched 799 receiving yards with nine TDs.

By now, much of their in-game communication is virtually undetectable.

“I’ll just look at him and he’ll look at me and we know just based on what the coverage is, we’re like ‘Oh, man, this is wide open,’ ” Santacaterina said. “We know exactly what we’re going to do and it’s going to be a big play, and we didn’t even have to give any signal or anything, we just know. That just comes with a lot of practice, a lot of throws to each other from me to him. It’s really helpful for me and I’m sure it’s really helpful to him that we have that chemistry.”

Both know their responsibilities on a given play well enough that if something goes wrong, it’s likely because of an unforeseen wrinkle thrown at them by the defense. Even then, they often have the answer.

“If you’re out there and running a curl that’s usually 12 yards, but all the sudden the [defense] has changed – you can cut it down,” Temple said. “It’s so hard to put it into words, but to be out there on the field, you just kind of do it. It’s just kind of natural, and you have to adjust with the flow of the game.”

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