Cary-Grove rallies in support of Gagliano family, wins playoff opener

Cary-Grove football players rally together in important times.

It's a trait they get from their parents.

No. 4 Cary-Grove improved to 8-2 with a 41-13 victory over No. 14 St. Ignatius (5-5) in a Class 6A first-round playoff game in Cary Saturday.

On the field, the offense rolled up 209 first-half yards en route to a 28-0 halftime lead. Meanwhile, the defense rallied to the ball as one and held the Wolfpack to 25 yards before intermission.

A key component of the defensive effort was linebacker John Gagliano Jr. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior played with a heavy heart. His father, John Gagliano Sr., passed away suddenly on Wednesday. He was 55.

Gagliano Sr. was a key component of the tight-knit Fox River Grove community and the Cary-Grove football community as a whole. A PGA professional, according to his online obituary, he was heavily involved with the annual Cary-Grove Football Association/Booster Club golf outing and was a big supporter of the football program, Trojans coach Brad Seaburg said.

Known for his "never-ending sense of humor and fun-loving nature," John Sr. was a fixture in the stands, cheering on daughters Samantha and Jolene and John Jr. in track, volleyball and football.

The Cary-Grove community has come together to support the Gagliano family through this difficult time. The football moms have already organized a meal train through December in support of Michelle Gagliano and her family - the off-the-field equivalent of a defense getting 11 hats to the football.

"Everyone is rallying around John and his sisters," Seaburg said. "This football community especially is so tight. In times like this you see the best out of people just taking care of each other."

John Jr played Saturday because John Sr would have insisted.

"His mom said when she dropped him off that his dad would have been very upset had he not played," Seaburg said. "He showed a lot of determination to be there with the team. He played with a lot of heart and played a great game."

John Sr. would have enjoyed watching the Trojans win a first-round playoff game for the 16th consecutive season. Cary-Grove outgained the Wolfpack 301-125 and built a 41-0 lead with 7:19 left in the third quarter to start a running clock.

Quarterback Luke Eleftheriou gained 67 of his 120 rushing yards in the first quarter and scored on runs of 22, 32 and 12 yards. His third touchdown staked the Trojans to a 21-0 lead with 4:21 left in the second quarter.

Senior fullback Blake Skol carried the ball 6 times for 60 yards. His touchdown runs of 34 and 10 yards upped his season total to 19.

"Our offensive line was getting a really good push on the ball," Eleftheriou said. "My reads with Blake, our meshes, were on point. Everything was working."

Two-way standout Skol also grabbed an interception to set up Eleftheriou's second scoring run. Gyanni Kanellakis intercepted another first-half pass and Michael Sullivan recovered a fumble to help the Trojans win the turnover battle 3-0.

"Our defense did a good job of stopping their fullback to begin with," Skol said. "Then they had to get down to pitch phase with the quarterback and we shut that down. They really couldn't get anything going. We were really physical."

The win advanced Cary-Grove to a second-round home game next week against No. 5 Antioch (8-2), which defeated Mather 57-0.

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