PALATINE -- Everything was lined up for the Fremd Vikings as they hosted Conant in their regular-season finale.
Fresh off an upset of previously unbeaten Barrington, Fremd needed just one more win to ensure its streak of 15-consecutive playoff appearances continued, not to mention its streak of seven straight shared or outright MSL-West titles. The visiting Cougars were traveling to Palatine after having lost at home to rival Hoffman Estates one week earlier (a loss that snapped the Hawks' 23-game losing streak).
But even with its season on the line, Fremd head coach Mike Donatucci never viewed the Week 9 matchup against Conant as a trap. "It could very easily have been, but our kids knew what was at stake," Donatucci said. "This group of kids and these seniors are very special."
Hard work and resilience paid dividends Friday night as the Vikings beat Conant 31-10 on senior night, boosting their record to 5-4 (4-1 in conference) and securing a playoff contest.
Despite fumbling on its first drive of the game, Fremd was first to light the scoreboard as senior running back Justin Wallace ran in a 1-yard touchdown with the first quarter winding down.
In the second quarter, Fremd increased its lead to 10-0 as freshman Andrew Stark drilled a 31-yard field goal, but Conant would respond with a 24-yard field goal of its own, thanks to junior John Maevski, with just 24 seconds remaining in the half.
Fremd began the second half by recovering a Cougars’ fumble on the kickoff, and from there, it was all Vikings. A third-quarter touchdown from Wallace (1-yard run) was followed by a pair of scores in the fourth quarter. Freshman quarterback Sam Beutler scrambled five yards to paydirt and senior Richie Concialdi capped the onslaught with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jack Konopka. Conant (2-7, 0-5) scored its lone touchdown with just over three minutes remaining on a Jacobi Sims’ 43-yard run.
"Even after starting 1-4, none of our goals were taken away from us," said senior running back Justin Wallace. "We still had a chance to win conference and make the playoffs so we focused one game at a time and we did it. It feels great."
So now it's a wait-and-see mentality for Donatucci and the Vikings. The IHSA state playoff pairings will be announced tomorrow night at 8, and before the hour's through, Fremd will know where it has to travel to begin the Class 8A tournament.
Until then, Donatucci plans to enjoy the victory.
"We've had a lot of success and this means a lot. This means a lot to our program," said the head coach. "To have your backs to the wall and still be able to perform and believe in the things that these kids have been taught is a great thing to see."
And as for the Vikings' 14-year-old signal caller, well, he's already begun speaking like a veteran. "We're going to have a great week of practice and whereever we have to go, we're going to go and play Fremd football." said Beutler. "I get jokes all the time about being young but the older guys on the team really make everything more comfortable."
Player of the game: Fremd senior running back, Justin Wallace: 24 carries, 165 yards, two TDs.
Stat of the game: Senior quarterback Richie Concialdi finished 1-for-1 passing -- a 4-yard touchdown to Jack Konopka.
It was over when: Fremd recovered a Conant fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half and scored 21 unanswered points.
Quote of the night: "It's fine with me. It's better than going home!" - Fremd head coach, Mike Donatucci, on having to play a first-round playoff game on the road.