Funderburg Stadium was packed Friday night. Even with a Bucs win, this would be the last game of the season in Belvidere. There was a moment of silence to honor the veterans, but that was the only silence from the standing room only crowd. Belvidere provided plenty of excuses to cheer as they ran over the St. Charles East Fighting Saints and earned their chance to go to the semifinals.
Belvidere wasted no time. After a short return from the opening kick off, the Bucs offense moved past midfield on a series of handoffs to Brandon Smaha and Tyler Pearse. On first down from the Saints’ 38, Matt Barr kept the ball, jumped over a defender and raced 30 yards downfield. Adam Wells pushed it down to the 1 yard line and Barr pushed it over the line two plays later. Jason Schwartz’ kick was deflected, but the Bucs were up 6 – 0.
The Fighting Saints came back with a long drive, eating up more than six minutes on the clock. St. Charles hopes to keep it on the ground, but a series of handoffs to John Brown gained minimal yardage against the Bucs defense. They were more successful in the air. On third down and eight from their own 30 yard line, Tyler Fishbune connected with Caleb Clausen for 15 yards. When the drive stalled around the Bucs 37 yard line, Fishbune went to the air again. Derek Peach reeled it in at the 25 and ran another ten yards before being run down by Scott Rice. On the next play, Fishbune found Danny Kohlhagen in the end zone for a touchdown. The point after was no good and the score was tied 6 – 6 with three minutes left in the first quarter.
The Bucs started with terrific field position on their next possession. Vinnie Kertz ran the kickoff back 30 yards and Belvidere started at the Saints 34 yard line. The St. Charles defense tightened up to hold the Bucs. On fourth down and two to go, Belvidere elected to go for it. Matt Barr kept the ball and rounded around the line to get the first down and kept going all the way to the end zone for another Bucs touchdown. The Saints got a hand on the point after, so it was a 12 – 6 ball game. After missing some of the action with back spasms over the last few weeks, Matt Barr made up for it by joining the Bucs defense as safety for the next series. The Bucs defense came down hard. John Brown was hit for a loss and Tyler Fishbune was sacked. On third down and long, Fishbune put the ball up and Matt Barr came down with the interception, running it down to the ten yard line before going out of bounds.
The Bucs started the second quarter on handoffs to Adam Wells to push the ball down to the 5 yard line. Tyler Pearse grabbed 2 more yards, but that was as close as the Bucs would get. On fourth down from the 2 yard line, Matt Barr pushed forward, twisting around to gain a little more, but ultimately was stopped short of the goal line. The Saints took over on downs at their own 1 yard line. The Bucs defense kept them pinned back near their own end zone and they were forced to punt it away. The Bucs started again on their own 24, but it didn’t take long to move the ball. Matt Barr kept it and grabbed 11 yards for a first down. Matt Stringini got the call on the next play for another ten yard gain. At midfield, Barr went back to pass and connected with Tyler Pearse close to the first down in Saints territory. Stringini ran it down to the Saints 32 yard line. Barr kept the ball again and found six yards up the middle for the first down. At the 26 yard line, a handoff to Tyler Pearse found a hole up the middle again. He sped straight into the end zone for a touchdown. A two point conversion attempt failed and the score was 18 – 6.
St. Charles started on their next drive from their own 30 yard line. Tyler Fishbune went to the air again, connecting with Dustin Dieter for a first down at the Bucs’ 48. That was the beginning of the end. Matt Stringini zeroed in on a handoff to John Brown, forcing a fumble. Vinnie Kertz picked it up for the Bucs and once again, the offense took the field. After an initial pass to Tyler Pearse, Matt Barr kept the ball himself and scrambled down to the 30 yard line. Pearse found another hole up the middle for another ten yards. Barr found room down the sidelines to get the Bucs to the 7. A holding call took them back to the 17, but Barr connected with Tyler Pearse on the 5 yard line and he ran it into the end zone. The two point conversion was no good again, but the Bucs had a 24 – 6 lead with less than three minutes to go in the half. The Saints managed one play before fumbling. Cris Collier picked it up and the Bucs were back on offense. They wasted no time. Barr passed to Adam Wakeley for a 16 yard gain and a pass to Pearse got them down to the 12 yard line. On second down at the 8, Matt Stringini burst through the line and into the end zone. The Saints managed to spoil another point after, but the Bucs had a 30 – 6 lead with a little more than a minute left in the half. St. Charles’ next possession lasted less than thirty seconds. Fishbune went to the air again, but on second down, Grant Magnuson picked it off for the Bucs and returned it to the Saints’ 19 yard line. With less than a minute to go, the Bucs were hoping to score again. They got as close as the five yard line before a penalty drove them back to the 23 and the Saints defense sacked Matt Barr to finish the half.
St. Charles was down, but they weren’t out. They started the third quarter with a drive down field. With the Bucs defense holding tough on the run, Tyler Fishbune went to the air. On third down and long, he connected with Kohlhagen at the 42 yard line for a first down. Caleb Clausen grabbed another catch for a gain of six and Kohlhagen found another nine a couple of plays later. On second down and ten from the Bucs 21 yard line, Fishbune found Clausen at the goal line. He was hit hard as he caught it, but managed to get into the end zone. A pass to John Brown in the end zone was good for a two point conversion and the score was 30 – 14. The Bucs came back, starting at their own 17. Two handoffs to Brandon Smaha pushed them out to their 40. On second down and 7 from the Saints 45, the Bucs ran a reverse and Tyler Pearse shot down the left sideline into the end zone. The two point conversion was no good and the Bucs were up 36 – 14. With five minutes left in the third quarter, the Saints took possession again, starting on their own 13 yard line. Again, Fishbune went to the air, connecting with Caleb Clauson 38 yards down at the Bucs 17 yard line. The Bucs were expecting another pass, but Fishbune kept it himself, getting down to the 2 yard line before being stopped by Cris Collier. John Brown pushed it in from the 1 yard line. Jason Hendericks kick was good and the score was 36 – 21.
The Bucs finished the last minute of the third quarter pushing the ball down to the 9 yard line of the Saints on a series of handoffs. Matt Barr finished the night with 162 yards rushing, pushing his season totals to over 1,000 yards. Matt Stringini started the fourth quarter with an eight yard push and Brandon Smaha lunged into the end zone for the touchdown. Barr connected with Stringini on the two point conversion and the Bucs had a 44 – 21 lead.
The Bucs defense clamped down on the Saints. After a pass to Caleb Clausen to take it to the Bucs 36, St. Charles was unable to go much farther. Jason Lucas sacked Fishbune for a loss. On fourth down and six, Fishbune threw an incomplete pass. The Bucs took over on downs. While the Bucs didn’t score, Brandon Smaha fumbled at the 16 and the Saints recovered, they did take more than four minutes off the clock. The Saints were forced to hurry if they were going to get back into the game. Unfortunately for them, the Bucs were more than ready. On second down and five, Ryan Gorham picked off a pass at the Saints 41 yard line. And that was all they needed. A series of handoffs moved the ball downfield, but most importantly ran off the remaining minutes. After converting a fourth down, Steve Golubski came in as quarterback to wrap things up in the final minute.
The Bucs travel to Mount Prospect on Saturday night to face the Prospect Knights. The Knights have made it to the semifinals four times in the last five years. They lost their first game of the season, but have won their last 12 behind a solid defense and quarterback Matt Bowman. The Knights held off the sixth seed Highland Park 13 – 6 last Friday to advance. The game starts at 7:00 pm.