As Palatine senior defensive lineman Nick Novelli put it, "this one was for the troops."
The Pirates' 35-3 Mid-Suburban League crossover football victory Friday night over visiting Wheeling was played against a backdrop of over 880 student-made banners, a "wall of patriots" that decorated the north fence of the stadium.
Each banner paid tribute to a military serviceman, policeman, fireman or first responder as Palatine marked the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy by celebrating the sacrifices of those who put their lives on the line every day, including those who have paid the ultimate price.
"Those banners out there are for those individuals who give us the right to play this game," added junior defensive back Cam Kuksa, who had 2 interceptions, one for a touchdown which broke open the game.
Palatine junior running back Sam Miller, subbing for an injured John Serio (out with bruised ribs), ran 21 times for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Wheeling quarterback Tyler Brady threw for 96 yards in the hard-hitting loss, while a 27-yard field goal from Leo Giordano provided the Wildcats with their only score.
"At times tonight, we played really well," said Wheeling coach Dave Dunbar. "They (Palatine) have a great power running game, but our guys fought back and went straight at them.
"I'm proud of our guys tonight they fought to the end and never quit. They're tough guys and that's what they do they come out and fight every time out."
Palatine already led 14-3 on TDs by Jesse Bobbit (13-yard pass from Ethan Olles) and a 2-yard run by Miller when Kuksa intercepted a Brady pass near the end of the first half and raced 50 yards for a score, breaking several tackles along the way.
"I read the fade," said Kuksa, "made the pick and then found some open field. I got some nice blocks from Jake Demars and the rest of the linemen."
Olles (16-for-26, 176 yards) threw 17 yards to Taylor Hall for another touchdown while Miller closed out the scoring with a fourth-quarter 1-yard blast up the middle.
Wheeling defenders Alejandro Gonzalez and Marc Gonzalez each recorded interceptions, while Bobbit had a pick for the Pirates from his defensive back position.
Hall had 5 catches for 81 yards for the winners, and Novelli was a force on defense with 3 sacks.
"We talked about this (the 9/11 tribute) at our assembly," said Palatine coach Tyler Donnelly. "This wasn't just a game. We were going out there to play for the patriots and for the community that was going to come out to watch us, so I asked our guys to come out and play their best game of the year.
"I don't know if they did or they didn't, but I know one thing the effort was there."