Following Palatine's thrilling 22-19 Mid-Suburban West win over Schaumburg at Gary Scholz Stadium on Friday, Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly spoke about a certain player producing under pressure.
Donnelly tossed the game ball to junior Cam Kuksa.
"He really stepped up when we needed it," said Donnelly. "John (Serio) had two fumbles in the first half, and for him that's a bad game. He's still banged up a little bit and being a natural lefty he was not as effective when he cut right. You could just see the offensive line get excited when Cam carried the ball in the second half."
Kuksa rushed nine times for 106 yards and scored the second Palatine touchdown, which at the time gave the Pirates (4-1, 1-0) a 15-12 lead with 11:17 left in the fourth quarter. His 31-yard run keyed the 63-yard drive.
Kuksa finished with 136 yards in 10 tries.
"I was ready when they needed me," said Kuksa. "Winning the first conference game was big for us. The offensive line (of Tyler Sydlowski, Dan Jeske, Layne Kirch, Nathan Gerdes and Josh Baldus) did just a great job. It was a real exciting win for this team."
Serio (22 carries, 83 yards) gutted up when needed and scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard run out of the wildcat formation with 2:42 left in the game. Serio's score was set up by a 42-yard run by Kuska to the 2, where he was stopped by the Saxons' Juwaan Richard.
Serio helped put Palatine ahead 7-6 with 1:26 left in the first half as the Pirates drove 67 yards in 15 plays, scoring from the Saxons 3.
Schaumburg (2-3, 0-1) was playing without usual starting quarterback Nick Anzelmo, who injured his throwing hand in practice on Tuesday.
Sophomore Stacey Smith started instead and was electric in his debut. His 37-yard TD run gave the Saxons a 6-0 lead with :40 left in the first quarter. Smith finished with 150 yards in 21 attempts and completed 9 of 16 passes for 95 yards with 2 interceptions.
Sadaris Patterson gave Schaumburg a 12-7 lead with 8:15 left in the third quarter on a 1-yard run.
Following Kuksa's run and quarterback Ethan Olles' 2-point pass to Lucas Rago, Schaumburg fought back again.
Smith connected with Jordan Baker on a 30-yard TD pass with 7:23 left in the contest and a 19-15 lead.
Following Palatine's go-ahead score, Josh Baldus (6 tackles, 2 assists) hit Smith for a 3-yard loss with :49 left. Jesse Bobbit then intercepted Smith at the Pirates' 31, and Palatine ran out the clock.
"All things considered I think Stacey did a real nice job, " said Saxons coach Mark Stilling "Our offensive coaches did a nice job getting ready in two days. We just didn't finish off some of our defensive plays towards the end of the game."
"We're still a pretty young team," said Donnelly. "I told them you learn things from winning tough games like this. We came back three times to get the win."