A year ago, Dan Riddle might have found what was being thrown at him as an unsolvable puzzle.
But a year of varsity experience has given the Palatine junior cornerback the ability to solve challenges more quickly. A prime example came early in the third quarter of Friday's 35-14 Mid-Suburban West football victory over visiting Barrington.
Riddle's interception not only ended a Barrington drive that had crossed midfield but it set up Ethan Olles' 48-yard touchdown pass to Lucas Rago for a 28-7 lead.
"They had run that play twice before," Riddle said. "Last year I don't think I would have adjusted as well as I did."
Adjustments have occurred much earlier throughout a defense filled with players who gained significant experience from last year's run to the Class 8A quarterfinals. The Pirates have 14 takeaways and are allowing only 245Â½ yards a game.
"I feel we've stepped up to a whole new level," said Palatine senior defensive end Andrew LaVeau. "We're more of a family now and a lot of us have bonded now. We play hard and we play for each other."
Palatine junior safety Jesse Bobbit, who is in his third year as a varsity starter, didn't let the work of defensive coordinator Rick Splitt and assistants Brian Richter and Sergio Lund go unnoticed.
"Our coaches always put together a great scheme," Bobbit said. "On Monday mornings you can tell they're tired but they have packets for us about the whole scheme (for the next opponent).
"We're ready for the whole week. Our coaches get us prepared."