With less than two minutes left in the game, the Highland Park offense took the field trailing by 5 points.
At that point, Maine West linebacker Jake Bellizzi said he was confident his team would hold the Giants and pull through with a win.
Bellizzi was right, intercepting a pass and scoring a touchdown a few plays later to lead his team to a 28-16 victory.
The Warriors claimed at least a share of the Central Suburban North football title for the first time in more than 35 years.
“I knew we were going to win,” Bellizzi said. “I know we were going to keep fighting. The guys we have, they don’t give up. I knew we were going to win.”
Maine West coach Jason Kradman was a 1-year-old in 1979, when Maine West last won a conference title or put together a 7-win season.
With a game to go, the Warriors will look to reach 8 wins and win the conference outright when they face Deerfield in Week 9.
“We are making history,” said Maine West quarterback George Markakis. “There is nothing better than this. I don’t think there is a better word for what we are doing right now — making history.”
Kradman is in his fourth season at Maine West and each year the team has won a little more.
Prior to his arrival, the Warriors won 10 games in seven years and hadn’t made a playoff push since 2002. Now they are putting together one of the best seasons in school history.
“We knew we had a special group when we first got this job and put our staff together,” Kradman said. “Just to see their progress over the past few years is a credit to our coaching staff, our administration and our athletic director. These kids just work there butt off, during the season and in the off-season. They just wanted it more than anybody.”
It took a great defensive effort and some key second-half adjustments for Maine West to get past a surging Highland Park team, which was coming off four straight wins and seeking a conference title as well.
Giants quarterback John Sakos completed 8 passes for 118 yards and touchdown in the first half.
But in the second half, Maine West held the senior quarterback to 2 completions on 12 attempts.
The defense also came away with 4 turnovers in the game, including interceptions from Bellizzi, Dakota Sampson and Matt Likas along with a fumble recovery from Nick Horcher.
Horcher’s recovery couldn’t have come at a better time.
Two plays prior, Highland Park took its first lead of the game after a sack and a safety by Kevin Kauffman. Three plays after the fumble, Markakis found receiver Rafael Ynocencio for a 36-yard touchdown.