Geneva’s Rob Wicinski is an old school football coach, and the running game has been where the Vikings have found much of their success in his tenure.
But with Northern Illinois-bound quarterback Daniel Santacaterina under center, Wicinski had to adjust his thinking a bit.
“It’s flipping my mind,” Wicinski said. “I’ve been training myself for a few years. I’ve been the Neanderthal in the area.”
In Friday’s 22-19 nonconference win over Richards, it was Santacaterina and the passing game that gave the Vikings an early lead they didn’t relinquish, while the defense slowed down the high-powered Richards attack led by quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers.
Santacaterina’s 74-yard touchdown pass to Pace Temple in the first quarter set the tone as the Vikings jumped out to a 14-0 lead and held on for the narrow win.
“We went to the air in the first half and it worked out for us,” said Santacaterina, who was 20-for-31 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. “We really relied on the offensive line to give us a push in the second half. The defense played incredible. That was an all-around win right there.”
After he lost a punt earlier in the game, junior Justin Taormina came back to score the final two touchdowns for the Vikings. With Santacaterina scrambling, Taormina broke free in the end zone for a 17-yard TD with nine seconds left in the first half to give the Vikings (2-0) a 14-0 lead.
Then in the second half, with the run game stalled, Taormina broke loose for a 29-yard TD that gave the Vikings a 22-13 lead.
“Whenever something like that happens to a player, I’m coming back to him right away,” Santacaterina said.
Richards (1-1) hung around despite never holding the lead. A 13-play, 71-yard scoring drive capped by a 5-yard TD run from Muhammad-Rogers to start the second half cut the lead to 14-7.
After Taormina’s rushing touchdown, Romeo Johnson punched one in from a yard out with 2:31 left to cut the lead to 22-19. After forcing a punt, with 1.7 seconds left on the clock, Muhammad-Rogers and Johnson gained 18 yards on a lateral play before Johnson was finally brought down to secure the win.
“We played as hard as we could,” Muhammad-Rogers said. “We are definitely going to fight to the end, no matter what. We’re not going to give up on the game.”
Geneva sacked Muhammad-Rogers five times, limiting him to eight rushing yards.
“I know the defensive coaches worked really hard on keeping line integrity, just squeezing the pocket,” Wicinski said. “We noticed that when guys get up field, (Muhammad-Rogers) can make plays.”