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Another step forward for St. Edward
By John Radtke | Daily Herald Columnist

St. Edward fans cheer the Green Wave during Class 4A playoff action against Mendota in Elgin on Saturday.

 

Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 11/7/2010 1:15 AM

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Things were looking good for St. Edward's black-clad Green Wave Saturday afternoon.

The stands were full and they were two-and-three deep down the sidelines. Mendota's healthy crowd, the air filled with the aroma of burgers and pork chops cooking on the grills, not a cloud in the sky. An estimated 2,500 fans. Yep, it was set up to be a special day in the history of St. Edward football.

And an improbable 57-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the first half to give the home team a 14-6 lead at the break.

Oh yes, Elgin, a high-school football team from the city was headed to the state quarterfinals for the first time since their coach's alma mater Larkin had gone that deep in 1999.

Yep, it sure was looking good for coach Mike Rolando's Green Wave.

But then a 30-second span of the third quarter turned things very cloudy on this bright and splendid November Saturday.

A big runback and a touchdown 6 plays later made it 14-14. A turnover on the ensuing kickoff, a big run and a short run and suddenly the victory bell seemed as far away as the state title game in Champaign.

The fight wasn't over though. The heart and fortitude that has become Green Wave football in Rolando's 6 years at the helm took over and the Wave clawed and fought their way back in, scoring late in the third quarter to make it 22-20. An errant 2-point conversion pass prevented the game from being tied but you sensed that maybe the momentum had shifted again. Heck, they now had the whole fourth quarter to win the game.

But Mendota toughened up and the one good chance the Wave had to go ahead didn't materialize. But St. Edward's defense held the Trojans at bay and there was one last shot for the home team to send its crowd into a frenzy. But, again, the opportunity didn't come to fruition when a high snap caused kicker Mark Olenek's timing to go awry on a 28-yard field goal attempt with 2:49 to play that would have put the Wave back on top.

Mendota ran out the clock on St. Edward's season and while the Trojans celebrated, St. Edward's coaching staff implored the Green Wave to keep their heads held high. Rolando proudly congratulated his boys on a great season.

Great? How about super-great. The goals were met win the conference, win a playoff game, and host a playoff game. An 8-3 record? Well, St. Edward has been playing football since 1944 and only one other Green Wave team the 1978 Tim McVey squad managed 8 wins in a season.

"It's always nice when you have to re-establish goals because that means you've achieved the ones you set," said Rolando after spending several moments hugging his players one by one.

"I'm very proud of what they've done. Every year we've just wanted to improve and these guys can definitely say they left the program better than they found it."

Senior quarterback Ben Lehman, who had a stellar day passing, acknowledged there were missed opportunities but preferred to not dwell on the negative.

"There were plenty of missed opportunities but you can't look at the bad things," he said. "You have to look at the success we had. We won the conference. After every game there's been a sense of satisfaction. I'm so proud of what we've done this year."

Junior running back Luke Duffy says this is no flash-in-the-pan type of thing going on on Elm Street.

"Each year coach Ro has been here, every team has gone farther than the last one," Duffy said. "Our goals were to win the conference, win a playoff game and get a home game in the playoffs. Unfortunately we didn't come out on top.

"A lot of our defense is coming back and the seniors showed us juniors how do get it done. We'll definitely carry on their legacy."

While Rolando chose to emphasize how much this moment was for his seniors "We're thinking about the seniors right now and how they played their hearts out," he said he also spoke to the future.

"It's up to the junior class to raise the bar again," Rolando said. "I think these guys learned what it takes to get better. The opportunity to improve on this year will be a 12-month commitment. It won't be long until these guys are in the weight room and setting their goals for next year."

One thing that's pretty clear is this the days of losing football seasons at St. Edward are over.

jradtke@dailyherald.com