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LINCONLNSHIRE, Ill. --Although Stevenson still has to wait until Saturday's games are final, the Patriots got the first half of what they were after on Friday night, holding off York 31-28 in the first round of the IHSA Class 8A playoffs in Lincolnshire.
Now the Pats will anxiously wait for another shot at three-time defending state champion Maine South, whom they would host next week if the Hawks get past Curie.
"The past three years, the road to the state championship has gone through Maine South," said Patriots head coach Bill McNamara. "We'd be happy to see them."
Maine South has never lost to Stevenson and has also ended the Patriots' season six-times since 2001. However, according to senior quarterback Matt Micucci, knowing a second-round date with the Hawks was on the horizon only added motivation for the Hawks to come out strong against the visiting Dukes.
Sure enough, Stevenson (8-2) forced a three-and-out on York's first possession of the game and quickly jumped on top 7-0 when senior running back Kevin Foley ran for a 20-yard touchdown on the ensuing possession. Stevenson then made it 14-0 just seven-seconds later when fellow senior Jon Way intercepted a Joe Lucca pass and ran 22-yards for the pick-six. Stevenson would collect three Lucca interceptions in total.
"Our defense played really well," said McNamara. "They [run] that spread package, they have really good athletes at wide out, they have a great quarterback and [we knew] they were going to put pressure on us. I'm very proud of the way our defense played tonight."
Lucca, who threw five-touchdowns in York's Week 9 victory over Hinsdale Central, started 0-5 with two interceptions on Friday. He did, however, get his team on the board with a 12-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, but a Micucci touchdown pass and field goal gave the Patriots a 24-7 lead at halftime.
In the third, York (6-4) would pull within 10-points as Lucca threw the first of three second-half touchdown passes to Jordan Preuss (10 catches, 98-yards, TD), but Stevenson answered once again with a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the ensuing possession.
Lucca and the Dukes would again battle back, scoring 14-unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but after recovering one onside-kick following its third touchdown, York was unable to do so after its fourth. Though the Dukes would hold Stevenson and receive one last chance at a heroic comeback, the Dukes went three-and-out and Micucci took a knee to end the game.
"The back breaker was scoring a touchdown and then watching them go 80 yards for a touchdown [of their own]," said York head coach Bill Lech. "We had just gained some momentum and then we gave the damn momentum back. We had just chipped away, but again, they're a great team. They're physical, they're strong and I'm proud of our kids. Our kids persevered."
Lucca would finish 24-51 through the air for 259 yards and three touchdowns. Despite also throwing a trio of picks, Lech wasn't sure if he'd ever been more proud of a player's performance.
"Joe's a tough kid. He's got one of the nastiest coaches in the state of Illinois," said a humbled Lech. "I am not nice to Joe, but Joe is very thick skinned and he knows that this is a game of short memories. I don't know that I've ever been more proud of a kid than I am of Joe Lucca. He's been beaten, he's been knocked out, he's suffered concussions, but he kept coming back."
On the other hand, McNamara was plenty proud of his senior offensive combo of Micucci and Foley, who combined for 322-yards of total offense and three touchdowns as well.
"Kevin is a really hard runner - he's our work horse," he said. "I give credit to our offensive line for opening up some holes and making things happen for him. And I thought Micucci played great tonight. He managed the game really well and took advantage of opportunities when he had them."
Stevenson is now set to host its second-round game as well, but with all due respect to Curie High School, the Patriots' student-section made it very clear as to who they want to see next week... the question is, could the chants of "We Want Maine South," be heard all the way in Park Ridge?
Players of the game: Stevenson RB. Kevin Foley had 30 had carries for 150 yards and a TD. York QB Joe Lucca was 24-of--51 for 259-yards with 3 TDs, 3 INTs and 14-carries for 51 yards and a TD.
Stat of the game: Lucca started 0-for-5 with a pair of INTs and Stevenson scored 14-points in a span of :20 seconds in the first quarter.
It was over when: Lucca's 51st pass attempt fell incomplete on fourth down with 15 seconds left to play.
Quote of the night: "Now it's like Lake Zurich week all over again. Maybe it's even more intense because we've never beaten Maine South. I really hope this is the year we're going to do it." - Stevenson Sr. RB Kevin Foley on possibly getting the chance to play Maine South next weekend.